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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.
Of all the wine producing regions in California, Sonoma County is one of the most highly regarded, having had a long and fruitful history which has helped shape the American wine industry. Within Sonoma County, we find the AVA of Russian River Valley, a beautiful viticultural area centred around the Russian river, and responsible for around one sixth of Sonoma’s high quality wine production. The vineyards of the region were first planted some two hundred years ago by immigrant communities coming over to California. At first, the vines planted here were generally for private consumption - a reminder of home gardens in Spain and Italy - but by the beginning of the twentieth century, business was booming with a couple of hundred wineries in operation, thanks to the unique nature of the terroir and the effectiveness with which the grapes were growing.
The Russian River Valley is renowned worldwide for the character and quality of its wines, which are the result of the region’s perfect, cool climate, which is affected by the Pacific fog which rolls in over the valley. This coolness tempers the strong sunshine of the area, and allows for a longer, slower ripening season - thus adding character and expression to the grape varietals which grow there. The main vines grown in Russian River Valley are cool climate grapes - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - which make up for over forty percent of the grapes grown there. The hillier parts of Russian River Valley have had great success with Syrah and Zinfandel, and other parts of the region are experimenting successful with Bordeaux grapes, too.