Sonoma’s Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery: Special Terroir, Special Wines

In 1994 Lester and Linda Schwartz began planting their Fort Ross vineyard on Sonoma’s high coastal ridge overlooking the Pacific. Today they have 32 small blocks on 53 acres that range from 1200 to 1700 feet in elevation with marine sedimentary soils. The vineyard benefits from the cool Pacific breezes but mostly lies above the coastal fog allowing grapes to fully ripen. Jeff Pisoni has been winemaker since 2009, and we find his wines (see reviews below) to be especially good.

Winemaker Jeff Pisoni

A remote area mostly used for sheep-herding, this area of the Sonoma coast has attracted adventurous vignerons like Lester and Linda Schwartz for decades.  Among the other important pioneers of the region are Mike Bohan, David Hirsch, and Helen Turley.  Today, there are 555 acres of vineyards but the Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery is one of the few wineries in the area.

The Wines

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2018 Chardonnay Fort Ross-Seaview ($44) 92 Medium yellow straw. Notes of lemon curd, chamomile and sweet barrel spice show on the nose. Broad and juicy on a creamy palate with authoritative, mineral accented lemon and pear flavors complemented by a smoky hazelnut note. Beautifully integrated fruit and oak with sound acidity. Hyde & Old Wente field selections from the estate vineyard handpicked at night in two gallon picking trays, hand sorted and whole cluster pressed and fermented with full malo and aged in 30% new French oak for 11 months. Unfined and unfiltered. 13% alc.

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2016 Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview ($52) 92 Medium ruby red. There’s an intriguing bouquet combining dark red cherry and berry with nuances of underbrush and spice. The palate is full with an impressive mid-palate and dense flavors that mimic the bouquet. Finishes rich and almost syrup like in intensity with round tannins.Calera, Pommard and Swan selections from the estate vineyard handpicked, cold soaked, and fermented (each clone and lot separately) in 5 and 10 ton tanks, then matured in 40% new French oak for 10 months. 13.5% alc.

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2017 Sea Slopes Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($30) 92  Sourced from vineyards located in the Sonoma Coast, the Sea Slopes Chardonnay is a very well made Chardonnay exhibiting excellent freshness and balance. There’s a combination of citrus and orchard fruit aromas and flavors with an appealing stony minerality that runs throughout. Finishes clean. Perfect pairing for seafood. Fermented and aged 15 months in a mix of stainless steel and oak barrel, 20% new. Outstanding value!

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2017 Sea Slopes Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($30) 91  Medium dark ruby. Expressive aromas of red berry and pomegranate with a hint of spice. Silky on the attack with good depth of red cherry and berry fruit. An uncomplicated wine with lovely purity and freshness and a persistent, fruit rich finish.Grapes sourced from Sonoma Coast vineyards fermented in stainless and aged in 15% new French oak barrels for 10 months. 13.8% alc.

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2017 Stagecoach Road Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview ($80) 93 Spice driven nose with notes of black raspberry, red plum and a hint of forest floor. Big and chewy on the attack with robust dark red fruit flavors complemented by tobacco and spice notes. An especially rich wine with outstanding depth on the palate and with terrific juicy persistence and gripping tannins. Sourced from the estate vineyard blocks closest to the ocean with deep dark soils, handpicked, hand sorted, cold soaked, fermented in stainless tanks, and matured 10 months in 50% new French oak. 13.8% alc. saltiness and minerals here also.

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2017 The Terraces Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview ($80) 95 Medium ruby red. Highly perfumed nose of sandlewood, red raspberry, pomegranate and dark rose petals. Very fresh and inviting on the attack with vibrant, upfront acidity and incredibly fresh raspberry and cherry fruit. Supple and full on the palate with excellent freshness of fruit accented by hints of wood spice. The finish continues the fresh red fruit theme, coating the palate with a fruit bowl of just picked berries and cherries. 100% Calera clone from the steeply sloped, southwest oriented Terraced Block #11 Handpicked, hand sorted, cold soaked, fermented with ambient yeast in stainless steel and aged 10 months in 45% new French oak. 13.8% alc

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2017 Top of Land Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview ($80) 94 Medium dark ruby red. Intensely spicy bouquet with aromas of black currant, savory herbs, and nuances of tobacco and smoked meats. Compared to the other Pinots, the attack is dry and the palate is focused with a sensation of minerals and intense, penetrating essence of dark red fruit. Finishes with rich extract of fruit and a lingering sense of minerality. Pommard, Calera and 115 selections from the highest elevation blocks of the estate vineyard. Handpicked, hand sorted, cold soaked, fermented in stainless tanks and matured 10 months in 45% new French oak before the separate clones and blocks are blended. 13.5% alc.




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