In 1988 South African natives Lester and Linda Schwartz had been living in the Bay Area for just about 10 years when they decided to purchase the, then, untouched property atop the cliffside slopes of the Sonoma Coast. Convinced the land was suitable for grapevines, Lester ordered two dozen dormant rootstocks, planting a test vineyard with 16 varieties, three trellis systems, assorted clones and rootstocks. It took four years, but the couple found the most successful plantings were of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and spent the next ten years cultivating their 53-acre vineyard, complete with roads, subterranean drainage, and irrigation system. Alongside a small vineyard crew, Lester and Linda created thirty-two blocks of vines, carefully choosing which blocks were most suitable for which clones.
A taste of Fort Ross Vineyards wines means a taste of focused Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a testament to what the cool climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean does for these grapes. Indeed, among the Fort Ross Vineyards lineup, one can taste single-vineyard and even single-block expressions of either of these two varietals and experience how specific vineyard block orientation affects both the tastes and textures of resulting wines.
Of course one can’t get the full Fort Ross Vineyards experience without tasting a glass of Pinotage. Yes, during the course of building their vineyard acreage, Lester and Linda sourced bud wood from their native South Africa (where Pinotage claims the country’s “heritage grape” title), had it quarantined and tested through UC Davis, and became the first private growers, and eventually commercial producers, of Pinotage.
Known for their cool-climate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays harvested predominantly from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, Hahn Family Wines is probably most commonly associated with their casual, supermarket-find wines — the ‘SLH’ and eponymous ‘Hahn’ labeled wines. But what many don’t know is that the still family-owned vineyard and winery takes great care to sustainably manage their four SLH estate vineyards — and with Paul Clifton at the winemaking helm, also produce limited releases of beautifully refined single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days in Monterey County, diving deep into the unique terroir of the Santa Lucia Highlands, and getting to know more about the Hahn family legacy and — of course — their wines.
The story of Ammunition is a simple one — two ordinary guys who wanted to make extraordinary wine, wines “of the highest caliber.” Their goal: to tell a different story, one that speaks of the average American who wants to enjoy wine that’s anything but average. Founded on friendship and a mutual agreement that quality grapes are the ammunition to great wines, Ammunition brings together the winemaking talent of Andy Wahl and the artistic expression of Bill Kerr — a collaboration that itself tells the story of the American entrepreneurial spirit.
The story behind Cellars 33 is one that many will be able to relate to. John and Katie Fones, co-owners of Cellars 33, found wine through each other. As John remembers it, he had Katie over to dinner one night early in their relationship and wanted to impress her with pairing a bottle of wine with the meal. “It was a Blackstone Merlot, I think,” says John. An $8 bottle of a grocery store wine was enough for the young couple to start “collecting.” “We had a little wire wine rack we kept on the top of our fridge,” remembers John, admitting that it was probably the worst — and hottest — place they could have kept their small collection while living on the top story of their apartment complex in balmy Baltimore.
Nevertheless, their grocery store collecting quickly turned them into avid wine enthusiasts. The couple also loves to travel, making frequent trips to the West Coast. And, as John says, if you visit California enough times, you’re going to end up in wine country eventually. So it was that John and Katie discovered their love for California wines in particular. For John, it was more than just the wines he became interested in, it was the winemaking process as well. A former hobbyist beer-brewer, John recalls being much more fascinated with what was happening behind cellar doors than the inside the tasting room.