Located in the coastal hills above Fort Ross State Historic Park and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Fort Ross-Seaview is one of Sonoma County’s newest and most distinctive American viticultural areas.
Fort Ross-Seaview was carved out of the larger Sonoma Coast AVA with special consideration to elevation and other characteristics specific to growing wine grapes in this remote and rugged region. Some of the most sought-after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown on 500 vineyard acres here, yet there are few wineries open to the public. The 27,500-acre Fort Ross-Seaview American viticultural area was awarded AVA status in 2011.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most popular grapes in Fort-Ross Seaview, although because the appellation is so new, many wines continue to carry the Sonoma Coast designation. One of the surprise runners-up is the South African varietal Pinotage, planted by expatriates at Fort Ross Vineyard.
The first wine grapes in Sonoma County were planted in 1817 at the Russian-American Company’s Fort Ross, but the area’s modern viticultural history began in 1973, when sheep rancher Mick Bohan, struggling with low wool prices, planted Riesling; the possibilities for this varietal remain tantalizing.
The Lay of the Land
The Fort Ross-Seaview AVA arose from a conundrum: Grapes here are grown in truly coastal conditions, yet the Sonoma Coast AVA was drawn to include parts of vastly disparate AVAs including Cabernet country like Chalk Hill.
To understand Fort Ross-Seaview, picture a vineyard on the crown of a coastal ridge, surrounded by a sea of fog. Although the AVA is located just a few miles from cold Pacific Ocean waters, between Jenner and The Sea Ranch, it is also significantly defined by its higher elevation. In the summer, vineyards bask in warm sunlight indeed, while many are above the damp belt of fog that invades the Petaluma Gap and Russian River Valley. Fort Ross-Seaview is an essentially chilly climate on the edge of grape-growing possibility, yet, at times, may receive more sunlight than areas like Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, which is defined by immersion in fog.
Fort Ross Vineyard was founded in the 1990s by Lester and Linda Schwartz, and is open daily for tasting Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinotage. Many of the other wineries operating within or sourcing grapes from the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA are not open to the public, and often their wines are available only by waiting list or from specialty retailers. They include Flowers, Wild Hog, Marcassin, Failla, Williams Selyem, and Peay.
Grape grower David Hirsch knew that he was onto something good when, one month in the early 1990s, Kistler, Littorai and Williams Selyem all called up asking about his grapes at once. Hirsch Vineyards is open to intrepid visitors by appointment only.
Wineries located outside of the AVA that make wine with grapes from Fort Ross-Seaview vineyards and are open for tasting include Martinelli Winery in Windsor, Red Car Wine in Sebastopol, and Tin Barn Vineyards in Sonoma.
Restaurants and Lodging in Fort Ross-Seaview
Coast Kitchen at Timber Cove Resort (21780 N. Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 800-987-8391) provides dramatic cliffside views of the ocean, while Black Point Grill at Sea Ranch Lodge (60 Sea Walk Drive, The Sea Ranch, 707-785-2371) offers serenity and fine dining by the sea.
Further south, look to Jenner Inn (10400 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2377), River's End Restaurant & Inn (11048 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2484), or Tides Wharf Restaurant (835 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652).
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight
Sonoma County Appellations (AVA):
Carneros - Sonoma
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross - Seaview
Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Pine Mountain - Cloverdale Peak
Russian River Valley