by Fred McMillin
for January 27, 1999


The Russians Are Coming!

Yes, 25 Russians and 80 Eskimos were sailing into the quiet California cove near the Pomo Indian village of "May-Tee-Nee," soon to be know as Fort Ross. That was in March 1812. By 1841 they would be gone, but would leave their name on a nearby river. Actually, while there the Russians called it "Slavianka." (Slav woman) However, the worried Spaniards called it "Del Rio Ruso."

Davis Bynum winery They did not know it, but the rain-fed Rio Ruso originated in the Mendocino hills 100 miles to the north. Flowing south, the river and its tributaries carved out three major (viticultural) valleys, the Alexander, the Dry Creek, and finally The Russian River Valley. So we wine types must learn that the wine district Russian River Valley is at the southern end of a much longer river by the same name.

The Russian (River Wines) Are Coming

Davis Bynum How important is this southern end? A Wine Spectator poll found it "the most promising emerging wine region in California...With the heat moderated by fog and cool marine air, the climate agrees heartily with the Chardonnay grape..."

My panel thinks so, too. Here's the wine that won Best White in the last blind tasting.

Today's Winning Wine

1995 Limited Edition (640 cases) Chardonnay
Appellation—Russian River Valley (100%)
Winery—Davis Bynum, (pictured) phone (707) 433-5852
Winemaker—One of California's greatest talents, Gary Farrell
Flavors—Creamy melon, gentle spice
Price—$17 range


During their three decades in California, the Russians did much more than leave their name on a river. They were the first to build ships in northern California, they named Mt. St. Helena, and they brought the first wine grapes north of San Francisco (from South America) before the Spanish missionaries planted their vines at Sonoma.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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