Fort Ross-Seaview Wine Region and Appellation

Fort Ross State Historic Park

One of Sonoma County’s most distinctive American viticultural areas (AVAs) is located in the coastal hills above Fort Ross State Historic Park, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Carved out of the larger Sonoma Coast AVA in 2011, the 27,500-acre Fort Ross-Seaview AVA was given special consideration for its soaring elevation and remote, rugged location. Precious few of its wineries are open to the public, but its 500 vineyard acres produce some of Sonoma County’s most sought-after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

Top Grapes

Green rolling hills of vines on a foggy day
Fort Ross Vineyard

Sonoma County’s first winegrapes were planted in 1817 at the fur-trading Russian-American Company’s outpost at Fort Ross. The area’s modern viticultural history didn’t begin until 1973, though, when sheep rancher Mick Bohan, struggling with low wool prices, planted Riesling as a cash crop; the possibilities for this variety in the Fort-Ross AVA remain tantalizing.

For the time being, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are undeniably the most popular grapes in Fort-Ross Seaview, but a surprise runner-up is the South African red variety Pinotage, planted by expatriates at Fort Ross Vineyard, Winery & Tasting Room.

The Lay of the Land

Vineyard along Sonoma Coast in Sonoma County
Sonoma Coast AVA

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.  

Notable Wineries

Fort Ross Vineyard, Winery & Tasting Room was founded in the 1990s by Lester and Linda Schwartz, and is open daily for tasting Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinotage with spectacular views. And because guests found it difficult to visit their remote location, Flowers Vineyards & Winery recently opened the House of Flowers, offering tasting experiences just minutes from downtown Healdsburg, in northern Sonoma County.

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 Wild Hog, Marcassin, Failla, Williams Selyem, and Peay.

Backroad Bodegas

exterior of Red Car winery tasting room in Sonoma County
Red Car Wine

Grape grower David Hirsch knew that he was onto something good when, back in the early 1990s, Russian River Valley wineries Kistler, Littorai, and Williams Selyem all called up at once to inquire about his grapes. Flash forward to now, and Hirsch Vineyards pours its wines in its very own tasting room in Healdsburg. 

Several wineries set outside of the AVA make wine with Fort Ross-Seaview grapes these days,  and those with tasting room include Martinelli Winery in Windsor, Red Car Wine in Sebastopol, and Tin Barn Vineyards in Sonoma.

To experience wines from the Fort Ross-Seaview area, stop by Sophie’s Cellars, a charming Duncans Mills wine shop with a tasting bar and deck. 

Restaurants and Lodging in Fort Ross-Seaview 

Timber Cove Resort in Jenner, Sonoma County
Timber Cove Resort

Coast Kitchen at Timber Cove Resort provides dramatic cliffside views of the ocean. Further south, look to Jenner Inn, River’s End Restaurant & Inn, or Tides Wharf Restaurant.

Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight

Sonoma County Appellations (AVA):

Alexander Valley
Bennett Valley
Carneros – Sonoma
Chalk Hill
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross – Seaview
Fountaingrove District
Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Knights Valley
Moon Mountain
Northern Sonoma
Petaluma Gap
Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
Russian River Valley
Sonoma Coast
Sonoma Mountain
Sonoma Valley
West Sonoma Coast

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