For two hundred and fifty years, the Alexander Valley in California’s beautiful Sonoma county has been producing fascinating and characterful wines, and this specific AVA has been responsible for securing Sonoma’s reputation worldwide as being one of the finest New World wine producing regions. Today, Alexander Valley is the most productive and prodigious sub-region of Sonoma County, being the largest in area and most densely planted part of this side of California’s wine country.
The secret of Alexander Valley’s success is manyfold. The climatic conditions the region enjoys are influenced greatly by the Russian River, and the fact that it is sheltered from the Pacific winds by the low-lying hills to the west of the valley. Alexander Valley is one of the warmest wine regions in California by day, but at night temperatures drop significantly, allowing for a long and balanced growing and ripening season, and resulting in beautifully balanced wines with plenty of expression.
The area is notable mainly for the success it has experienced with Bordeaux grape varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These grapes grow healthily in Alexander Valley, and the rich, alluvial soil is said to impart a richness and chocolatey character and a level of voluptuousness which sets them well apart from their French equivalents. The region has also seen great results with other classic European grapes, such as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.
California as a wine producing region has grown in size and importance considerably over the past couple of centuries, and today is the proud producer of more than ninety percent of the United States' wines. Indeed, if California was a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with a vast range of vineyards covering almost half a million acres. The secret to California's success as a wine region has a lot to do with the high quality of its soils, and the fact that it has an extensive Pacific coastline which perfectly tempers the blazing sunshine it experiences all year round. The winds coming off the ocean cool the vines, and the natural valleys and mountainsides which make up most of the state's wine regions make for ideal areas in which to cultivate a variety of high quality grapes.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.