The Russian River Valley appellation has great physical beauty and great wines, gorgeously lush ambassadors of what California's stunning climate can do with the right grapes planted in the right places.

In Russian River, that more often than not has meant pinot noir, its most prolific and prestigious grape. Chardonnay, too, does well in pockets, as has zinfandel, viognier and sauvignon blanc.

Early pioneers in the area include winemakers like the Rochioli family, Joe Swan, Tom Dehlinger and Davis Bynum. There were visionaries like the team of Burt Williams and Ed Selyem, Saralee Kunde, the Dutton and Martinelli families, Jess Jackson, Merry Edwards and Gary Farrell.

Today the past, present and future intersect, with many of the founders continuing to work their magic with Russian River Valley fruit alongside their prot?? and successful newcomers from Arista and Benovia to Inman Family and Kosta Browne.

This year, the appellation celebrates 30 years in existence. It's a region that is constantly evolving to rein in its differences, to incorporate more land as it sheds some overlapping terroir to new designations of the Sonoma Coast, Chalk Hill and Green Valley.

"We are discovering, much like happened in Burgundy over the centuries, that each sub-region or village has its own personality," said Guy Davis of Davis Family Vineyards. "The richer side in the Westside Road/Middle Reach; the cooler, bright side of Green Valley; the minerality and complexity of Laguna Ridge from the volcanic ash in those soils, (and) the elevations and coastal impact in Occidental Ridge proving to also be unique."

A large group of pioneers, steady hands and up-and-comers will gather with the public in August to celebrate the Russian River Valley's three decades with a special nod to some of its founding members at its annual Grape-to-Glass party.

"This year the Grape-to-Glass pre-harvest party is very special to all of us living and growing in the Russian River Valley," said Randy Luginbill of Silverado Sonoma Vineyards, who is currently president of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers.

"It not only represents how far we've come as an appellation in the last 30 years, but celebrates all of the hard work and discoveries of the original pioneering winegrowers. The theme 'Back to Our Roots' sums up the amazing progress we've made and how excited and grateful we are to live and work in one of the world's best wine growing regions."

Mark McWilliams, of Arista Winery, talked about those who came before him.

"In the truest sense of the word, Joe Rochioli was a pioneer in that no one before him had endeavored to pursue pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc varietal wines in the region that would become known as the Russian River Valley," he said. "His beliefs were very out of the box for that time period and I'm sure there were many old-timers scratching their head at his new tack in varietal decisions. Every producer today owes a tremendous debt to the groundwork he and his family have laid."

McWilliams also points to Joseph Swan as one of the region's greatest icons and pioneers.

"Swan was one of the very first Russian River Valley producers to begin to focus on the site, the importance of meticulous vineyard management and the concept that for pinot noir to achieve its full potential it needed to be treated differently in the cellar than, say, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel or merlot."

The Swan selection of pinot noir remains one of the most highly respected and used selections of budwood in the Russian River Valley.

As for steady hands, McWilliams singles out Williams Selyem and Merry Edwards for producing consistently fine Russian River pinot noir and Kosta Browne, Lynmar, Dutton-Goldfield and Porter Creek for making wines of exceptional quality in a range of styles, showing the diversity of the Russian River Valley.

The up-and-comers, including Arista, with a couple of vintages under their belt, McWilliams feels, are the first generation to have the benefit of seeing what a previous generation had done, learned from their successes and mistakes, and can now build on that knowledge.

"Producers like Freeman, Holdredge, Zepaltas and Benovia are brands that are producing excellent wines that seem to get better and better with each vintage," he said. "They're part of the group that will be standard-setters of quality for a very long time to come."

Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at virginieboone@yahoo.com and followed on Twitter @vboone.