Marin County Winegrowers Association
CLIMATE & SOIL
Grape vines were likely planted in Marin County when the San Rafael Mission was built in 1817. It seems that these vines were torn out and at least some moved to General Mariano Vallejo’s rancho in Sonoma Valley in the 1830s. Ignacio Pacheco, one of California’s early pioneers, settled in what is now eastern Marin County in 1840, when he is believed to have planted one of the first vineyards in that area. In the late 1880s, Hermann Zopf from Germany planted vines and built Zopf Gardens, a winery, saloon, and restaurant in San Rafael. In the 1890s, Frenchman Jean Escalle planted 23 acres of winegrapes on his property in Larkspur and built a winery there, which still stands today, although it is no longer a working winery. As with other parts of Northern California, landowners planted their own vineyards and made wine until Prohibition wiped out Marin’s small wine industry. The more recent viticultural history of Marin includes Pacheco Ranch’s 70 acre ranch with 7 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1970, and Mark Pasternak’s pioneering west Marin Devil’s Gulch Vineyard, planted in 1980.
The Quail Hill Vineyard was planted 1969 in Terra Linda. The Doughty family planted their first Point Reyes Vineyard in 1989. Steve and Sharon Doughty Opened the First Winery and Tasting Room in Marin County since prohibition (1930s) in 1996. Pacheco Ranch Winery was the first bonded winery in Marin (BW 4886) since Prohibition, with a tasting room started in September 1979.
Marin County: An Introduction to Our Climate
Marin County vineyards are bordered by the famous Napa & Sonoma wine districts to the north and the Golden Gate Bridge to the south. Mostly on the far western side of the county, they are influenced by the frigid Pacific Ocean along Marin's rocky western coast and the foggy San Pablo Bay to the east. These powerful bodies of cold water frame our chilly weather patterns and contribute to one of California's most unique viticultural environments.
Marin's winters average temperatures are slightly warmer than neighboring Napa and Sonoma because it is surrounded by these two large bodies of water and because of its heavy winter precipitation. Consequently, bud break is often accelerated, but the Marin coasts persistently cool spring and summer weather and complete lack of heat waves often push flowering, "set" and harvest many weeks beyond neighboring areas.
Because of this long growing season, Marin County wines are balanced with superb natural acidity and bright fruit flavors. East Marin has a climate similar to Rutherford in Napa Valley and has very similar geology.
North of San Francisco presents a unique viticultural landscape. Marin County straddles the San Andreas earthquake fault, which is slowly tearing the Tomales peninsula away from the California mainland.
Marin County: An Introduction to Our Soil
Over millions of years, this explosive geologic force has turned Marin County into a collage of rolling hills and steep cliffs, with steep terrain and a potpourri of soil types - many of which are suited for premium vineyards. Soils of volcanic, maritime and alluvial origin are plentiful, each borne by significant geological influences of earthquakes, erosion and even glaciers.
Dozens of soils have been identified in Marin County, ranging from well-drained gravelly loams to moisture-retaining silty clays. The soil profile is largely decomposed sandstone and Haire loam and is moderately fertile.
This unique combination of extremely cold climatic influence and epic geologic history yields an unparalleled environment for terroir-based winemaking.
Marin County is located just north of San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge. The county forms a large, southward-facing peninsula, bordered on three sides: the Pacific Ocean to the west, San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay to the east, and the Golden Gate Bridge and city of San Francisco to the south. The county has a total area of 828 square miles, of which 520 square miles is land and 308 square miles (37.2%) is water.
Most of the population resides in the southern and eastern portions, with much of west Marin protected in perpetuity via agricultural land easements. The western part of Marin is marked by rows of hills and valleys rolling to the ocean, with State Route 1 running alongside the California coast. The land is ideal for raising cattle and sheep, and is home to many dairies and renowned cheese makers, such as Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes, and Marin French Cheese Company. Rolling grasslands are punctuated by stately oaks and rock outcroppings, while denser stands of trees nestle in the hillside valleys and groves of aromatic eucalyptus rise up to the sky. It is also here in rugged, wild and undeveloped west Marin that most of the county’s vineyards are planted. There are now approximately 200 acres under vine, planted to Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Marin’s coastal influence results in winters that are actually warmer than neighboring North Coast winegrowing regions, allowing for an earlier bud break. However, spring is generally wetter and summers cooler here than elsewhere, which pushes flowering, fruit set and veraison later and can put the vineyards in more danger for frost damage and spring rains during set. The very long, cool growing season also gives the vines extended hang time and excellent flavor development without high sugars. The resulting wines are marked by their bright flavors, superb acidity and moderate alcohols.