Lester and Linda Schwartz discovered their love of wine in their native homeland of Cape Town, South Africa. A lawyer and an artist, respectively, the couple found themselves living in California, and it wasn’t long before Lester got the itch to build himself a countryside home reminiscent of his roots. So they purchased a plot of naked land along the craggy cliffs of the Pacific Ocean in what would eventually become the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. The couple custom-built their own home, featuring traditional South African architecture; just a few years later they planted their first grapevine rootstocks and saw near immediate success. Alongside legendary winemaker Jeff Pisoni, today Lester and Linda craft beautiful Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and — as a nod to their heritage — Pinotage. (Fun fact: Lester and Linda were the first private grape growers to import Pinotage vine cuttings.)

About the Wine: The Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes (Calera, Pommard, and Dijon clones 115 and 777) harvested from the Fort Ross Vineyard estate vineyards. The wine was aged in 100% French oak (25% new) for 10 months. The wine is unfiltered and unfined.

13.8% ABV

Flavor Profile: Pop the cork and smell the funk of wet soil, rainfall, mushrooms in the muddy ground, and soaked tree bark that’s been dried by the rising sun. On the pour the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir is a rusty, brownish rouge, settling into the glass just a shade darker at its very core — quite a serious rouge indeed. Initial aromas from the glass bring forth violets, eucalyptus leaves, hints of cacao and the scent of sand at night. And there is a definite, discernible acidity. So swirl, and those floral aromas become intermixed with that sea salt air. Fruit aromatics are secondary, but present (blackberry, black cherry). Pull the nose away and find some woodsy notes as well.

On the palate, the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir is quite cool and calm at first. The tannins, as well as a few spices reverse melt onto the tongue, ultimately resulting in a simultaneously dry but lingering finish. What happens in between is a beautiful mix of earthy flavors: eucalyptus leaf, spearmint, black cherry, a bit of white pepper — yes that spice-filled finish will enthrall you. And all the while, you can’t help but smell the salt of the earth, the salt of the sea, the salt in the air — that aroma that means you are on the foggy cliffs I call home.

Food Pairing: I paired the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir with seared sea scallops, a cauliflower “rice pilaf,” and a garnish of sprouts, honeyed vinaigrette, and dried cranberries.

I loved how the sea scallops paralleled the maritime elements in the wine. Simultaneously, the innate sweetness of the scallops brought forward the herbaceous notes in the wine as well. Meanwhile, the cauliflower pilaf, which was tossed with butter and a few fresh herbs, played with the more woodsy-earthy notes in the wine. The one note I have (mostly for myself I suppose), is that because I’d tossed the sprouts together with the vinaigrette and cranberries early on, they’d absorbed a lot of that sweetness. When pairing this with the Pinot Noir, that sweetness actually deterred a bit from the wine, mainly texturally, calling out the tannins and almost drying out the palate. Next time, I’ll be lighter on the sauce, then the pairing will be perfect.

More Info: I received the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir as a sample for review. (Cheers Lisa!) Retail: Currently unavailable. Retail for the 2013 vintage: $52. For more information about Fort Ross Vineyard, their wines, and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Fort Ross Vineyard website.


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