The Russian River Valley is one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world, and for good reason. We will take a look at some of the best wineries in Russian River Valley and explore what makes their wine so special. We will also discuss the terroir and climate of the region, and why it’s such a great place to grow wine grapes. So if you’re looking for some amazing wine tasting experiences, be sure to check out these wineries!
Russian River Valley AVA
The Russian River Valley AVA is located in Sonoma County, California, and is known for its cool climate and rich soils that are perfect for growing grapes. Some experts consider certain wines from this region to rival those from Burgundy. Many vineyards contain vine clones from Burgundy, and the conditions are ideal for those grapes.
The climate in Russian River Valley is heavily influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean, which provides cool foggy mornings and evenings that help to preserve the grapes’ acidity and freshness.
Though inland from the Sonoma coast, fog in Russian River Valley is a critical influence on the wines produced there; it affects how acidic the grapes are as well as how fragrant and flavorful the finished wine will be. When considering the effects of fog, factors include its density, how long it lingers in the mornings, and how soon it returns in the evenings.
Russian River Valley Grape Varietals
There are many different grape varietals in Russian River Valley, including some old plantings of Zinfandel, but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most common. The Russian River Valley AVA has distinct “neighborhoods,” since growing conditions and terroir can be quite diverse.
Pinot Noir is traditionally balanced tannins and acidity, with notes of light cherry, raspberry, and strawberry, with accents of dark cherry, with spearmint or spice, and forest floor.
Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley is a dry red wine that’s noted for its medium body, aromatic fruit qualities, and refined character. Many Russian River Valley Pinots are a little richer in texture and bolder, due to the slightly warmer conditions in the area. You might notice darker berry flavors as well, but it truly depends on the climate and terroir.
Like the Pinot Noir in Russian River Valley, Chardonnay grapes become more complex when given the opportunity to ripen slowly. Russian River Chardonnay benefits from more acidity due to the fog and overall growing conditions.
Best Russian River Wineries
Russian River Valley is home to many award-winning wines, and there are a number of great wineries to choose from. Here are some of the best Russian River Valley wineries, and most of them have very limited allocations. At the time of writing this article, most of them are open for a visit, and it is a real treat to spend time in Russian River Valley learning about wine with these special producers.
Kistler Vineyards has been making wine in Russian River Valley since 1978. They make eleven single vineyard Chardonnays from a single clone, in addition to two Pinot Noirs propagated from a two separate clones. The wines at Kisler are each unique expressions of their location, climate, and soil conditions. Their attention to detail allows you to compare terroir more purely through a single clone planted in various locations. Kistler offers a variety of tasting experiences at their Trenton Roadhouse vineyard by appointment only, Tuesday-Saturday. kistlervineyards.com
Joseph Swan Vineyards
In 1968, founder Joe Swan began making Zinfandel from hundred year old vines on the property and eventually became a prominent winemaker of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region. Today, the Joseph Swan Vineyards grows Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, with the goal to bottle a sense of place in each vintage. Wine tastings are available Fridays through Sundays by appointment, and booking is available online. The private tasting showcases six wines and can accommodate up to four people. swanwinery.com
Kosta Browne was founded in the late 1990s, and it didn’t take long for their wine to become some of the most sought after wine in California. With a commitment to excellence and innovation in winemaking, Kosta Browne has grown to produce wine from different regions in California and even Burgundy, France. From Russian River Valley grapes, they produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Kosta Browne offers a few different tour and tasting experiences (by appointment) at the winery in Sebastopol. kostabrowne.com
Cirq is a focused project and family winery, started by Michael Browne, one of the founders of the Kosta Browne winery. With Cirq, Browne is attempting to craft the ultimate expression of Pinot Noir by blending grapes from some of the best Russian River Valley vineyards. Each year there is only one wine, and it is extremely limited allocation. Joining the waitlist is your best shot at tasting this wine, as future visits to the estate (when complete) will be for active members. cirq.com
The Rochioli family has been farming grapes in Russian River Valley since the 1950s and is home to some of the oldest vines of Sauvignon Blanc in the area. Today, Rochioli is one of the most esteemed wineries in Russian River Valley, producing Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Their approach to winemaking is simultaneously scientific and hands-off, treating each individual block (not just the vineyard) as a separate expression of terroir. Wine tastings include 3-4 single vineyard wines from the estate, with an optional cheese pairing. Available Wednesday through Monday, bookable online. rochioliwinery.com
Williams Selyem winery was one of the first to focus on producing small lot, single vineyard Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley. They continue this pursuit today with the same commitment to quality that has made them a top producer in the region. This results in a stunning portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Russian River and surrounding areas, both from estate grapes and grapes sourced from some of the most esteemed growers in Northern California. Wine tastings in the tasting room and tours of the winery are only available to active list members, and it’s a list worth getting your name on. williamsselyem.com
Martinelli Vineyards & Winery
Since the 1880s, the Martinelli family has been cultivating vines in the Russian River Valley. While unconventional today, the first vineyard planted at Martinelli was very steep hill with southeastern exposure. It’s still the steepest vineyard without terraces in Sonoma County. Over the years, the Martinellis became some of the best growers in the area, and continue to sell over 90% of their grapes to other winemakers. They produce terroir-driven Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Muscat wine, some of which is extremely limited production. Multiple tasting and tour experiences are available at Martinelli and bookable online. martinelliwinery.com
Ramey Wine Cellars
Ramey Wine Cellars has been highly awarded since its 1996 beginnings. Winemaker David Ramey has been given a lifetime achievement award by Sonoma County Vintners for pioneering many of the winemaking techniques in California. Combining old world and modern winemaking methods, Ramey wines are pressed whole cluster, fermented with native yeast and unfiltered. Of the available wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made from Russian River Valley grapes. The winery is located south of downtown Healdsburg (not at a vineyard), and seated tastings are available by appointment. rameywine.com
DuMOL is a winery producing cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Whether managing their own vineyard or partnering with growers, DuMol’s winemakers are invested in the entire process, and consider winemaking techniques secondary to the work out in the vineyard. This “light-touch” winemaking technique can be experienced in each unique wine, available to taste by reservation Tuesdays-Saturday and include five wines. dumol.com
Moshin crafts small-lot wines in Russian River Valley across four estate vineyards off Westside Road. While they are mostly known for Pinot Noir, they also grow and make wine from several other varietals. Moshin takes a unique approach to winemaking in Russian River Valley. A tour and tasting at Moshin might get you a peak at their four-level cellar with a traditional gravity flow method of vinification – not something you see often in the area. Tastings are bookable online for Thursday through Monday. moshinvineyards.com
Best Russian River Valley Sparkling Wineries
J Vineyards produces sparkling wine and still wine from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, many of which are single vineyard bottlings. Sparkling wines are made in the traditional method and the J Vineyards portfolio is vast, showcasing the diversity of Russian River Valley terroir. Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock was named 2022 Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. J Vineyards offers various wine tasting options, including a 5 course tasting menu at the J Bubble Room. www.jwine.com
Iron Horse Vineyards
Iron Horse is located in Green Valley, the most cool and foggy part of the Russian River Valley. The property is full of rolling hills and a sandy loam soil, great for growing Pinot Noir. Iron Horse practices “precise viticulture,” individually farming and vinifying wine from 39 small blocks within their vineyard. This method produces exceptional sparkling wines and still wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Visit the winery for an outdoor tasting with a sweeping view of the vineyards. ironhorsevineyards.com
Wine Tasting in Russian River Valley
These wineries and winemakers are some of the best producers of Russian River Valley wine, and have been for a long time. If you’re expecting to get your tasting fee waived with a purchase of wine, many of them don’t offer it. In fact, some wineries mentioned are allocation only, meaning you need to be on a list to be invited to purchase the wine every year.
Don’t let this discourage you from visiting these wineries! You will still have a chance to taste Russian River Valley wines of excellence, some of them hard to get elsewhere.
Where to Stay Near Russian River Valley
- Healdsburg – quaint wine country town with a central square, lots of amazing restaurants (including 3 Michelin star Single Thread Farms) and several conveniently located boutique hotels for walking to dinner; check out our picks for best Healdsburg hotels
- Guerneville – cute small town on the river with boutique hotels, cabin rentals and some great restaurants; if you go in summer, you can rent a tube and float the Russian River
- Santa Rosa – the largest city in the area with an airport; here you’ll find some larger hotels, possibly more affordable depending on the season
With so many great wines being produced in the Russian River Valley, it would be impossible to visit them all in one day. Choose a few that interest you and make a day or weekend of it! You won’t be disappointed.