Wine Ink: Exploring Flowers on the Sonoma Coast
I’m a sucker for a magnificent vineyard.
From Burgundy (La Romanée) to Tuscany (Tignanello) to Red Mountain (Ciel du Cheval) and beyond, I have been blessed to walk, occasionally run and, frequently, taste wines in the confines of epic vineyards. For me it is like a pilgrimage to set foot in, and kick the dirt of, the famed vineyards that produce the world’s great wines.
So this past spring, it was with abundant anticipation that I turned my car off Coast Highway 1 from the Sonoma Coast and onto a tiny, windy, two-lane road leading skyward to the Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard. I had an appointment with Michelle Forry, the member concierge at Flowers Winery, to walk the vineyard and taste the chardonnay grown there. For those who cherish the cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir wines produced in the wild and rugged hills of the Ft. Ross Seaview AVA, this is mecca.
In the world of wine, the Sonoma Coast, and Flowers, are relative infants. Though precocious infants at that. It was not until 1991, yesterday in Old World terms, that Joan and Walt Flowers planted the first vines for their eponymous winery. The couple, who once ran the successful Moon Nursery in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, had long harbored a passion for pinot noir and chardonnay. In 1989, they came across a three-line ad in a wine publication for the property that is now Flowers and began to turn their talents for nurturing plants and trees towards vines. They moved from Western Pennsylvania to the Sonoma Coast and transitioned to winemaking.
Their first 29 acres of plantings (21 Chardonnay, 8 Pinot Noir) were on a scenic ridge carved centuries ago by the power of the nearby San Andreas Fault line. Sitting just two miles from the blue Pacific, the Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard rises above the fog line from 1,150 feet to 1,400 feet, giving it ample access to summer sunshine during the prime growing season. The soils on the property resulted from a series of significant geologic events, including maritime and volcanic activity that left deep metaphoric rock below shallow topsoils. The unique combination of exposure, temperature variations and dirt provide a matchless though challenging place to produce the Burgundian varieties that the Flowers chose to perfect.
When I arrived at Flowers’ farmhouse tasting room, Michelle was waiting on the veranda with a smile and a bottle of the 2014 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay, the most recent release. As we walked the biodynamic vineyard on the still-moist cover grasses between the vines, Michelle told me about the nature of the vineyard and how it got its name.
“In the early 1800s, Russian traders set up an outpost at Ft. Ross, just down the hill,” she explained. “The Russians traded with the Indians of the region, the Kashaya, on the ridge top. It came to be known as the Camp Meeting Ridge.” The historic nature and imagery of the gatherings appealed to the Flowers’ sense of place, so they adopted the unique and descriptive moniker for their vineyard.
For lovers of Sonoma Coast chardonnay, the name has come to connote magic. The wines from the Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard are always well balanced and true to the site. Though there are vintage variations, there is a consistency to the fruit and the style that make the wine easy to recognize.
Gary Fishman, domestic buyer at Wally’s Wine in Los Angeles for the past 27 years, has been tasting, and selling, the wines of Flowers since their introduction. “(It’s) hard to not get too “flowery” when writing about these wines!” he wrote, via email about the current 2014 vintage. “The chardonnay was brilliantly clear to the eye, delivering delightful aromatics and a rush of lip-smacking minerality and bracing flavors with the first sip. The wine’s taught, well-defined texture was one of its key features.”
Fishman’s comments echoed my tasting experience on that cool, crystal clear spring morning, when I stood in the vineyard with Michelle and a glass of the 2014 chardonnay in hand. There is something special about lingering in the rows of vines, surrounded by the tiny clusters of the vintage to come while tasting a past iteration, that is simply sublime.
In 2009, the Flowers entered into an agreement with the vintner Agustin Huneeus to join Flowers Winery with Napa Valley’s Quintessa in Huneeus Vintners. The arrangement pairs two brands with artisanal roots in a powerful combination of regions and varietals. It also ensures that the focus going forward for the Camp Meeting Ridge wines, indeed all of the Flowers wines, will be on quality and a sense of place.
As it should be.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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