Though the area was approved as an AVA in 2012, its origins go back to the founding of the state. Sonoma County’s first grapevines—a “lost” Peruvian varietal—were planted in 1817 by Russian explorers in what came to be called Fort Ross. But its modern history began in the 1960s and 70s with the back-to-the-land movement, when a young generation of hippies learned how best to live off the land. Thus, independence, non-conformity and stewardship are part of the AVA’s values.

These vintners are driven by the pursuit of truth and beauty. It’s in their nature. The fact is, common sense might reject such notions. Nevertheless, long before the appellation was officially recognized as an AVA, it was home to some of the most iconic producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. It all started in 1972, when Bohan Vineyards was established with one acre of Zinfandel. Believing the area too cool, viticulture experts advised founder Michael Bohan against planting grapes. After considering their advice, he subsequently planted Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir for sale to other wineries.

Other intrepid winemakers started to trickle in. Donnie Schatzberg of Precious Mountain Vineyards homesteaded 40 acres of ridge-top property in 1973. In 1977, Daniel Schoenfeld of Wild Hog Vineyard set up his operation. He recalls, “We were part of that back-to-the-land hippie movement of the 1970s,” adding, “You think it’s rural now? You should have seen it then.” David Hirsch, of Hirsch Vineyards, concurs. “To get to my place [in 1978], you had to go through five cattle guards on dirt roads.”

The Martinelli family has roots in Sonoma County going back to the 1880s, when its forebears began planting Zinfandel and Muscat grapes. Their coastal vineyard, planted with Chardonnay in 1981 and later with Pinot Noir has remained in the family. These early pioneers put down stakes in what would later be called Fort Ross-Seaview AVA.

All the while, wines from the area continued to grow in reputation. In 1985, Jerry Mead, Founder of the New World International Wine Competition, predicted that the region would become “the most important new appellation for producing Burgundian grape varieties in the United States.” By 1990, Dan Wickham, co-founder of Sea Ridge Winery could declare, “The ‘experts’ said it was too cold. After a decade of experimentation I now know the experts were wrong.” He also said: “It combined all the best aspects of soil and climate to be found in California with all the worst aspects of trying to run a business in a remote wilderness.”

The 90s proved to be a turning point as outside winemakers awakened to the region and began their quest for grapes. In addition, Helen Turley established her renowned Marcassin Vineyard here, along with Sir Peter Michael, whose 100-year commitment to his estate ensures that world-class wines will continue to be responsibly-made for decades to come. With plantings of some 72 acres, Flowers Vineyards is now one of the AVA’s largest wineries—though it’s small-to-medium by most other standards. 1994 saw the first plantings of what would become Lester and Linda Schwartz’s patchwork of 32 small vineyard blocks that comprise the 53 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinotage of the Fort Ross Vineyard, some of which are closer to the ocean than any other vineyard in California. In 1999, Jayson Pahlmeyer planted Wayfarer Vineyard, which is made up of 30 undulating acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Anther well-known winery from Napa, the Del Dotto Cinghiale Vineyard, moved into the AVA and is producing excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Following the arrival of these influential winemakers and others, the area’s reputation gained traction; since then, a new generation has started putting down roots with new vineyards and wineries—all in the pursuit excellence.


As the hyphen implies, Fort Ross-Seaview is named after two regional features. Fort Ross recalls the 1812 Russian-built fort (and the vines established on its site in 1817) and honors the area’s Russian heritage. Seaview refers to the community by that name that sits high on the steep coastal ridges [more inland], and is also a tribute to Seaview Road—one of the greatest scenic routes in the California – which runs the length of the AVA and offers spectacular views of the Pacific Coast.

In 2003, after about four years of discussion and research, the petition for the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA was submitted. Previously nine years were spent defining the boundaries, establishing the importance of its elevation, and deciding on a name. (Nothing of lasting character happens quickly.) Finally, in January 2012, the AVA was approved.