In 1988 owners Lester and Linda Schwartz purchased a section of virgin forest and grasslands in the high coastal ridges of the Sonoma coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Told by academics that it was too risky plant a vineyard on these cool, foggy coastal ridges so close to the Ocean they were undeterred. After experimenting for several years with assorted clones, rootstocks and trellising systems they concluded that the property had the potential to grow exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 1994, after carefully sourcing exceptional heritage clones whose attributes they believed would reveal the terroir and varietal typicity, they began to prepare and plant the first vineyard blocks. Lester and Linda spent many days personally digging plant holes and planting vines as they meticulously laid out their 53-acre vineyard with roads, underground drainage and irrigation systems while developing and building a reservoir and designing a custom trellis system.
In tribute to their South African heritage, they sourced Pinotage bud wood from the original founding blocks in that country, and became 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.
Today, Lester and Linda work closely with Jeff Pisoni, who came to Fort Ross as winemaker in 2009. They regularly walk the vineyard, making viticultural decisions and ultimately determining when best to harvest each block. Lester and Linda continue to oversee the day-to-day vineyard operations. Having worked tirelessly to carve this spectacular vineyard out of an untamed, extreme location, they have proved the academics wrong.