Extreme winds, sea salt air, blanketing fog, rocky cliffs, orange sunsets, and clear view stars. Vast, remote, singular. These are the words that come to mind when I think about the winemakers I met at the West of West Sonoma Coast WSC) tasting in Washington, DC. Each one carried the vineyard with them; they were truly wine growers, mentally embedded into the vineyards and the “sense of place” where their grapes are grown. The soil, the climate, the weather, aspect of the land, fog, flora and fauna. It’s all there – and they brought it all the way with them from the extreme coast of California.
These wines are some of the most special I have ever tasted. The beauty of the “true” Sonoma Coast is blatantly apparent. These ridge top vineyards overlook the Pacific Ocean. But that is not the pure appeal – it is coupled with the dedication of the winemakers to “preserve and protect the history, the landscape and the culture” of the WSC, a philosophy among the members that puts the place and single vineyard of these grapes above all else. Many of these winemakers practice biodynamic, nature and “minimal intervention” techniques. Ceritas’ John Raytek, Peay’s Andy Peay or Littorai’s Ted Lemon seek out special vineyards that may have a heritage of growing grapes for many decades (a rare thing in California).
The WSC is known for growing tremendous Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The Pinot Noirs are fragrant, with notes of crushed violets, thyme, strawberries, red plums, red beets and red licorice. There is often an earth tone to each of them, as if you can taste the dew from the fog. There is also a signature balance of acidity. Among the winemakers there are a range of styles – some are more spiced and rounded. The Chardonnays are just as special – green apple, lemon pie, minerality. Those are also made in a variety of styles from fuller to more delicate.
Of the members I have tasted (Peay, Hirsch, Ceritas, Littorai, Falla, Wayfarer, Fort Ross, Alma Fria, Freeman Vineyards) I have fallen deep under the spell of not only the beauty of the wines, but the dedication of the winemakers for preserving the essence of the WSC.