Named after a prominent nearby summit, the Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA consists of steep rugged terrain, high elevations, moderate temperatures, cooling winds, and well-drained mountain soils. It is ideally situated in a climatic transition zone between the cool, wet climate of the Pacific coast and the warm, dry inland valleys of Mendocino County.
The new AVA is situated 125 miles north of San Francisco and encompasses nearly 21,000 acres of mountainous terrain. Only 115 acres are currently under vine between Golden, Masút, Linholme, Sea Biscuit South, and Turan Vineyards.
One of California’s Most Northerly AVAs
- Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA is located 125 miles north of San Francisco and 25 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
- Its 20,960 acres are bordered by the Ukiah Valley to the south, the California Coastal Range to the west, and Redwood Valley to the east. It extends north, to Walker Valley.
- The Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA includes Forsythe and Mill Creeks, part of the upper Russian River watershed.
- Vineyard acreage: 115 acres
- All of Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA’s vineyards are between 800 and 3,200 feet in elevation, significantly higher than nearby Redwood Valley (600 ft).
- Prominent summits in the AVA include Eagle Peak at 2,699 feet, Irene Peak at 2,836 feet, and the 3,360-foot crest of Laughlin Ridge.
- Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA’s vineyards are located on south and east facing hillsides. These vineyards are moderate to very steep, with angles between 30 and 50 percent.
- The steep slopes encourage good air circulation, helping to prevent frost and heavy fogs that can damage grapevines.
- The steepness of the slopes promotes water drainage and prevents an excess of standing water.
- The southerly facing slopes enable the soil to warm faster in the spring, promoting early vine growth.
- The area is influenced by cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean, which moderates daily temperatures and seasonal temperature variations. This allows steady, gradual ripening of the area’s fruit while maintaining good acidity.
- Data shows an average of only 22 days per year with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (as opposed to 64 days in Redwood Valley and 80 days in the Ukiah Valley) and only a 25-degree difference in average temperature between the average warmest month and average coldest month.
- The area’s moderate temperatures can be attributed, in part, to coastal fog. Although the Coastal Range blocks the heaviest of the marine fog from moving farther inland, some enters the AVA through a gap, known as the Big River airflow corridor.
- The steep upland terrain of the area also plays a role in moderating temperatures.
- At night, cold air drains off the mountain slopes and into the lower elevations of the neighboring Ukiah and Redwood Valleys, resulting in warmer nighttime temperatures within Eagle Peak’s viticultural area.
- Summer winds are common throughout the Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA.
- During the summer, hot air rises from nearby Redwood, Potter, and Ukiah Valleys creating low pressure at ground level.
- The low pressure pulls cooler marine air from the Pacific Ocean through the Big River airflow corridor and into the Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, AVA, resulting in frequent winds.
- The breezes moderate high summer temperatures, but are not strong enough to damage vines or fruit.
- They also lower humidity, reducing the development of grape rot.
- The Eagle Peak Mendocino AVA’s soils span two major California geological types, sandstone and shale (Franciscan Complex). These are significantly different than the alluvium soils of nearby AVAs.
- The defining characteristic of these soils is low water-holding capacity. Because these mountain sites are better drained, excess water is not a problem.
- These soils also tend to be less agriculturally vigorous. Mountain vines tend to grow in a more balanced manner than their peers growing on thicker and more vigorous substrate.
- The native Pomo people were the original inhabitants of the Eagle Peak AVA. Their name for the Laughlin Ridge was Kachadana (Arrowhead) Mountain.
- The first documented Western settlers in the area were the recipients of Mexican land grants in the 1840’s.
- In the 1850’s, settlers used the interior valleys and nearby foothills as open range for cattle. During this time Italian and Swiss immigrants planted wine grapes on the bench lands and mountain terraces throughout the county. They left the land on the valley floors for more profitable crops that needed the rich alluvial soil like hops, alfalfa, grains and fruit.
- Gradually grapes became the dominant crop throughout Mendocino County, replacing grain and hay in the early 1900’s, hops in the 1930’s and pears and prunes in recent years.
- In the last 15 years, wines made from Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA’s fruit have received international acclaim.