Fort Ross Winery Sea Slopes Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2018

Medium ruby-garnet color; plum, raspberry, hibiscus on the nose; Bing cherry, plum, raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant, cola on the palate.

Fort Ross Winery Sea Slopes Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2018

Dry; supple, fine-grained tannins; balancing acidity. Whisper of oak—this spent 18 months in French oak, but only 10% of the barrels were new, the remainder neutral. Wine fermented in stainless steel with punch down during maceration to emphasize color, flavor, aromas. Medium body. 13.5% ABV

Elegant, smooth, tasty presentation of quality pinot noir. Pure pinot play; 100% grapes come from vineyard that literally overlooks the Pacific. Thus the Sea Slopes name. The sea also gives the wine a hint of minerality/salinity. The Fort Ross name comes the nearby, historic Russian settlement of Fort Ross—which also engendered the Russian River Valley name.

I reviewed the previous vintage of this recently. The two travel in similar tracks. This vintage may be slightly more elegant with a skosh more oak, but the differences are so subtle it may just be me trying to conjure up a comparison. Both the 2017 and 2018 Sea Slopes Pinot Noir are superb pours and good with QPR for wines of this caliber.

Sea Slopes winemaker Jeff Pisoni

Jeff Pisoni is the winemaker. He grew up on the family farm and vineyards and 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.

Lester and Linda Schwartz–Fort Ross

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 vineyard and winery

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 2018 is creamy, demure, drinks more like an Oregon pinot than the puncher, heavier pinots Sonoma can produce. This can easily be enjoyed by itself or paired with wine crackers and a light/medium cheese or charcuterie tray. Pair with salmon or other baked fatty fish and seafood; shellfish; lighter beef cuts; baked turkey or chicken; slow-cooked lamb. Avoid rich sauces or heavily marbled red meats, they could overwhelm the delicate deliciousness of this superb pour. $35

Fort Ross Winery website with nice video—click on “Story”

Fort Ross Winery vineyard, Pacific Ocean
Fort Ross vineyard and winery
Fort Ross vineyard and winery
Fort Ross-Seaview AVA