Clinging to the steep ridgetops of the Sonoma Coast at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the high elevation and diverse terroir of Fort Ross Vineyard set it apart in the world of fine wine. A mile from the ocean the vineyard is the closest to the Pacific Ocean in California. The 32 small, mountain-vineyard blocks traverse 53 acres that rise in elevation from 1,200 to 1,700 feet above sea level. These former grasslands spread north/south over a mountainous 975-acre area, an equation that leaves over 95% of the property’s native forest untouched. Varying in size from one-half to two acres, each small block has its own particular terroir and is planted with rootstocks, varietals, and clones, or field selections, best suited to reveal the terroir, varietal typicity, and clonal attributes. During the growing season the temperature ranges between 55 and 85 degrees. In response, Fort Ross Vineyard is planted to three varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinotage. These heritage clones and field selections produce low yields with small bunches and berries that deliver wines of great fruit character and vibrancy.
The climatic and topographical conditions of Fort Ross Vineyard make farming a continuing challenge that requires a vine-by-vine approach with most work done by hand. Vineyard crews use narrow-gauge crawler tractors on some hillside areas, and even then, there are some blocks that are so steep they can only be reached on foot. Yields are naturally low, but in years when the berry set is higher, fruit is dropped to reach proper ripeness and balance. Sustainable growing practices ensure the health of the vineyard, including cover crops, integrated pest management, and erosion control measures. As the grapes ripen, netting is installed over each row to protect the fruit from birds that flock from the adjacent forests.
With its marine sedimentary soils, long, bright sunny days, gentle sea breezes, fog, and cool maritime-climate, these steep coastal ridges have become one of the most highly prized cool-climate growing regions in California. The vineyard benefits from the cool air and ocean breezes, is above the fog line during most of the daylight hours, and get enough sun and warmth to bring grapes to complete physiological ripeness.
In January 2012, Fort Ross Vineyard became part of the new, rigorously defined Fort Ross-Seaview American Viticultural Area (AVA) which established the region as separate and distinct from all other wine growing regions in California.