BENNETT VALLEY, Sonoma County, California
The tiny Bennett Valley AVA is located in southern Sonoma County and partially overlaps the north-eastern corner of Sonoma Valley, just north of Sonoma Mountain AVA. The AVA was created in 2003 and is bordered to the west by Taylor Mountain, to the east by Bennett Mountain and to the south by Sonoma Mountain.
It is cooler than many other Sonoma regions because it is surrounded by mountains. Cool coastal breezes enter this pastoral and rural valley through the Petaluma Gap to the southwest. The cool air flows into the valley at night, often bringing fog which hangs around the following day until the sun is able to burn it off. Coastal winds also affect the valley and moderate the temperatures.
The valley’s elevation is between 250 and 1850 feet, and the region supports both warm and cool weather varietals. Well-drained volcanic soils help promote healthy vines here. While Merlot is a dominant grape variety, Bennett Valley Pinot Noirs are also well known, with lesser plantings of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
As yet, Bennett Valley is far from famous as a viticultural area. Bennett Valley had its first settlers in the mid 1800’s and they quickly recognized the potential of the rich volcanic soils. The first vineyard was planted in 1862 and the reputation of the valley for producing high quality grapes began to grow. The combination of Phylloxera and Prohibition put an end to grape growing in Bennett Valley in the 1920’s.
A new group of “settlers” began to emerge in the 1980’s with the intent to once again make Bennett Valley a region known for its grape growing and production of top quality wines. Through a commitment to the land, a willingness to try new approaches and a cooperative grape growing culture, the wines coming from Bennett Valley have a focus and personality unlike wines from any other growing region in California.
With just 700 planted acres, Bennett Valley is one of the smallest Sonoma County appellations. 36 primarily family-owned vineyards average less than 20 acres each. At harvest time, grower-owners and their family and friends work alongside the harvest crews out in the vineyards . There is an obvious passion here, and the growers believe deeply in the emerging potential of this relatively new AVA.