The closest vineyard to the Pacific Ocean belongs to Fort Ross Winery. If you look just far enough in the distance you can see to blue water’s mist, just 1.2 miles from the coast as the crow flies. The proximity allows the grapes to experience a very stable yet prolonged growing season ensuring both physiological (sugar) and phenolic (aromatics, flavor) ripeness and a great refreshing acidity necessary for quality food wines and those with a longer ageablility.
The owner of Fort Ross Vineyard, Linda Schwartz. She and her husband Lester and South African transplants to Sonoma and boast the only plantings of their native Pinotage grape in the Western Hemisphere. They moved to Sonoma in 1988 and were integral in this region receiving its own appellation in 2011.
Another of our favorite wine makers in the region is Carroll Kemp at Red Car. Aside from making one our favorite roses, Carroll turned the emphasis of wine making at Red Car from “bigger is better” to “less is more” opting to pursue the more Burgundian, lower alcohol style. His wines are some of the most elegant and ethereal in the region. To make 12.7% alcohol Pinot Noir in Sonoma 10 years ago was unheard of, now it is not just possible, it is taking off due in part to the efforts of people like Carroll as well as Jasmine Hirsch, Rajat Parr and the rest of the IPOB (In Pursuit of Balance) crew.
The majestic and secluded vineyards of Peay in remote Annapolis. These vineyards are just four miles from the ocean and two miles south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line, making this a true destination trek. Andy and his wife Veronica make oneof the brightest and purest wines in California. These vines spend most of the year under a thick layer of fog. In fact, this visit in January turned out to be one ofthe warmest days they had seen all year, 76 degrees. Yields are so low that traditional wine makers refused to plant grapes in this remote climate deeming the region economically unfeasable to produce wine. The Peays disagreed and have found a loyal following for their tart, bright style.
The sheer beauty and isolation speaks to the wild nature of the wines. This is the “Les Titans” block referring back to the giant trees that populate this region, not too far from the fabled redwoods of northern California.
Andy Peay walking us through the vineyards.
Again, the incredibly low yields force the wines to become incredibly concentrated and aromatic. On the left are Syrah vines that produce only half a ton to an acre. Compare that to Napa- average 2.5 tons, Lodi- average 5 tons, or Fresno (Gallo country)- average 8.5-12 tons per acre! On the right is the fault line separating the coastal range from the rest of California.
A great tasting on the Peay porch capped the day.
A very rare treat indeed was the ability to tour Kistler Vineyards. This very exclusive, elusive, and quite often evasive Steve Kisler opened the doors to his renowned winery to the TopSomm National Sommelier Championships Finalists in 2013. Normally, only wine club members with appointmeents scheduled months in advance are able to tour the sights.
Future MSs Will Costello (left) and Ian Cauble (third from left in the right picture) are enjoying the tour along side Steve Kistler, Mark Bixler (wine maker), and Chalie Bennett (Vice-Enchanson of the Chain des Rotisseurs USA)
The life of the grape- from vine, to barrel, to bottle, to bottom of glass
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