Exploring The Fort Ross-Seaview AVA

  • By Pier-Alexis Soulière MS
  • 24 Nov 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 201
Made possible by
Hirsch vineyards Block 8 in fog - Credit : Jasmine Hirsch / Hirsch vineyards

Over the past 50 years many Californian grape growers have considered the Fort Ross - Seaview zone too cold and too high in elevation, making it extremely difficult to achieve any ripeness in the fruit. Curiously enough, Fort Ross was a settlement for the Russian-American Company and Captain Leontii Andreianovich Hagemeister planted Peruvian grape cuttings way back in 1817… 

Of course, if you are looking for ripe and lush fruit you may be looking in the wrong place, but if fragrance, elegance, and persistence are what you’re looking for, this might be a ‘’cool’’ place to consider. 

Its modern history started in the 70s when a bunch of free thinkers came down to plant vineyards and work the land. Isolated, rugged, and adjacent to the cold water of the Pacific Ocean, one really needed determination to establish a vineyard in this region. Bohan, Schoenfeld, Schatzberg, and Hirsch were the first, attracting the attention of the by then well-established Martinelli family in the 80’s, but it was really in the 90s that the spotlight turned on the area. Vineyards planted by Helen Turley and Peter Michael changed people’s perceptions of the area, as many came to recognize more and more that a certain quintessence could be extracted from these extreme growing conditions. With Kistler, Williams Seylem, and Littorai purchasing Fort Ross - Seaview fruit, the signature style of the region became more and more Burgundian. If one looks at the statistics, this is undeniably Pinot Noir country; Chardonnay follows as the second most-planted variety, with marginal plantings of Syrah and Cabernet. 

For a long time locals have been debating about “The True Sonoma Coast”. In fact, Sonoma Coast is a large AVA of almost 200,000 hectares (493,000 acres), representing 50% of Sonoma County. Of course, it is not all under vine, but it still represents a very large territory with lots of different realities. Many people have argued over the years that the key zone stretches from Annapolis to Jenner or Bodega Bay, and the further one goes east the warmer one gets, and the less coastal influence one experiences. Fort - Ross Seaview was a partial answer to the debate surrounding the forming of an enclaved AVA within the Sonoma Coast, recognizing the work of the aforementioned pioneers, and the area’s distinctive fruit profile.

Interestingly enough, Fort Ross - Seaview has a minimum elevation of between 280 - 550 metres (920 - 1,800 feet), and this is explained by the fact that vineyards here cannot sit in the fog. Remember, this is a much cooler Californian zone, and here sunshine is key in the ripening process. Only a few pockets within the AVA are suitable for grape growing and this includes very steep slopes generating very low yields and very small berries. This translates into only 225 hectares (556 acres) planted to vine. Soils can be extremely diverse due to the San Andreas Fault, with clay, loam, sandstone, and sometimes all three making an appearance depending upon site; in some vineyards this can change from one row (or vine!) to the next.

Still, Fort Ross - Seaview forms one of the most quality-oriented AVA in the US. Due to its remote, rugged, rough, coastal, and dramatic terrain it remains a winegrower-dominated land where very few wineries are established. Its Pinots and Chardonnays can be austere in youth and worth ageing. Below are a few names that have used (or still use) Fort Ross - Seaview fruit.

Notable producers 

  • Ca’Nani – a Del Dotto Family Winery – Cinghiale Vineyard
  • Martinelli Winery – Blue Slide Ridge, Wild Thyme Vineyard, Charles Ranch, Three Sisters Vineyard
  • Pahlmeyer – Wayfarer Vineyard
  • Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery – Estate
  • Wild Hog Vineyard – Estate
  • Marcassin – Estate
  • Failla – Estate
  • Hirsch – Estate
  • Boar’s View – Estate
  • Red Car – Estate, Mohrhardt Ridge Vineyard
  • Kistler – Hirsch Vineyard
  • Williams Selyem Winery – Hirsch Vineyard, Precious Mountain Vineyard
  • Siduri Wines – Hirsch Vineyard
  • Littorai – Hirsch Vineyard
  • Peay – Hirsch Vineyard
  • Tin Barn Vineyards – Coryelle Fields Vineyard
  • WesMar Winery – Hellenthal Vineyard
  • Ceritas – Hellenthal “Old Shop Block”, Rivina, Elliot Vineyard
  • Jamie Kutch – McDougall Ranch
  • Flowers – Camp Meeting Ridge, Sea View Ridge
  • Enfield Wine Co. – Waterhouse Ridge Vineyard
  • Unturned Stone Productions– Waterhouse Ridge Vineyard
  • Peter Michael – Seaview Vineyard
  • Jamie Kutch – Bohan Vineyard
  • Sandlands – Bohan Vineyard
  • Arnot Roberts – Bohan Vineyard
  • Felton Empire – Bohan Vineyard
  • Sea Ridge – Bohan Vineyard
  • Robert Stemmler – Bohan Vineyard
  • Fetzer – Bohan Vineyard
  • Turley – Bohan Vineyard
  • Kendall Jackson – Bohan Vineyard
  • Davies– Nobles Vineyard
  • b.wise – Nobles Vineyard
  • Cazadero– Parmeter King Ridge Vineyard

 

 

Hirsch vineyards Block 8 in fog - Credit : Jasmine Hirsch / Hirsch vineyards