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Alexander Valley AVA

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | June 30, 2011

When comparing the development of Sonoma County wineries against the wineries of other Northern California AVAs, it seems remarkable that Sonoma County is not the leader in winemaking for Northern California. Historically the Napa Valley has been in the lime light of the Northern California wine industry. This is interesting, as Sonoma County is where the California wine rush began, where soil and weather conditions are ideal for grape production and where land for vineyards is in abundance. With these points in mind, it seems strange that other wine areas--particularly the Napa Valley--have been more successful with winemaking.

Sonoma County has a bright future as wine consumers are recognizing the fine wines produced in Sonoma County. Wine professionals have also noticed this fact and are working toward further winery and vineyard development within Sonoma County. As time passes it will be interesting to watch the direction Sonoma County takes with the respect to fine winemaking.

The Alexander Valley AVA is an American Viticulture Area (AVA) located in the northeastern part of Sonoma County. As with any AVA found within Sonoma County, the location and relationship Alexander Valley AVA has with surrounding AVAs can be confusing. The Alexander Valley AVA can be considered a sub-AVA of the larger Northern Sonoma AVA. The Northern Sonoma AVA is a large AVA contained within the mid northeast area of Sonoma County. In addition to being contained within the Northern Sonoma AVA, the Russian River Valley AVA overlaps into the southern tip of the Alexander Valley AVA.

When learning about Sonoma County AVAs, understanding the relationships between the various AVAs found within Sonoma County is extremely important. The Sonoma County AVA hierarchy can be very confusing as many AVAs overlap each other, often in inconsistent ways. A great way to learn about the various Sonoma County AVA relationships is to review an AVA map of Sonoma County. Understanding the various AVAs will also help considerably when visiting the Sonoma County region.

The Alexander Valley AVA can be found upstream from the famous Russian River Valley AVA. With an ample water supply provided by the Russian River as well as an abundance of rich topsoil, the Alexander Valley AVA has conditions ideal for agriculture. With twenty-four miles of lush and fertile land, the Alexander Valley AVA is a powerhouse for wine grape production within Sonoma County.

Climate

The climate of Alexander Valley AVA is stereotypical of climates found within the eastern AVAs of Sonoma County. Mountain ranges found in the northeast and central northern Areas of Sonoma County play a large part in the climate of the Alexander Valley AVA. The various mountain ranges prevent cooling breezes and cool fog from reaching a majority of the Alexander Valley AVA. This lack of fog and breeze leads to a warmer climate than what is found in similar geographical locations on the Sonoma Coast AVA.

The climate found in the Alexander Valley AVA is far from being uniform. Like the Napa Valley, the Alexander Valley AVA has a varying amount of temperatures and climate characteristics. Southern temperatures tend to be somewhat cooler than temperatures found in the North. As such, winegrowers must take these variables into account when planting new vineyards. The end result is that different assortments of grapes can be found throughout the Alexander Valley AVA.

Soils found within the Alexander Valley AVA are rich and ideally suited for growing wine grapes. Alexander Valley AVA soils are the bottomland gravely loam soils found near a river. Technically this soil is known as alluvium and is composed of fine particles of silt and clay with larger particles of sand and gravel.

Different grape varieties are grown within the Alexander Valley AVA, each with varying degrees of success. As there are 15,000 acres of planted vineyards, many grapes are grown for sale to other vineyards. Many of these grapes are used in blends rather than specific varietal wines. It is a fact that the Alexander Valley AVA does lack a substantial number of resident wineries. With the wine market continually growing this phenomenon is changing with new residential wineries being built.

Like any other wine region, distinction of place is very important. Using Napa Valley as an example, Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape of choice while Chardonnay grapes grown in Napa are best described as identical and similar. Unfortunately for the Alexander Valley AVA this characteristic is the same. That is not to say that good Chardonnay is not grown in the Alexander Valley AVA. Rather when one samples a good Alexander Valley AVA Chardonnay it is very difficult to state with confidence that the wine did indeed come from the Alexander Valley AVA.

Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Zinfandel wines show the exact opposite concerning distinction of place. In choosing a description for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel wines the word supple would be appropriate. It is a fact that the Alexander Valley AVA produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel wines that are distinct and identifiable in their textures. And just like the Napa Valley site Terroirs effect the final characteristics. In this respect Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel wines produced from northern Alexander Valley AVA grapes tend not to be as refined are described as being more assertive in their character.

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