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Russian River Valley Prepares For Its 30th Birthday Bash

Wine table at Grape to Glass festival.

The Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California, is turning 30 this year, and there’s going to be a big party to celebrate. Although that seems like a major milestone, its grape-growing tradition is older than it seems.

Russian River gets its name from the colony of Russians who built Fort Ross. The river’s mouth is about 12 miles south of that, in the tiny beach town of Jenner. Although the valley was named an American Viticulture Area, or AVA, in 1983 (a designation first given to Augusta, Mo., in 1980), grapes for wine have been cultivated there since the 1840s, making it closer to 170 years old. It was in the early ’70s, though, that winemakers took note of the cool climate, plus the daily flooding of fog, and started planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Nowadays, the Russian River region is synonymous with Burgundian varietals. Trailblazers such as Joseph Swan, Dutton Goldfield and a handful of others are now sharing their region with some 120 other wineries.

It’s not only the wines that make the region so famous: The sheer beauty of the rugged, almost wild land is a draw as well. There’s even a redwood forest in the middle (redwoods love damp weather).

Grape to Glass is the annual celebration of this region and its wines, timed before the harvest of the year’s grape bounty. This year’s event is dubbed Back to Our Roots and will celebrate the founding members, many of whom will be in attendance.

It all starts at 4 p.m. Aug. 17 when 50 wineries will be pouring some of the region’s most sought-after wines. These will be paired with treats and amuse-bouches made by local eateries. Soon thereafter, you might want to stuff a napkin in the top of your shirt and prepare for a full-on barbecue. There’s going to be live music as well.

Festival highlights

If you plan to attend, here are five wineries to checkout:

Joseph Swan is now run by Rod Berglund, Swan’s son-in-law (Swan passed away in 1989). Well known for its excellent Pinot Noir, the winery also makes a pretty impressive Zinfandel. Their vines are some of the oldest in the region.

Two Sheperds owner-winemaker and ex-blogger, William Allen, is the black-sheep Rhône grape producer amongst the Burgundians. He makes some excellent red Grenache blends and a rightfully popular Grenache Blanc.

I haven’t yet tried Thomas George Estates, but the winery is receiving some very impressive accolades from loads of wine folk. It’s a relatively new winery that is making a lot of different Pinots, as well Viognier.

I’ve always been a fan of DeLoach Vineyards; they use a lot of biodynamic procedures in the vineyard and winery. In fact, I am quite sure they have chickens running around among the vines, eating bugs. They make a few different styles of wine, but it’s really all about the Pinot.

Williams Selyem is so famous now; it’s quite a treat to see their wines being poured at an event. Started in the late ’70s by Ed Selyem and Burt Williams, they sold it in the late ’90s after winning just about every wine award known to humanity. Although now made in a different style, by Bob Cabral, the wines are still as popular.

Tickets for Grape to Glass start at $85. For more information, go to the Grape to Glass website.

Top photo: Wine table at Grape to Glass festival. Credit: Derrick Story

Zester Daily contributor Louis Villard has spent the best part of his life traipsing through the vineyards and wineries of Europe and California. He has gone from being a cellar rat at the Rusack Vineyards in his hometown of Santa Barbara to an assistant winemaker at Domaine La Sauvageonne in France's Languedoc region to a sommelier at London's Savoy Grill for Gordon Ramsay. He regularly contributes to the Santa Barbara News-Press and Edible Santa Barbara and also writes for Decanter Magazine, Imbibe and