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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery - Sonoma Coast

Wine Enthusiast awards this stellar wine 95 Points and names it an Editor’s Choice

If you are familiar with the Fort Ross area of Sonoma County, you might assume that the locale is not widely noted for grape growing or the making of fine varietal wines. This month’s Platinum Series Selection, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery, would definitely prove that initial theory wrong. What’s more, the owners of the smallish winery point to the fact that the first grape plantings in Fort Ross were established in 1817 with rootstock brought from Peru, thereby predating any plantings in either Sonoma County or Napa Valley. For the record, Lester and Linda Schwartz are the owners of Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery. It is an incredibly well placed facility located on a coastal ridge just above Fort Ross. The entire vineyard has an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean including Bodega Bay and even the Farallon Islands. It also might lay claim to the closest vineyards to the water in all of California. Lester and Linda Schwartz are both natives of South Africa, and met at the University of Cape Town when they were both students in the 1960’s. Lester was a geology student while Linda, a pianist and composer, was studying music. Cape Town’s location to South Africa’s famed Stellenbosch Valley is similar to San Francisco’s closeness to Sonoma and Napa, and the pair discovered a mutual interest in wine. After settling in San Francisco, the couple finally decided to enter the wine business in 1988. Lester yearned for the country life of his youth and Linda began taking wine-oriented classes to learn more about the field. They found a breathtaking spot just above Fort Ross and decided to plant some test vineyards to see what the growing parameters were for the mountainous terrain.

“We took a great deal of time, more than four years, to see what the results would be,” recalled Linda Schwartz. “Most people thought we were crazy, what with the annual rainfall (75 to 125 inches) and the climactic conditions so near the water. We listened to everyone and then did what we thought best.” The area’s first planters suffered through a number of circumstances, but eventually developed a growing philosophy that has proven to be correct. Many growers now feel that the Fort Ross area is one of the finest growing areas for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. Sadly, there is little plantable land left to develop.

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery’s first release came in 2000, more than a decade after the first plantings. A total of only 100 cases were produced, but the wines proved to be masterpieces from the beginning. Since then, the winery has been featured at the prestigious James Beard House in New York and the industry plaudits have been many and rewarding. A total of 50 acres comprises the Fort Ross Vineyard and is located from elevations of 1200 to 1700 feet. The vines are extremely low yield, producing only 1.5 to 2 tons per acre.

“We usually drop fruit two or three times a year,” Schwartz informed. “We know exactly what we are after in terms of size and ripeness, and we do whatever is necessary to produce the type of fruit we need for our wines.” One unique fact is that Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery does not release its wines strictly by vintage.

“We only release a wine when it is ready for release,” added Schwartz. “It drives some of our employees crazy, but it’s paramount for our wines and best for our consumers.”
Above all, the rigors of running vineyards and a winery have been a labor of love for Lester and Linda Schwartz.

“If a business school looked at a model of our operation, they would probably throw up their hands,” noted Schwartz with a chuckle. “But when you do things like we do, you might have to throw out all the books. Some call us idealistic so I let our wines speak for themselves.” And those wines speak quite loudly. Most of Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery releases are sold out early, including their wonderful Pinotage, a South African varietal that has won a huge following at the winery. Lester and Linda have daughters who are professionals in their own right, but have little interest in becoming involved in the winery. Their grandchildren, however, are another matter. Linda Schwartz holds out hope the youngsters will eventually become interested and enter the wine business.

“That would complete everything,” she finalized. “Everything.”

  1. Fort Ross
    2007 Pinot Noir
    Fort Ross
    Sonoma Coast


    95 Points - Editor's Choice
    id: 781