The Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, Friday through Sunday, encourages people to immerse themselves in wine culture. They may even learn how to tell time by the ripening of grape varietals like the locals — champagne grapes picked first, then pinot noir, etc.
This year’s honorary chairs, from two distinct wine appellations, offer a window into those varietals. The Klein family, owners of Rodney Strong Vineyards, call Russian River Valley home, while the Ferrer family, owners of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, have property perched in Carneros. Their stories give us a closer look at these two cool- climate regions swaddled in fog, known throughout the world for producing world-class pinot noir and chardonnay.
Wines from both wineries are included in auction lots at Sunday’s Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood.
Vintner Tom Klein said he’s learned a great deal about the Russian River Valley appellation as his winery celebrates its 25th year of ownership.
“Be patient and let Mother Nature work her magic,” Klein said of the region. “Most vintages are very good to outstanding quality. When you find the right site, the wines are balanced and bright with proper acidity and ripe flavors.”
The Russian River Valley was granted American Viticulture Area or AVA status in 1983; the region, which was expanded in 2005, includes the cities of Healdsburg, Sebastopol and Forestville. The climate is heavily affected by the fog, which flows in from the valleys’ close proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
“In the beginning, most of the vineyards were planted in the valley floor locations,” Klein said. “Today, wine growers have moved into hillier, more remote locations, pushing the cool-climate envelope to produce intriguing pinot noir and chardonnay.”
Klein said Rodney Strong has vineyards in other regions like the Sonoma Coast and the Alexander Valley, so he doesn’t play favorites. That said, he recognizes what defines the Russian River Valley’s character.
“This valley is comprised of many diverse, smaller vineyards,” Klein said. “It’s a very intimate place. There’s great diversity of the soils and an ideal maritime climate.”
The fog that breezes into the Russian River Valley is similar to the one that streams into Carneros. The cool temperatures slow down ripening, allowing the flavors to develop.
The Carneros appellation is at the base of Sonoma and Napa counties, and it too was granted AVA status in 1983.
“The area, which wraps around the San Pablo Bay, is one of the first to get the afternoon fog coming from the San Francisco Bay and one of the last regions to see it go,” said Pedro Ferrer, president of Freixenet Group. He is the son of event honorees José and Gloria Ferrer.
“When my parents first visited Sonoma more than 40 years ago, they immediately fell in love with its rich wine history and pioneering spirit,” Pedro said. “My family purchased the property where Gloria Ferrer is now located in 1982, before Carneros became an AVA. It was actually cattle-raising land at the time.”
Unlike in most appellations, there are no cities in Carneros, yet it’s close to the towns of Sonoma and Napa. The rolling hills are a mixture of pastures and vineyards.
“When we opened Gloria Ferrer Winery to the public in 1986, it was the first sparkling wine house to be built in the region,” Pedro said.