Fort Ross Winery Sea Slopes Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2017: Medium ruby color; blackcurrant, cherry, raspberry, rose, cola on the nose; black cherry, cranberry, plum, raspberry, spice on the palate.
Dry; soft, fine-grained tannins; balancing acidity. Only suggestions of oak. Smooth. Earthy elements. Wine fermented in stainless steel with punch down during maceration to emphasize color, flavor, aromas. Finished in 15% new and 85% neutral French oak for 10 months. The wine is 100% pinot noir. 13.8% ABV
The grapes grow, literally, on slopes overlooking the sea. Warm sun, cool fogs result in quality grapes. The Fort Ross name comes the nearby, historic Russian settlement of Fort Ross—which also engendered the Russian River Valley name. The sea also gives the wine hints of salt.
Jeff Pisoni is the winemaker. He grew up on the family farm and vineyards. He earned a degree in enology from Cal State-Fresno. He worked for a couple of wineries, then started making wine full-time with his family. From the website: “Jeff loves the interwoven art, science and craft aspects of winemaking, and the never-ending learning and appreciation of nature found while working with the vineyards and wine.”
Fort Ross Winery owners Lester and Linda Schwartz met when they were students at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in the 1960s. The son of a lawyer and farmer, Lester studied geology, then switched to law and became an attorney. Linda earned her degree in music composition and theory. They married in 1967, then moved to California nine years later where Lester practiced law in San Francisco and Linda joined a consulting firm that advised non-profit arts organizations.
The website tells the winery’s story of risk taking and resilience: “In 1988 owners Lester and Linda Schwartz purchased a section of virgin forest and grasslands in the high coastal ridges of the Sonoma coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Told by academics that it was too risky to plant a vineyard on these cool, foggy coastal ridges so close to the Ocean they were undeterred. After experimenting for several years with assorted clones, rootstocks and trellising systems they concluded that the property had the potential to grow exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“In 1994, after carefully sourcing exceptional heritage clones whose attributes they believed would reveal the terroir and varietal typicity, they began to prepare and plant the first vineyard blocks. Lester and Linda spent many days personally digging plant holes and planting vines as they meticulously laid out their 53-acre vineyard with roads, underground drainage and irrigation systems while developing and building a reservoir and designing a custom trellis system.”
Fort Ross Winery practices sustainable farming. From the website: “Detailed prevention defines the holistic farming practices. We microscopically inspect the leaves, shoots and growing clusters with a jeweler’s magnifying loop to find any hints of potential problems. Careful vigilance is substituted in place of actions that can disturb the balance of nature. Other environmental aspects: rainwater is captured in the large pond then used for irrigation and the runoff is filtered through lower level silt ponds before entering natural streams.”
Fort Ross Winery Sea Slopes Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2017 is elegant, refined, delicious. Excellent balance between supple tannins and acidity. Delicious fruit. This is one of those wines that can be enjoyed all by itself or with neutral wine crackers or a cheese tray. Pair with rich fish dishes—salmon, other fatty fish; duck and other game birds; leaner, lighter beef; veal; venison; washed-rind cheese; nutty, medium-firm cheese—gruyere. $35