Cold ocean winds whip up off the Pacific Ocean to meet redwood groves on coastal cliffs - this is coastal Sonoma at its extreme - welcome to Fort Ross-Seaview. Fort Ross – Seaview is nestled along the coastline in the northern part of the Sonoma Coast AVA. The first grapes planted here were planted in 1817; however, it wasn’t until 2011 that it was accepted as an AVA. Once thought to be too cold and inhospitable for wine grapes, Fort Ross – Seaview has been the home for elegant and nuanced wine for nearly five decades, made by a small number of producers. The steep mountainous topography was created by the San Andreas fault and there is a patchwork of various soil types. Vineyards are planted usually above the fog line between 800-1,800 feet and produce some of the highest rated pinot noir, chardonnay, and other wine coming from Sonoma.
The unique aspect of the vineyards here is that they lie primarily above the fog line, this allows a few things to happen – first off, the grapes and the foliage get a bit more sunshine than nearby vineyards. This helps to offset the cooler climate and allows for quality grape growing in a very marginal climate. Second, for some of the area’s vineyards – the afternoon sun helps the grapes to slowly ripen. How does this terroir impact the chardonnay produced here? Brighter acidity, more pronounced rocky (if not saline) minerality, and highly refined aromatics and palate. The longer that it takes grapes to ripen, especially in a marginal climate – the more nuanced the resulting wines will be. Great examples to search out would be RAEN (founded by two grandsons of Robert Mondavi – Carlo and Dante), Ramey, Pahlmeyer’s Wayfarer, Fort Ross, and Faillia.
The higher elevation and the rugged terrain of the vineyards lend themselves to lower yields, smaller berries, and an extraordinary concentration of flavors. David Hirsch, of the renowned Hirsch winery, viewed the soil for his “San Andreas Fault” vineyard to be more complicated than Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits because of the activity of the nearby notorious fault line. Pinot noir can be intensely complex with aromatics, pronounced fruit notes, and a vibrant acidity. These are wines that can age. Other wines to look for are from producers listed above as well as Red Car, Martinelli, Peay, Marcassin, Flowers, and Morlet.
The unique growing conditions also provide stand-out expressions of syrah, pinotage, and viognier. Faillia produces a unique syrah expressing the herbal and peppery notes that one gets from climates that tend to be cooler with a deep impression of fruit. Pinotage, a grape native to South Africa, was planted here by the founders of the Fort Ross winery as that is their home country. A bold grape, this takes on the lifted notes of the higher elevation fruit but expresses the robust earthiness classic to pinotage. Peay makes a stunning viognier that shows gorgeous orchard fruit, floral aromatics, and because of the unique terroir – expresses the most acid out of all their wines made.
Fort Ross-Seaview AVA wines are as dynamic and enthralling as the rugged coastal landscape itself. Lifted acidity with expressive palates and aromatics, these are wines to savor and contemplate alongside food and great company. Please reach out to Mariano if you would like him to source any of the wines noted for you. Cheers!