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Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery

Sonoma County region

Perched on the steep ridge tops of the Sonoma Coast at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery crafts cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of extraordinary character.

When Lester and Linda Schwartz first began Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery in 1988, they wisely planted a test block of fourteen different varietals. The results showed that the incomparable Pinot Noir would yield the best fruit from the land located on a coastal ridge directly on the Pacific Ocean. Fort Ross Vineyard currently consists of 52 acres of planted vines, of which 40 acres are rooted in Pinot Noir.

“Our vines are extremely low in yield,” pointed out Lester Schwartz. “We get less than two tons an acre and we drop fruit two or three times a year.”

Uniquely, Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery does not release its wines strictly by vintage. “We only release a wine when it is ready for release,” informed Schwartz. “This drives some of our employees crazy, but it’s paramount for our wines and best for our consumers.”

First releases occurred in 2001, a minuscule 64 cases. Since then, the winery has grown to its present level of between 3,500 and 4,000 cases annually.

Lester and Linda Schwartz are both native South Africans who met as students at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in the 1960’s, where they developed a mutual interest in wine. San Francisco beckoned and the couple relocated to the City by the Bay. It wasn’t long before they caught the wine bug, and the pair found (after a four year search) a breathtaking piece of land just above Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast. Even the annual rainfall of the area (75 to 125 inches) and the temperature flux (55 to above 85 degrees) couldn’t deter the persistent twosome.

Consumers, industry publications and competitions have heartily embraced the wines of Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery since its inception. Most knowledgeable wine enthusiasts rank its wines among the top Pinot Noirs from both the United States and abroad.

The philosophy behind the vineyard and winery defines its current status. "Fort Ross was not conceived as a routine farming project, but rather as a visionary endeavor with each decision made to increase the intensity and complexity of the fruit, with the goal of producing wine that combines luscious fruit, elegance, structure and balance reflecting the cool maritime terroir of the vineyard," concluded Lester Schwartz.

Wineries like Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery are a joy for consumers to experience. The fact that they produce exceptional wines is just icing on the proverbial cake. We're proud to share this incredible wine with our Pinot Noir Wine Club members!

Map of the area

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Picture of Dear <i>Platinum Wine Club</i> Members,

When we started planting our vineyard in 1994, we were told that we were crazy. It would be the closest vineyard to the Pacific Ocean in California and were warned that the grapes would need to vacation in Miami to ripen. To this day, all Fort Ross wines are still produced only from grapes grown on this single-estate vineyard.

We were not only crazy but also stubborn. We ignored the warnings of the Consultants and Vineyard Contractors and tested our theories by planting a trial vineyard with 16 different grape varieties. When we saw that Burgundian grapes thrived in the cool maritime climate, ripening to a rich fruitiness while maintaining the lively acidity, soft tannins and distinctive minerality characteristic of Grand Cru Burgundy, we began preparing the main vineyard. It took us four years before we were satisfied that we had prepared the first steep hillside blocks to cope with a rainfall that ranges from 75 to 125 inches – more than the Amazon Jungle – and put in 7 miles of fencing to keep the deer out.

Now as we stand in our vineyard, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, watching the buds swell and the first green leaves sprouting of our 12th vintage, sipping our Fort Ross Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, we watch the helicopters fly overhead carrying eager prospective buyers of premium vineyard land in an area where the few plantable acres have been taken and what remains are rocky outcrops. Maybe we were not crazy after all!

We would like to invite you to visit our website for complete tasting notes and to learn more about Fort Ross Vineyard. We are in the process of building the first tasting room in our area, just off the Pacific Coast Highway. If you would like to come visit please join our mailing list so we can keep you informed about our progress as well as upcoming wine releases.

From our family to yours!


Linda Schwartz

Jeff Pisoni - Winemaker

Picture of Jeff Pisoni - Winemaker

Winemaker Jeff Pisoni is the third generation of his family to be involved in winemaking. Young Jeff was influenced by his family farm and vineyards and he was determined to become a winemaker early in life. He earned an enology degree from California State University at Fresno and gained expertise with the likes of Peter Michael Winery (Knights Valley) and Bernardus Winery (Carmel Valley), both top echelon wineries in their respective locales.

Jeff regards his winemaking as the interwoven art, science, and craft aspects of his trade, along with his long term love affair with nature and its effect on grapes and wine. His efforts have proved very fruitful with numerous awards and high scores in both competitions and periodical ratings.

At Fort Ross, the approach to winemaking is gentle and minimalistic with the aim to produce exceptional wines that truly express the terroir and topography of this unique coastal vineyard. It is Jeff Pisoni's vision to craft wines that reveal their fruit with elegant structure, balance and finesse.