Lester and Linda met when they were both students at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in the 1960s. Lester, the son of a lawyer and a farmer, was studying geology at the time while Linda, a pianist and composer, was studying music. They spent their limited budget and leisure hours eating at restaurants and drinking the local wine. Subsequently, Lester graduated as an attorney and Linda completed her degree in music composition and music theory. They were married in 1967. Nine years later the couple moved to California where Lester practiced law as an attorney in San Francisco and Linda studied Arts Administration and soon joined her professor's arts oriented consulting group that advised non-profit arts organizations.
In 1988, Lester, longing for the country life he had experienced as a young boy, found a large acreage of virgin property in the high coastal ridges overlooking the Pacific Ocean, above the old Russian Settlement of Fort Ross. He and Linda purchased the land and built an African inspired home, featuring the round and oval rooms common in tribal architecture that offered dramatic views of the surrounding terrain.
The vineyard project began in 1991 with Lester ordering two dozen dormant rootstocks. When these initial plantings proved successful, Linda enrolled in the Viticulture Program at Santa Rosa Junior College in Sonoma County and attended classes at U.C. Davis. Linda discovered she had a green thumb and an affinity for heavy machinery. She bought an old backhoe, a bulldozer and other heavy equipment and, with Lester as the operator, they decided to plant a test vineyard with 16 different varieties, three different trellis systems, assorted clones and different rootstocks. After four years, they concluded that the area was ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and in 1994 began installing the first seven vineyard blocks.
Over the next ten years, with the help of their small crew, they installed sub-surface drainage systems, built a reservoir and drip irrigation system, designed and erected a trellis system with additional foliage wires to minimize unwanted shade from the vines, constructed seven miles of fencing to keep out the deer and wild boar and finally, after planting selected rootstocks, field grafted scion budwood of those field selections and clones that they had carefully chosen to best reflect the terroir of each vineyard block. Lester and Linda remembered the Pinotage from their early years in South Africa. They sourced bud wood from two of the best blocks in South Africa and were the first private growers to import grapevine cuttings through the Foundation Plant Services that operates alongside the U.C. Davis School of Viticulture and Enology.
In 2009, Lester and Linda were introduced to Jeff Pisoni, the gifted winemaker of Pisoni Vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, who is known for his extraordinary wines produced from the family’s estate property. According to Jeff, “I tasted the Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the Ritz Carlton and was struck by the luscious fruit, fine minerality and crisp acidity in each wine. The cool climate and the strong character of the vineyard were clearly evident from wine to wine and vintage to vintage. My goal is to continue to express the personality of the vineyard and the wonderful style the winery has worked so hard to establish over the last decade.” In 2009, the first vintage that Fort Ross and Jeff Pisoni worked together, the 2009 Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay was chosen as one of the TOP 100 WINES of 2011 by the Wine Enthusiast. Under Jeff's winemaking helm Fort Ross wines have continued to receive many favorable reviews and accolades.
Fort Ross Vineyard strives to produce wine of purity and elegance that reﬂects the cool maritime climate and challenging terroir of the steep Sonoma Coast Ridges.
WINEMAKING: Winemaking begins in the vineyard. To produce truly outstanding wines farming practices must enhance the winemaking. All Fort Ross Vineyard wines are made exclusively with Estate-grown grapes from the Fort Ross Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. No grapes from other vineyards are brought in even if the yields are greatly lower than usual. There is a constant ﬂow of information between Winemaker, Jeff Pisoni, and Owners/Vineyard Managers, Lester and Linda Schwartz. Each harvest, the three repeatedly walk the vineyard, carefully taste the grapes from each block and harvest the fruit based upon ﬂavor development. Single blocks are often picked several times to guarantee grapes with the desired acid balance and ﬂavor components. To maintain the integrity of the fruit and avoid bruising or oxidation, all bunches are harvested into small picking trays during the cool of the night and then gently transported to the winery in partially ﬁlled 1/2 ton macro bins.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Winemaker, Jeff Pisoni, seeks to achieve a sense of balance between concentration and elegance. “The fruit lends a certain weight and depth to the wine while the cool climate produces the beauty and elegance”. With minimal winemaking intervention Jeff strives to give the wine a sense of place. “I like to use native yeast for fermentation. Native yeast is from both the vineyard and the winery. The fermentation is slower but the results are more distinctive”. Jeff is very careful in his punch down regimen, constantly monitoring the developing ﬂavors. “Early in the fermentation I punch down more to extract gentle tannins. Later in the fermentation you need to avoid extracting the harder seed tannins”.
FARMING CHALLENGES: Fort Ross Vineyard is the closest vineyard to the Paciﬁc Ocean in California and gets more rain than the Amazon Jungle. The average rainfall is 75” but can reach 125” per year. If it rains before we have ﬁnished harvesting we have to abandon the grapes in our steepest blocks. The summers are dry and considered water scarce. Our only source of water is our vineyard pond. We maintain a cover crop of native grasses between the vine rows that helps us gain access into the vineyard in the spring. Each year as the grapes begin to ripen we need to cover each vine with netting to protect the fruit from the ﬂocks of birds as the vineyard is planted in a series of meadows surrounded by thick forests. Farming on the steep coastal ridges requires a great deal of skill. We use wheel tractors in the ﬂatter areas, crawlers on the steeper slopes and walk where it is not safe to use machinery. All harvesting is done by hand.
CHALLENGING TRADITIONAL PROCEDURES: Lester and Linda Schwartz seized the chance of developing a vineyard site less than a mile from the Paciﬁc Ocean despite being mocked by academics who believed that the harsh coastal climate would not ripen grapes while the fog and rain would make the crop constantly vulnerable. To test their theories, they ﬁrst installed a small trial vineyard with eighteen different varieties of grapes and three different trellis systems. Then they began preparing the ﬁrst blocks of the main vineyard that took them four years to be ready for planting. They chose rootstock suitable for the soil variations in the vineyard and two years later, when the rootstock was well established, they ﬁeld grafted the budwood. In the cool coastal climate it took three more years before all the vines in each block were successfully grafted as the grafts need hot weather to callous and grow.
PRUNING: The vineyard was ﬁrst trained to cane pruning which is more traditional in cool climates. It allows more ‘fruiting potential’ on the vine during pruning by leaving more buds and canes as an insurance against a small crop. Then block by block we began converting the vineyard to cordon pruning in an effort to elevate the wine quality through better fruit balance and more even ripening even though this meant accepting an even lighter crop.
VOJTECH KACEROVSKY, DIRECTOR & BARBORA SKOKANOVA, TRAVEL TRADE MANAGER OF CZECHTOURISM LOS ANGELES - WINES FROM THE CZECH REPUBLIC
CZECH WINE (WIKIPEDIA)
Wine in the Czech Republic is produced mainly in southern Moravia, although a few vineyards are located in Bohemia. However, Moravia accounts for around 96% of the country's vineyards, which is why Czech wine is more often referred to as Moravian wine . Production centers on local grape varieties, but there has been an increase in the production of established international strains such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Czech wine law (2004) defines two wine-growing regions (Czech: Vinařská oblast). These are Moravia (Vinařská oblast Morava) and Bohemia (Vinařská oblast Čechy).