Alexander Valley is the largest and most fully planted wine region in Sonoma County. The Russian River flows down the valley and is surrounded by vineyards on both sides. The Alexander Valley has a rich rual heritage which it still prides itself on and maintains today.
Alexander Valley refers to the bench-lands east of the Russian River leading up to the Mayacamas Mountains. Alexander Valley was named after Cyrus Alexander who began using vine cuttings taken from the area near Fort Ross on the Pacific to establish new vineyards here in 1843. Cyrus Alexander was a dedicated innovator, planting orchards and vineyards, constructing a tannery, and building the first grain mill in the area. New arrivals continued to move to the area and followed sui,t and by 1875, two hundred and thirty acres were devoted to vineyards.
For most of Alexander Valley's wine making history the region's production consisted primarily of mass produced low cost bulk wine. In the late 1960s a new era of modern winemaking entered the valley by the new new owner of the Simi Winery who improved the quality and prestige of the wines produced at his vineyard. In the 1970s and 1980s a new wave of wine producers such as Chateau Souverain, Jordan Vineyards, E & J Gallo Winery, and Robert Young Vineyards helped catapult the area to greater recognition and fame.
As late as the 1960s the Alexander Valley was well known for prune production. In fact, Healdsburg was formally known as "The Buckle of the Prune Belt". However, prune production gradually gave way to grape production and in 1984 Alexander Valley received formal recognition as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) and today 15,000 acres are planted with premium wine grapes.
Geography and Climate
Alexander Valley is located inland, at the northeastern end of Sonoma County. It is 22 miles long 20 miles long, stretching north from Healdsburg and south to Cloverdale, and can be anywhere between two to seven miles wide. It is the northernmost appellation in Sonoma County. The area includes 76,900 acres of land, with 15,000 acres planted with premium wine grapes. The valley covers the broad expanse of land east of the Russian River running southeast from the Mendocino County line down to the boundaries of the Chalk Hill AVA. The valley has good proximity to California Highway 101 making it a convenient destination for visitors.
With its varied terrain, including hillsides and the Russian River winding through the valley's floor, the Alexander Valley has varied microclimates. However, in general the climate is known for being significantly warmer than near the coastal and southern parts of Sonoma, and the lower vineyard areas are regularly cooled by morning fog from the Russian River. The area is sheltered from the nearby Pacific Ocean by the hills northeast of Healdsburg.
Alexander Valley is one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon producing regions in the state, and accordingly, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown on much of the arable land in the region. These 'Cabs' tend to be softer and less earthy, than those from the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs. The alluvial soils tend to produce a rich, chocolate flavor to the Cabernet which many also describe as fleshy and velvety. These Cabs will have a distinct voluptuousness due to the area's generally warm climate and ability to ripen the grapes. Merlots are also of particular specialty for this AVA.
Alexander Valley terrain is hospitable to more than just the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. This gorgeous sector of Sonoma County is home to more than 40 wineries, each producing distinctive wines from the hot sun, gentle fog, and rich soils deposited by the Russian River. The northern end of the valley is the warmest area where you’ll find excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Rhone varietals including French Syrah and Viognier, and the Italian varietals Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. The lower soils lapping the river produce outstanding Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. The Chardonnay from the area is described as rich, tropical, and fruity.
Some wine critics suggest Alexander Valley wines do not have the same aging potential as wines from Napa Valley or even other areas of Sonoma County.