If you listen the Major Crush podcast, or follow us on social media, than you probably already know how much Meredith and I love good dirt.
Dirt makes all the difference when growing amazing wines. I love the way Michael Muscardini of Muscardini Cellars put it in our interview with him for the first episode of our fifth season: “Good wine is grown in the vineyard.” And for most growers, a good vineyard is defined by good dirt.
Sure, there are winemaking techniques that come into play after harvesting the grapes, but if you really want to make amazing wine, the best first step is picking a decadently soiled location to plant the vines. And for me, one of my favorite AVA’s is Moon Mountain.
The Moon Mountain District American Viticultural Area covers close to 18,000 acres in the eastern hills of the central Sonoma Valley AVA and it shares a mountain range (the Mayacamas) with the back side of Napa Valley. I actually live within this growing area, and it’s kind of trippy how on a clear day, when I’m way up in one of the rocky vineyards, I can actually see San Francisco! But it’s this higher elevation that is one of the standout features of this AVA, and with elevations that range from 400 to 2,00 feet above sea level, vines take root in a most extraordinary way.
But…I really do believe it’s the moon that gives this growing area a certain kind of magic.
Moon cycles and microclimates play a big role in the growing of grapes no matter where the vines are planted, but in the Moon Mountain District, these variables are always coming together to create the very best dynamics for growing the varietals that tend to be my favs. In general, this AVA faces southwest, which provides ample exposure to not only the afternoon sun, but also to cross winds from the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay.
These crisp and salty breezes merry perfectly with the mainly rocky soils of volcanic origin, and they wrap there way around the slopes and ridges along the tops of the Mayacamas Mountains. When the afternoon fog layer rolls in off of the Pacific, it blankets this growing region in a layer of fine moisture, but as soon as the moon rises at night, the planetary glow somehow provides a regenerative vigor that makes everything you plant in this area grow so well.
So if you know me — even a little — it won’t surprise you to learn that Zinfandels from this AVA are some of the best in the world. But Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, and Malbec from the Moon Mountain District are also standouts, too. And please don’t forget the Chards and Pinots from here! Thicker-skinned varietals seem to love the intense solar (and perhaps lunar) radiation and stiff Pacific winds, and you can see the value of these grapes in their intense colors and flavors once they’ve been transformed into wine.
The Moon Mountain District also has a pretty special place in my heart because it was awarded “AVA Status” in 2013 — which is the year I moved to Sonoma. One of my first big wine tasting events was held down in San Francisco at the Bowery, and it was the first time winemakers from this AVA were given a true spotlight to showcase their wines. I remember meeting Sam Coturri of Sixteen 600 winery at that event. And I even met the winemaking team behind the famous Kamen wines that day, too!
But I have a strong memory of experiencing the stories behind each wine I tasted at that event with a little extra pride. There was a pride of place in the hearts of the winemakers there that day, but there was also a kind of pride in having a defining name. For so long, growers and winemakers in this area were bundled into the much larger Sonoma County AVA, yet the things that make the Moon Mountain District so special were never properly showcased under that growing area name.
All these years later, I can still taste that sense of place in any wines I experience that come off of vineyards in the Moon Mountain District. They taste a little ethereal — as if something celestial is taking shape in my glass. It might just be my imagination — which is fair game whenever I'm deeply experiencing a wine.
But whatever it is, I can’t get enough of it!