From our mountain vineyard that overlooks the Sonoma Coast in the Fort Ross-Seaview American Viticultural Area, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery produces limited quantities of single vineyard, Estate grown, cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinotage. With spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean less than one mile away, the vineyard is divided into 32 separate blocks, one-half to two acres in size, that range in elevation from 1700 down to 1200 feet above sea level. Owners, Lester and Linda Schwartz with their small crew began preparing the 52 acre vineyard in 1994. It took them 4 years of preparation before they could begin planting. The year 2000 marked the first vintage from the Fort Ross Vineyard.
While Pinotage shares many traits with Pinot Noir, there is an earthy brambleness that distinguishes it from its more famous cousin. Dense aromas of dark berries and leather mingle with underlying notes of spice and sandalwood. This inky, nearly opaque Pinotage has a concentrated depth of bold flavors that envelop the palate. Tiers of black cherry, cassis and black plum are enhanced by a hints of sassafras, black pepper and forest floor. The defined dark berried fruit is in complete harmony with the firm tannins, tight acidity and lengthy finish. The layered textural complexities and intensity pair beautifully with exotic spices, Italian food, as well as smoked and grilled meats. Prior to release, this wine was patiently cellared until optimal, yet it’s structure allow it to cellar for years to come.
After heavy winter rains, the spring was warm and dry, followed by a dry summer. The vines began growing quickly and fruitfully. To keep the crop load modest, we went through the vineyard three times to thin the crop and position the canes and the bunches. After an unexpected rainfall in mid-September, the vineyard had time to dry out before the harvest began. The Pinot Noir blocks were harvested between September 12 – 26, the Chardonnay blocks between September 20 – 22 and the Pinotage on October 1.
Pinotage was first developed in South Africa in 1925 by crossing the two vinifera varieties, Pinot Noir and Cinsault which was called Hermitage at the time. Our Pinotage consists of two Fort Ross proprietary clones, MM1 and MM3, developed at UC Davis from budwood personally imported by Fort Ross from one of the most select Pinotage vineyards in South Africa. The grapes for this Pinotage were handpicked during the cool hours of the night in small two-gallon picking trays. After hand sorting, the fruit was cold soaked for several days and fermented in a single 5 ton tank. During fermentation, the wine was pumped over and sparingly punched down, to carefully control the amount of extraction from the thicker skins in order to produce a well-balanced, age-worthy Pinotage. Shortly after pressing, the wine was barreled in a combination of 20% new and 80% neutral French oak.