Martinelli Winery has one of the most romantic histories of any of California’s long-time wineries. Its roots were established in 1887 when a teen-aged couple from Tuscany eloped to the Russian River Valley. Giuseppe Martinelli, who was 19 when he arrived in California with his 16-year-old wife, had been a young winemaker in Italy and wanted to start his own winery in California. By 1905 he owned some extremely steep property in Sonoma County. When his youngest son took over in 1918, the vineyard became known as “Jackass Hill,” since it was said within the family that only a jackass would try to work it. Today the winery is owned by Lee and Carolyn Martinelli. The winery includes 206 acres in the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast. Though the estate makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat, it is best known for its Zinfandel.
Russian River Valley AVA is named for the river that meanders from Mendocino County in the north until it finally runs into the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. The AVA is cool thanks to its proximity to the northern California coast and the river, and grape growers must learn to deal with regular fog. Nevertheless in recent decades the AVA has become one of the best in the state, meaning that its wines often earn excellent reviews and have considerable cachet. The AVA status was awarded in 1983 and today the appellation has 15,000 vineyard acres. Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape though Pinot Noir has also been very successful in recent decades. Russian River Valley Pinot Noir are known for being rich, lush and filled with concentrated fruit and berry flavors. Russian River Pinot Noirs are today considered some of the best domestic Pinot Noirs.
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape, but 85% of the wine produced is made into a rosy “White Zinfandel.” Red Zin is far more complex and bold, while still being light-bodied. It grows in popularity as winemakers continue to experiment with new styles and blends.