In 1841, Cyrus Alexander arrived in an untamed valley to manage the Sotoyome Rancho, a Mexican land grant owned by a San Diego sea captain, Henry Delano Fitch, and his wife, Josefa Carrillo.
As payment for his services, Alexander received 9,000 acres on the eastern side of the valley, where he built his home. He also planted an orchard, constructed a tannery, and built the first grain mill in the area. And he planted a vineyard.
In the three decades following the Gold Rush of 1849, the population of Alexander Valley grew quickly. By 1875, some 230 acres were devoted to vineyards.
Over the next half-century, more settlers discovered this rich land and good timber. Early residents planted wheat, grazed livestock, and grew fruits and vegetables.
As families acquired land and farming techniques improved, valley farmers began to specialize in prunes. As late as the 1960s, the valley was blanketed in white prune blossoms each spring, and the Prune Blossom Tour brought visitors from far and wide.
Labor intensive, prone to weather damage, and vulnerable to price competition from elsewhere, prunes gradually gave way to grapes. Family wineries and grape growers suffered during Prohibition, but began to plant grapes again in the middle decades of the 20th century. Nearby Healdsburg, formerly known as “The Buckle of the Prune Belt,” is now a genial gateway to a world-class wine region.
Located at the northern end of Sonoma County, the Alexander Valley is 22 miles long and varies in width from two to seven miles. There are 76,900 acres of land, of which 15,000 acres are planted to premium wine grapes.
On the hillsides to the east and west, and adjacent to the Russian River winding along the valley floor, the valley is home to a diversity of microclimates that support the growth of many varieties. Over the years, winegrowers have learned the optimum places to cultivate each particular grape.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes thrive from the valley floor all the way up the rolling hillsides and mountain ridges. The gravelly loam soils straddling the river encourage Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot to flourish. Alexander Valley also is home to Zinfandel and Rhone varieties, including Syrah and Viognier.
When you see “Alexander Valley” on a wine bottle label, it’s a virtual guarantee of quality for the adult beverage inside.