I’m in love with a wine right now, and I’m learning from it. The wine I’m in love with is a low-volume production from the Sonoma coast, north of San Francisco. What it’s teaching me is this: It’s great to love a landscape, and it’s great to love a wine, but it’s especially great to love a wine from a landscape you love. I’m no different from most people who’ve taken road trips on California’s Highway 1, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and winding their way along the seashore. I love the soaring sea cliffs and the green grass shimmering in the afternoon light. The road runs high above the blue Pacific. Pulling over in a gravel turnout, you can watch the gilt glow on the white bursts of foam on the black rocks below.
And now I’ve found a wine that, at least for me—and this is one of those deeply subjective wine experiences—expresses the place in the way it tastes. The combined experience—affinity for place, plus affinity for wine from that place—is turning out to be a terrific one. The wine I’m talking about is Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir, from a tiny necklace of vineyards strung along the ridgelines north of the Russian River. The wine is great: a long-lasting balance of pure Pinot fruit, with good oak and tannins gentle enough to caress the mouth. Acid and sweetness, mineral and fruit—it’s all there, and well integrated. A home-bound Siberian could love this wine. And I love that a wine can exhibit the qualities of its home: a cool, moist climate, out there on the true Sonoma coast, with scarce well water but torrential winter rains. This produces perhaps the most Burgundy-like of California Pinot Noirs.
I experience the Fort Ross terroir, in other words, as an authentic expression of one of my favorite places on Earth. Before you wonder what this has to do with wine enjoyment, remember that a lot of European wines inspire fierce loyalty among both the locals and the travelers who simply love those places—and it’s not because the wines are unusual. It’s because winemaking is an ancient part of life there, and the local wine has come to seem like the blood of the soil. Also, it’s my guess that more and more of us will develop this kind of feeling for American wines as those wines carry ever more precise AVAs on their bottles. We’ll come to think of wine the way we’ve already come to think of food: not as an industrial commodity but as a local and place-specific form of artisanal craftsmanship. We’ll think of wine as a way of connecting ourselves to the natural world that helps us feel whole.