By Virginie Boone

This coming Saturday, the members of the Moon Mountain District Winegrowers Association will host their annual master class and tasting at Monte Rosso Vineyard, a legacy vineyard site first planted in the 1880s. Led by wine critic Antonio Galloni, the master class will include a look at the 2023 vintage from barrel samples as well as a library tasting of the 2013 vintage of the same wines. A vineyard tour and larger walk-around tasting follows.

Approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2013, Moon Mountain is one of Sonoma County’s wildest places, set along the Mayacamas Mountains’ western flank above Sonoma Valley, where vineyards effortlessly outnumber wineries. It borders Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder to the east.

Moon Mountain elevation rises from 400 to 2,300 feet. Of its total expanse of 17,633 acres, only 2,000 or so are planted, mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and other reds, including Pinot Noir, which is grown predominantly at Hanzell. The soils are largely volcanic, rich, red and well-draining, with rhyolitic tuff tossed about here and there.

Winemaker Erich Bradley, who makes the Repris, Pangloss and Sojourn Cellars wines, thinks Cabernet Franc might be what grows best on Moon Mountain, with its late afternoon heat, above-the-fogline elevation, volcanic soils and natural air conditioning coming up from the San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap, calling Cab Franc, “the Pinot Noir of Bordeaux reds.”

In fact, of the 40 or so vineyards on Moon Mountain, Bradley’s made wine from 30 of them, learning a lot about the AVA in his early winemaking days from one of the region’s trailblazers, Richard Arrowood of Chateau St. Jean, Arrowood and then Moon Mountain-based Amapola Creek, which he sold to Brion Wise, another regional pioneer.

Speaking of pioneers, Steve Kistler planted some of his first Chardonnay grapes on Moon Mountain, on a dry-farmed site 1,800 feet in elevation in those red volcanic soils, bottling his first Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay in 1986. The estate is also where Kistler and his family first lived and made wine.

Near Kistler along Nelligan Road is Montecillo Vineyard, owned and farmed by Blair Guthrie of Stewart Cellars and a vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignon for Turley, DiConstanzo Wines, DuMol and Arnot-Roberts.

Also along this stretch is Charlie Smith Vineyard, Deering (once a part of Beltane Ranch), Fredericks, whose grapes all go to Turley, Gamble Family Mary Ann and Hamel Nuns Canyon, where the Hamels have done significant soil studies and replants since buying the vineyard from St. Francis Winery in 2013.

This western end of Moon Mountain above the towns of Kenwood and Glen Ellen also has Kistler Mid-Slope, originally planted by legendary farmer Chuy Ordaz in the 1960s (Ordaz also planted Montecillo), and high above that, Lasseter Trinity Ridge.

Moon Mountain is also home to Stone Edge Farm Silver Cloud, Korbin Kameron Moonridge (the AVA’s highest-elevation vineyard at 2,100-2,300 feet) and Lambert Bridge’s Gilfillan Vineyard, planted in 2010 at 1,110 feet to Cabernet Sauvignon.

And then there’s the heart of the AVA, right in the middle, where Monte Rosso, Baker Mt. Pisgah, Ledson Mountain Terraces, Repris Moon Mountain Vineyard (first planted in 1968 and once known as Glen Ellen Vineyard and later Carmenet), Hanna Bismark (which the family developed into vineyard between 1991 and 1993), Ty Caton, Rancho Salina, Birch Family Estate Moon Hollow, B. Wise and B. Wise Amapola Creek all lie, accessed via Moon Mountain Road.

Southern Moon Mountain is more accessible from the town of Sonoma, and includes Hanzell, founded in 1953, Kamen Estate, accessed along Norrbom Road (first planted in 1982), Bartholomew (where grapes were originally planted in 1832), Coturri Estate and Los Chamizal Haywood and Shorenstein, two different parcels that once were one. The Los Chamizal name dates back to the1800s on area maps.

These diverse places from all over Moon Mountain will be well-represented in the wines being poured during Saturday’s Reach for the Moon! Tasting following Galloni’s master class, including those from Bedrock Wine Co., Biale, Gail, Far Mountain, LaRue, Liquid Sky, Louis M. Martini, Muscardini and many more.

Image by Moon Mountain District Winegrowers Association