In 1841 Cyrus Alexander arrived in an untamed valley to manage the Sotoyome Rancho, a Mexican land grant owned by San Diego sea captain Henry Delano Fitch, and his wife, Josefa Carrillo. As payment for his services, Alexander received 9,000 acres on the eastern side of the valley, where he built his home. A tireless innovator, Alexander planted an orchard, constructed a tannery, and built the first grain mill in the area. He also planted a vineyard.
In the three decades following the Gold Rush of 1849, the population of Alexander Valley grew quickly. By 1875, 230 acres were devoted to vineyards. Over the next half-century, more settlers discovered this rich land and good timber. Early residents planted wheat, grazed livestock, and grew fruits and vegetables. Early accounts of valley life include idyllic recollections of horseback trips, fishing in the river, and social activities such as dances and barbecues.