Russian River Valley Part 3: Exploring Green Valley

What follows is Part 3 of my Russian River Valley article series, exploring the Green Valley neighborhood (and appellation)...

The neighborhood of Green Valley is unique in that it is also an established sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley (RRV). Green Valley was granted appellation status in 1983 and has been a longtime home to many iconic wineries such Dutton-Goldfield and Iron Horse. With more longtime established growers than there are wineries, this neighborhood and appellation is a premier source for high quality fruit. Located on the western side of Russian River Valley and close to the Pacific Ocean, Green Valley is the coolest and foggiest region of RRV. Its soils are largely dominated by Goldridge series and the elevation ranges, depending on the vineyard site.

MacPhail Family Wines
Planted to Clones 114 and 115, the 8.6-acre Lake View Vineyard is situated on a gentle east to west sloping site with Goldridge sandy loam soil. The 2013 Lakeview Vineyard Pinot Noir from MacPhail Family Wines expresses aromas of grape stems, with an almost carbonic maceration kind of scent, with strawberry, red cherry and earth. The whole cluster fermentation is detectable on the nose and also on the palate, with its lively energy and fresh style. The acidity is very bright and the wine is juicy with the same fruit found on the nose—strawberry and red cherry; there are also baking spice flavors lingering in the background of this fresh and energetic wine.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery
The Fox Den Vineyard is actually “often warmer than many of our other Green Valley vineyards,” Valerie Wathen, Manager of Dutton-Goldfield Winery, states. The reason for this is because its 800-foot elevation puts it “above the fog line or one of the earlier clearing sites.” The aspect is less than 5%, making it pretty much flat, and it has a south-facing exposure. The soils in this vineyard, Wathen says, “feel like beach sand in the summer,” because they are the “classic fluffy Goldridge sandy loam.”

I enjoyed the fruit-forward nose of the 2013 Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir, full of mixed fruit—black cherry, blueberry and even cranberry—with spices and a touch of vanilla. The palate leans towards to red fruit, with an almost candied red cherry flavor balanced by forest nuances on the finish. The texture of this wine is very silky and smooth, though nicely contrasted by noticeable acidity and a lively style. The finish feels structured and complex in its juicy length.

The Calling
It was interesting to taste two Pinot Noirs from the same vineyard (see Dutton Goldfield above) produced by two different wineries. Both wineries produced a lovely wine that each exhibits unique characteristics. The Calling’s expression of the 2013 Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir shows black cherry cola, spiced plum and flowers on the nose—a bit less fruit-driven and more delicate than the MacPhail expression. Light in body and very juicy, this is a spiced, red fruit-filled Pinot Noir that is full of cherry and plum. This is an approachable wine with a silky texture, but still possesses angles in the mouth and lots of structure on the finish.

Lost Canyon Winery
The Morelli Lane Vineyard was first planted in 1995 to Clones 115, 113 and Beringer in classic sandy loam soils. This site has quite a high elevation at 1,000 feet and is only six miles from the Pacific Ocean. The significant elevation of this site seems to give this wine a different feel on the palate from some of the others in this sample set from Green Valley. Very rustic in its aromatic profile, Lost Canyon Winery’s 2013 Morelli Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir has a small touch of brettanomyces, but that is just a faint aroma beneath the more dominant scents of strawberry, cooked rhubarb and flowers. While the wine shows that same light and bright profile with red fruit, there is a more noticeable influence of barrel ageing here with its vanilla flavor. Red cherry and plum mingle with baking spices, though the acidity feels lower than the others, and the texture is softer and gentler. This is a very easygoing Pinot Noir that would pair well with food.

Iron Horse Vineyards
Iron Horse Vineyards has a longstanding history in Green Valley and in fact, it was current Winemaker Joy Sterling’s mother, Audrey Sterling, whose name was “on the application for federal recognition as an AVA,” Joy Sterling says. The Deer Gate Pinot Noir “comes from one our most highly prized single vineyard blocks on the estate…[and] we use the upper part of the block, approximately 3.5 acres, planted to Clone 828 on a gentle, east-facing slope that rises to about 200 feet at its highest point.” The climate in this site is expectedly very cool and foggy, and composed of Goldridge soils.

Leading with those strawberry scents, the 2013 Deer Gate Pinot Noir has a lively aromatic profile. A bit rustic and earthy, with orange oil and red cherry, the nose is very intriguing. In the mouth, I like the interplay between the gently noticeable malolactic fermentation characteristics and the classic Green Valley bright-and-juicy style. Spiced strawberry and red cherry play the leading fruit roles, while the lively acidity is balanced by a smooth and silky texture. This wine has a medium body, but always stays easygoing and lively on the palate.

River Road Family Vineyards & Winery
The grapes for the Mills Cuvée Chardonnay are harvest from a vineyard in the “northeast corner of Green Valley, just outside of Forestville,” Winemaker Joe Freeman points out. He furthers, “this area is slightly warmer than the lower areas of Green Valley, but with plenty of fog.” The vines are planted in well-draining, low fertility Goldridge soils at approximately 180 foot elevation. The vineyard was planted to Clones 76, 95 and 16 in 1999.

The 2014 Mills Cuvée Chardonnay has a light lemon color in the glass and exudes rich scents of fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon, caramel and vanilla. This Chardonnay has good weight in the mouth with low to medium acidity; textures are round and soft, and there is a decent amount of that buttery/caramel characteristic that comes from malolactic fermentation and barrel ageing. Fruit flavors of lemon and melon work to bring balance to this wine. The finish leaves pleasant flavors of vanilla, spiced golden apple and green melon in the mouth.

Pinot Noir: Light, Bright, Juicy and Balanced
There is no doubt that the cool(est) climate of Green Valley brings about very fresh and lively wines. For Pinot Noir, this means light-bodied, bright with acidity and juicy in their fruit profiles. These are wines that are full of energy and bright red flavors of strawberry and cherry. Succulent and easygoing, these Pinot Noirs make great accompaniments to food, but don’t let that fool you, because their incredible balance also makes them excellent standalone wines.

Chardonnay: Fresh and Rich
Having only tasted one Chardonnay from the Green Valley sample set, I didn’t have another wine with which to compare. But from what I tasted, this Chardonnay has a decent balance between winemaking influence and terroir. It certainly shows that fresh, citrus-driven profile we all expect from Russian River Valley Chardonnay, though there is no doubt that the cellar techniques offer a plentiful amount of decadence and texture to keep the wine balanced and pleasurable on the palate.

Missed Russian River Valley Part 2 in this article series?
Check it out here: Russian River Valley Part 2: Exploring Middle Reach

More articles from this author