Fort Ross-Seaview is a small wine growing region that consists primarily of steep coastal ridge vineyards set between 900 and 1,800 feet above sea level.
The region was approved as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) in early 2012 and is defined by both its proximity to the ocean and its high elevation.
Vineyards here are rugged and difficult to farm—with most being planted on steep hillsides that can only be harvested by hand and producing low yields per acre.
Among the founders of the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA are Fort Ross Vineyard owners Linda and Lester Schwartz. The couple also founded the Fort Ross-Seaview Winegrowers Association and are active in promoting the region and its vineyards.
Other producers that make wines from the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA include Failla, Flowers, Martinelli and Wayfarer. Fort Ross Vineyards is the only brand that also has a winery and tasting room located in the region.
Winery and Vineyards
Situated on a 100-acre property purchased by the Schwartzes in the late ’80s, Fort Ross Vineyards sits atop a hill at about 1,600 feet elevation. The winery farms around 50 acres of vineyards, growing a mixture of pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinotage (an homage to Lester and Linda Schwartz’s South African roots).
While located in a coastal region, Fort Ross Vineyards’ estate vineyards don’t get temperatures as cool as might be expected because they sit in a protected site, with elevations that are so high that the vineyards sit primarily above the fogline. This means that while the vines are affected by the cooler air that comes off of the Pacific and the high elevation rugged terrain, the fog burns off much earlier in the day than it does in lower lying vineyards. This allows the vineyards to get more hours of direct sunlight, making the wines from this AVA riper than those from some other coastal AVAs.
The wines at Fort Ross are fresh, balanced, concentrated and elegant. Winemaker Jeff Pisoni took over winemaking in 2009, bringing with him his decade of experience of working with pinot noir from coastal and cooler climate sites. His experience, merged with Linda and Lester Schwartz’s desire for the wines to showcase the uniqueness of the terroir and to produce wines that are balanced and elegant, has led to the winery making some of the best wines in its history over the past decade.
All tastings, available by appointment only, include a flight of four wines served with four courses of paired bites prepared by the winery’s in-house chef. The menu, which changes regularly, incorporates seasonal ingredients and flavor components that complement the wines. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options are available (and are just as delicious).
Highlights from a recent tasting menu included the following: “Roasted Wild Mushroom, White Corn Grits, Black Tea Infused Honey Pine Nuts, Laura Chenel Goat Cheese,” as well as a “Chicory & Coffee Crusted New York Strip Steak, Crispy Red Potatoes, Wild Arugula Pinotage Gastrique.”
Having done the food and wine pairing recently myself (as a gluten free diner), I can say that the experience is fantastic.
If the sky is clear, visitors can enjoy views of the ocean. After a tasting, they can take a walk around the property’s gardens, a good excuse to spend a little bit more time in this peaceful, beautiful place.
Fort Ross Vineyards offers appointment-only tasting experiences Friday through Tuesday, 10am-3pm. The property is only open to those with an appointment. To book, visit fortrossvineyard.com/visit.