Last month after three years in the making, Fort Ross Vineyard opened the doors to its brand-new tasting room in Jenner — less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean.
That also makes it the only tasting room in the newly established Fort Ross-Seaview AVA on the Sonoma Coast that was approved late last year.
It’s an appropriate location for it, given that Fort Ross, a historic Russian settlement, was where the first grapes were planted in Northern California in 1817.
Husband-and-wife, Lester and Linda Schwartz, who met as students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, started their Fort Ross Vineyard 12 years ago. The winery produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and the signature varietal from the Schwartz’s native land of South Africa, Pinotage. Indeed, it’s one of the few producers of Pinotage in the United States.
All in all, they produce 5,000 cases in total annually. Their winemaker is the acclaimed Jeff Pisoni. The first vintage by Pisoni, the 2009 Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay was chosen as one of the top 100 wines of 2011 by Wine Enthusiast.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Schwartzs in the new tasting room, set amid redwood forests and boasting views of the ocean.
Their personal story is as intriguing as their wines. The couple fled South Africa 40 years ago because of the political unrest during the apartheid era. They settled in the Bay Area. Linda was a pianist and classical music composer. Lester became the first South African licensed to practice law in California.
He happened to be driving up this hilly area one day when he spotted the property and just fell in love with it.