True Pioneers of the “Extreme” Sonoma Coast

One trend in California winemaking has been a push toward growing grapes on increasingly marginal lands ever closer to the Pacific Ocean. The reasoning is simple: cooler temperatures allow grapes to ripen slowly while retaining acidity, which is particularly desirable in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay if they are to achieve Burgundian levels of excellence. But when Walt and Joan Flowers purchased land on a remote ridge in northern Sonoma County just two miles from the Pacific Ocean, they may have pushed the envelope just a little too far. After all, cool temperatures are less than welcome if grapes can’t get ripe. (Just ask the folks in Chablis or Champagne how easy it is to make wine in their respective climates!) Fortunately, it soon became clear that their 350 - 550 meter ridge really was a “warm site in a cool climate” – well above the fog line but cooled by ocean breezes. Moreover, the volatile geology of the Pacific coast has blessed their land with shallow soils teeming with sandstone, schist, greywacke and greenstone. Hence, the long growing season from the maritime climate coupled with the rocky soils that stress the vines results in low yields of intensely flavored grapes that grow in tight bunches of small berries – just perfect for making the kind of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that encouraged Walt and Joan Flowers to leave their home in Ohio to pursue a dream of making wine.  

 Situated upon two ridges in the northern part of the Sonoma Coast AVA, Flowers Vineyard and Winery grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in one of the highest vineyards on the United States. Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard (so named because the Native Americans used to gather there for the summer months) consists of 21 acres of Chardonnay and 8 acres of Pinot Noir that were planted in 1991. The Sea View Ridge Vineyard is somewhat higher in elevation and even closer to the ocean (though still “a warm spot in a cool climate); it was planted to 41 acres of Pinot Noir and a smidgen of Pinot Meunier in 1998. 

 In the vineyards and winery, Flowers employs a range of cutting edge methods. The vineyards are planted with 4 clones of Chardonnay and 11 clones of Pinot Noir and are farmed sustainably and organically without irrigation. The winery utilizes gravity instead of pumps to move wines from tank to barrel. Winemaking employs hand sorting, cold soaking, extended maceration, fermenting with native yeasts, aging in new French oak, lees aging and lees stirring (in the case of Chardonnay) and whole-cluster fermentation (for some Pinot Noirs). The results of such painstaking attention to detail are critically acclaimed wines that are aromatic and flavorful, complex and provocative and that have enough structure, acid and minerality to capture the essence of the extreme coastal terroir. 

Wine Maker

Chantal Forthun





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Wines from this Winery

2020 Flowers Sonoma Coast Rose Wine

Whether you see rosé as a fad or the most versatile choice for lunch on a warm day, this wine should convince you that rosé can be a serious wine, too. Sourced from the same, small vineyards along the rugged, wind-swept Sonoma Coast as Flowers’ other impeccable wines, this rosé is elegant, distinct and 100% Pinot Noir. Native yeast and minimal intervention result in a delightful salmon hue, lifted aromas of red berries, grapefruit, and rose petals and a complex palate of raspberry, orange marmalade and orange and lemon zest. While the price is higher than what you might expect to pay for rosé, it’s less costly than the winery’s other offerings but stands out and wows in all the ways you expect from Flowers. Could be one of California’s best rosé wines. 

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¥6,930 (incl. tax)
2017 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Balance, freshness, pure fruit and elegance are what we love about Flowers Chardonnay. The fresh flavors, complex minerality and bright acidity derive in part from the  steep hills, rocky soils and the cool climate of the hillside vineyards located along the coast. Expertise inside the winery also plays a role. Native yeast fermentation, low sulphur additions, and a mix of stainless steel and neutral French oak barrels are low-impact methods that enhance the natural flavors of the Chardonnay fruit. The 2017 vintage was somewhat challenging even along the coast because of alternating heat spikes and cool spells. For Flowers, bountiful winter rains meant they never had to irrigate. According to the winery, “Warmer temperatures in 2017 translated to a beautiful intensity of fruit and a supple, evolved texture. Already enticing in the glass,the wines will grow even more alluring as they age.” The light and creamy texture and bright but rich notes of lemon curd and stone fruit suggest excellent pairing with grilled seafood or creamy risotto with scallops.

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¥9,130 (incl. tax)
2018 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Pour a glass and see how this Pinot Noir lives up to the name on the label! Floral notes - lilac, rose petals, and rose hips - swirl in tandem amidst layers of crushed red berries, plums, savory herbs and earthy minerality. Sourced from the estate as well as local growers, this wine expresses the terroir of the rugged Northern California coast, where a cool climate and rocky soils produce an elegant, structured wine with a complex profile of opulent fruit, soft tannins, bright acidity and minerality. In 2018, winter was cold enough to bring snow to the Flowers vineyards, effectively oxygenating the soils. Over the summer, regular coastal fog kept summer days from getting hot, allowing the grapes to ripen evenly and slowly. This is superb Pinot Noir: layered with bright fruit focus, complex minerality and crystalline acidity. Roast lamb, pork tenderloing, grilled salmon or shiitake risotto are just a few pairing suggestions.

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¥9,570 (incl. tax)
2016 Flowers Sea View Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

At an elevation of 500 m, the Sea View Ridge Vineyard offers a glorious view of the  Pacific Ocean but a harsh environment for a vineyard. The vines, a mix of Dijon, 777, Pommard, Calera and Swan clones planted in 1998 and farmed biodynamically, struggle in the impoverished soils, strong winds, and pelting winter rains. But out of adversity comes a wine that resonates with the ruggedness of the terroir – featuring bracing acidity, dense berry fruit, spice, and earthy minerality. 2016 was an excellent vintage that began with ample (and needed) winter rains and continued through a warm spring and mild summer of regular foggy cycles leading to even ripening of fruit. This is Pinot with the kind of brilliant acidity, vibrant minerality and hint of salinity only vineyards so close to the ocean can produce. Pour a glass and be patient: layers of nuance and mystery will unfold slowly from the glass. 

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¥14,080 (incl. tax)
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2014 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay

At an elevation of over 1200 ft (365 m), Camp Meeting Ridge sits well above the fog line. The vines enjoy plenty of sunshine, but the air remains cool because the vineyard literally overlooks the ocean. Planted in 1991, this organic and biodynamically-farmed vineyard produces exceptional fruit that is being made into some of this winery’s most distinctive Chardonnays. Even in a drought year, like 2014, this coastal vineyard received enough rain to make summer irrigation unnecessary. Moderate or cool temperatures throughout the summer ensured slow development of exceptional flavors. A wine that captures the rugged terroir of the Sonoma Coast, this is a crisp Chardonnay with lively citrus fruit, intense focus and mouthwatering minerality. Try it with cracked crab or fresh figs sprinkled with gorgonzola.  

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¥14,740 (incl. tax)
2015 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir

Although the Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard is primarily planted to Chardonnay, it includes 8.8 acres of Pinot Noir. While that may sound like a small vineyard, it was planted according to Burgundian practice – with vines packed together in closely spaced rows. This increases the overall yield of the vineyard while reducing the number of grape clusters per vine. Because of nature (the steep slopes, shallow, rocky soils, and cool maritime climate) and nurture (biodynamic farming) this vineyard consistently produces Pinot Noir with great complexity, depth, minerality, and natural acidity. In 2015, cold temperatures in early spring produced small clusters of intensely-flavored fruit. Summer temperatures were generally mild and grapes were uniformly ripe and flavorful at harvest. The extreme coastal terroir has produced a Pinot Noir of exceptional depth and finesse.

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¥15,400 (incl. tax)
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