Russian River’s Goldridge Soil Has the Midas Touch

Photo courtesy Paul R. Anamosa, Ph.D.

Found throughout much of the Russian River Valley and Green Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoma County, California, Goldridge soils stretch as far north as Annapolis and as far south as the Sebastopol Hills.

Discovered in 1915, Goldridge was initially valued for its ability to grow apples and timber.

Its moniker is a geographic callback: The area now known as Sebastopol was once referred to as the Gold Ridge District. The name first came into national prominence via famed plant breeder Luther Burbank, who bought 18 acres of land in Sebastopol in 1885 to experiment on plants. He called his outpost Gold Ridge Farm and cultivated all manner of fruits, vegetables, grains and flowers, including thornless blackberries and plumcots.

Goldridge soil pits
Left: Goldridge with sandy clay loam upper and sandy loam lower subsoils in Green Valley. Right: Goldridge with sandy loam upper and sandy loam lower subsoils in Green Valley. / Photo courtesy Paul R. Anamosa, Ph.D. Soil Scientist & Viticulturist Vineyard Soil Technologies

A rare, fine-grained sandy loam, known for its excellent drainage, Goldridge soils are light and fluffy.

The soils are defined by the USDA as being “formed in material weathered from weakly consolidated sandstone” on “rolling uplands with slopes of 2 to 50%” where the average rainfall hovers around 45 inches and average temperatures at 56°F.

Elevations run between 200 and 2,000 feet. In some instances, such as at Platt Vineyard above the town of Bodega, Goldridge soils cover an ancient seabed. Finding fossils there is not unusual. The climate above which much of the soil thrives is marked by warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters.

Dr. Daniel Roberts, a viticulturist by trade, holds a doctorate in soil science. He helped to develop Kendall-Jackson’s array of vineyard sites in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as such places as Iron Horse Vineyards, which has 100% Goldridge soils.

“It has zero nutrition in it, so I can control it,” says Roberts. “It’s my favorite soil. It’s easy to grow high-end fruit for clients; you can grow anything in it.”

Understanding Clay Soils in Wine

Merry Edwards Winemaker Heidi von der Mehden agrees.

“The naturally low vigor gives the winegrower more control over the quality of the fruit,” she says. “I can apply compost or use deficit irrigation as needed to keep the vines in balance to produce the highest quality.”

selection of goldridge soils
Chantal Forthun of Flowers Vineyards, plus goldridge soils from Flowers Chardonnay site / Photo courtesy Adrian Gaut and Chantal Forthun

Chantal Forthun, head winemaker of Flowers Vineyards & Winery, sources from many Goldridge sites for her Sonoma Coast wines.

“I call it the moon dust effect—white lovely fluff that, for me, is a telltale sign of Goldridge,” she says. “The resulting wines are weightless, with concentration and an intense density at their core, but they have an openness to them.”

Some believe the light texture of the soil seems to contribute fine tannins, though there hasn’t been a proven correlation between soil texture and tannin structure.

“The wines are…serious at the same time,” Forthun adds. “It’s why Chardonnay and Pinot Noir winemakers love these soils: There’s fruit without sweetness, acid without drying tannin, and length—the wines are super long.”

Nicole Hitchcock in the vineyard
Nicole Hitchcock Canfield analyzing Goldridge Soil / Photo courtesy J Vineyards & Winery

For Nicole Hitchcock, winemaker for J Vineyards and Winery, Goldridge accentuates everything the Russian River Valley and Green Valley have to offer.

“It showcases the fruit-forward aromatics, what the Russian River is known for,” she says. “And the clay content within Goldridge allows for the soil to retain some moisture, which in these [drought-stricken] times, keeps the vines healthy, active and growing late in the season. It’s a great fit for the environmental factors we have here.”

Published on September 16, 2021
Topics: Soil