Wine Country Weekend celebrates two growing regions blessed with fog

  • Gail Ross, left, her daughter, Lesley and her husband Jonathan Liebtag celebrate at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean, Sunday, September 1, 2013 in Kenwood. ( Photo by Charlie Gesell for Santa Rosa magazine) 2013

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.

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