Russian River Valley Part 6: Exploring Santa Rosa Plain

As the name suggests, the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood is the flatter region of the Russian River Valley. Most of these vineyard sites are heavily dominated by the clay-based Huichica soil series. These clay-based soils make this neighborhood unique from other Russian River Valley (RRV) neighborhoods in that it is not dominated with the Goldridge soil series, which is so well-known within the appellation. Elevation is almost nonexistent here, generally around 100 feet, and as a result, there isn’t a lot of sloping or serious exposition going on in the vineyards. As always with RRV vineyards, fog from the Pacific Ocean is a moderating influence, and the days are consistently warm while the nights are cool.

Ramey Wine Cellars
One of the finest Russian River Valley Chardonnays I have tasted, Ramey’s 2013 Woolsey Road Vineyard Chardonnay is a truly balanced wine. Here, in the Woolsey Vineyard of the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood, the soil series is not Goldridge. Rather, the vineyard is comprised of Huichica soil series, consisting of clay loam over another layer of clay, over a cemented sand layer. The elevation here is low at 100-150 feet and the vineyard is planted to Old Wente cuttings that were sourced from the Platt Vineyard by way of the famous Hyde Vineyard. Highly aromatic and heavenly on the nose, aromas of lemon curd, buttered citrus, pineapple and cold stones mingle with gentle wafts of vanilla. There is a touch of sweetness from the oak in the aromatics, though it does not mask the other scents at all. This Chardonnay is zesty and fresh in the mouth, followed by a wave of round textures and richness—there is great contrast, here. The wine finishes crisp with spice-filled nuances. Driven by serious lemon flavors, lime zest and green apple are not far behind on the rich and creamy palate—though to be sure, the richness is balanced very well by the wine’s fresh acidity. This nicely balanced Chardonnay speaks clearly. As it warms in the glass, this Chardonnay unfolds with a bit of vanilla among the fruit.

Screen Door Cellars
Also from a low elevation site is the Screen Door Cellars 2014 Lera Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Lera Family Vineyard is only 100 feet above sea level and also planted in the dominating soil of this neighborhood, the Huichica series, and the slope angles are between 0-9%. This aromatic Pinot is filled with classic red fruit on the nose: bright red raspberry and candied red cherry are prominent, with a bit of cranberry hiding beneath the surface. The aromatic profile is definitely laced with a vanilla scent and it feels rather “crunchy,” if you will—bright and fresh, not baked or overripe. A bit of caramel evolves as it breathes in the glass. A soft and silky Pinot Noir, the palate finds pleasurable roundness and the malolactic fermentation is rather detectable—giving the wine an almost caramelized richness. That coupled with the 50% new oak and the high alcohol gives this Pinot Noir a very round texture, full body and rich style. Those same classic red fruit flavors, which somehow seem crunchy in a way, of raspberry and cranberry are found on the palate—and the toasty vanilla is not shy here.

Siduri Wines
Also a bit crunchy on the nose, the Siduri 2013 Parson’s Vineyard Pinot Noir possesses bright red fruit with background aromas of vanilla and baking spices. Although much more spicy on the palate than the Screen Door bottling, this Pinot also transparently shows the malolactic fermentation influence, with a caramel-like richness and medium+ body. The fruit, too, is crunchy on the palate—very fresh, bright and juicy in its raspberry and red cherry flavors. The high alcohol alludes to the robust year and warm growing season, as well as the Parson’s Vineyard terroir. “The topography of the vineyard is. . .a flat piece of land with little distinguishing characteristics,” states Winemaker Adam Lee. “It does have a good deal more clay in the soil,” he furthers, alluding to the Huichica series prominent in the Santa Rosa Plain, and “it is also a bit warmer than some other parts of the Russian River Valley.” When tasting the wine, its higher alcohol, richness and body seem to pinpoint the warmth of its site.

St. Rose Winery
Of the three Santa Rosa Plain Pinot Noirs I tasted, the most unique aromatic profile had to be the St. Rose 2014 Nunes Vineyard 777 Pinot Noir. The nose is endowed with stony red fruit (mostly red cherry), but not overly aromatic, and full of roasted coffee grounds, mushrooms and a hint of eucalyptus that shows with a bit of time in the glass. With that being said, the palate did not have that same savory/earthy quality, but rather fell in line with the crunchy red fruit theme of this neighborhood. Lower in alcohol and lighter in body than the Screen Door Cellars and Siduri bottlings, this Pinot Noir felt a bit more playful on the palate. Perhaps this is due in part to the Nunes Vineyard site. As Wendy Nunes puts it, “our location is unique, often milder during hot and cold spikes than other areas of the Russian River Valley.” The body falls between light and medium, with notes of dried cranberry and spiced raspberry giving the wine its light and fruity feel. This is a very juicy and drinkable Pinot Noir, easygoing on the palate and very fresh in its style. The bit that adds some complexity to this Pinot is the muscular tannin structure, which gives the palate some angles and crunchiness. The grapes for this Pinot come from the “Geyser View and Big Barn blocks of clone 777,” Nunes states. “The two blocks are planted...on opposite sides of the riverbed, one with ten inches of clay, and the other with sandier alluvial soils.” This duality certainly adds to the complexity of this playful wine.

Pinot Noir: Crisp and Fresh with Crunchy Red Fruit
Red, red, red! There is red fruit galore in the Pinot Noirs from the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood, and these wines are far less earthy than some of the other RRV neighborhood Pinots. The aromas are red-fruited, bright and crunchy in a way that makes the wines feel aromatically fresh and crisp, and angular on the palate. The Screen Door Cellars and the Siduri bottlings felt much more rich in style, likely harvested riper given their alcohol levels, and certainly made with more oak. In that sense, both exuded a similar caramelized flavor/feel on the palate, with the  same crunchy red fruit feel in the mouth as on the nose. The St. Rose was in a league of its own compared to the Screen Door Cellars and Siduri bottles, because it was a much lighter-styled Pinot, perhaps a bit more classic in terms of varietal expression. With that being said, the crunchy red fruit was still there on the palate of the St. Rose—making that the identifying factor across the board for the wines of the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood. The wines are fresh, juicy and crisp. As for heavier-oaked Pinots from this neighborhood, give them a bit of time in the cellar for the oak to integrate.

Chardonnay: Balanced Beauty
While I did not compare the Ramey to other Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood Chardonnays, it was interesting to see how winemaking played a role in balancing out the fresh, crispness of this Chardonnay. Not showing and over-ripeness in terms of fruit, its zesty and crisp demeanor was elegantly juxtaposed against the richness of full malolactic fermentation in barrel, time on lees and François Frères French oak barrel ageing (30% new) for 18 months. This was a delightful expression of Chardonnay.

Missed Russian River Valley Part 5 in this article series?
Check it out here: Russian River Valley Part 5: Exploring Laguna Ridge

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