Alexander Valley Wines
If you're a wine lover, you've probably heard about Alexander Valley wines. Alexander Valley is a widely popular Californian American Vinicultural Area (AVA) because it's the largest wine region in Sonoma County, and it's the home of many wineries that have worked in the area for decades. This AVA is also famous because it provides a vast variety of grape varietals, some of which are very popular among frequent wine consumers.
The Alexander Valley AVA has a unique story that has been told for many years, and that continues to be written as the wineries and vineyards in the area evolve. In this article, we're going to go through the complete history of this place and what varietals you can find there.
The History of Alexander Valley Wines
The name 'Alexander Valley' was established because of the first person who arrived in that area: Cyrus Alexander. He arrived in the area in 1840, and he was the first to grow wine there. He was able to grow wine thanks to the help of his partner Henry Fitch, who helped him to apply for a land grant of 48,800 acres from the Rancho Sotomoye, which they received from the Mexican government afterward.
After they received the land, Cyrus Alexander worked in the area for about four years, receiving approximately 8,800 acres as payment for his services. Over the years, many other people joined Alexander Valley to plant many types of crops and grapes for decades. The first recorded type of grape planted in there was the 'Mission' grape. After that, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon joined the list. In 1889, Shadrach Osborn opened the first commercial winery in Alexander Valley, called the 'Lone Pine Vineyard.' After that, Horace Chase's Red Winery joined the list of commercial wineries in the area; this one was opened by Broder Frellson. Not long after that, Frellson's daughter married Osborn's son, creating a new family lineage of winemakers in Alexander Valley that is still ongoing to this day.
Prohibition & The Volstead Act
In 1919, the wineries in Alexander Valley initially survived prohibition due to a loophole in the Volstead act. This loophole allowed the wineries to produce up to 200 gallons of wine per household. This made the price of the grapes skyrocket, which caused production issues and, therefore, unprofitability. By 1926, the grape planting business was doing poorly. The prohibition issue subsided by 1933. Some winemakers decided to produce medicinal wine, whereas others chose to keep planting and growing grapes in the area. Over the following years, many winemakers went to Alexander Valley to establish their vineyards.
Alexander Valley Legend: Rodney Strong
Many families have worked in Alexander Valley for decades; we are going to talk about two of the most prominent ones: Rodney Strong Vineyards and the Robert Young Winery. In 1971, Rodney Strong arrived at Alexander Valley and examined the area for profitable crops. He concluded that there was potential to grow high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, so he planted 15 acres of that varietal. It wasn't until some years later that the first Cabernet-specific vineyard was born, which was called 1974. This kind of Cabernet Sauvignon is still widely popular to this day as one of the most popular wines on the market.
As for the Robert Young Winery, it started in 1963, when Robert Young was told that wine grapes were becoming very profitable for the future. Thanks to this, he planted about 14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Robert Young was the first person to grow this kind of varietal in Alexander Valley. Later in 1997, the Robert Young Estate Winery was born, and the Young family still manages it to this day. They mostly grow exclusive Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. While Alexander Valley was once home to many types of crops, its primary focus now is wine grapes. There are about 15,000 acres of wine grapes in the Alexander Valley AVA, and it's still growing to this day.
About Alexander Valley
This wine-growing area extends from the east of the Russian River up to the Mayacamas Mountains. Most vineyards are located in the warmer areas of Sonoma County, such as the eastern side of the Russian River. In there, the soil provides a great place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. As for the climate, it's mostly warm during the day, and at night, it provides cooler temperatures, which favors the land for grape planting. Overall, Alexander Valley entails about 32,536 acres of land, with 15,000 acres of planted vineyards.
The boundaries of Alexander Valley were expanded two times. Once in 1986, to include some areas of the Russian River AVA, and another time in 1990 to cover some vineyards in the east of Geyserville. The Chateau St. Jean winery was greatly impressed by Robert Young Vineyard's wine quality. Thanks to this, they put the name of the vineyard on the label of their 1975 vintage Chardonnay bottle. This created the first premium wine in the entire history of California wines to include the name of the vineyard on the label. Some of the most popular wineries in Alexander Valley include Jordan Winery, White Oak Winery, Simi Winery, and Ridge Vineyards. Each one provides a wide range of high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and other varietals.
Alexander Valley Varietals
The most popular type of varietal grown in Alexander Valley is the Cabernet Sauvignon. This type of varietal grows the best in warm conditions, which made Alexander Valley a perfect candidate. The Cabernet Sauvignon wine is dark in color, has firm tannins, and comes with a rich taste. Thanks to the tannings and acidity rate in the wine, it has good aging potential.
Another famous varietal grown in Alexander Valley is the Merlot, which is grown in the same conditions as the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot is known because of its black cherry flavor and subtle chocolate touches. It's red in color, provides a high acid structure, and has firm tannins. Since Merlot can adapt to many kinds of climates, it can develop a wide range of flavors. However, the type grown in Alexander Valley maintains that sweet plummy fruit flavor. Merlot is the second most popular type of varietal, next to the Cabernet Sauvignon.
The third most popular varietal grown in Alexander Valley is Chardonnay. Chardonnay is the most versatile white wine grape. It can develop a wide range of flavors, depending on where it's grown. The kind of Chardonnay grown in Alexander Valley is yellow in color, and it has a subtle touch of pineapple with a soft acid structure, which provides a unique flavor. While it's not as popular, Alexander Valley also houses many Zinfandel vineyards, which produce some of the best Zinfandel wines in California. Regardless of popularity, there are a lot more types of grapes that are grown in Alexander Valley. Here is a list of the other grape varietals that are still grown in the area to this day:
- Cabernet Franc
- Petit Verdot
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Petite Syrah
- Pinot Blanc – Noir
All of the variety in grapes, wineries, and vineyards makes Alexander Valley one of Sonoma's most important wine regions. The best part about its history is that it's not over yet. Many generations have worked in the area, and the community is still growing to this day. All this hard work has given Alexander Valley the recognition of being one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon growers in the region.