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





Photo Gallery

Wines from this Winery

2021 Flowers Sonoma Coast Rose Wine

The ubiquity of rosé on wine lists and even in popular culture should not dissuade you from seeing it as a serious wine, too. That’s how our friends at Flowers approach their rosé: a 100% Pinot Noir sourced primarily from their estate Sea View Ridge vineyard. Cool conditions along the coast encourage grapes to retain acidity, extending the “hangtime” for optimal development of flavor. In the winery, 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 strawberry, peach and orange zest. While the price is higher than usual for rosé, it’s an excellent introduction to the many fine wines that Flowers produces. It certainly stands out as one of California’s best rosé wines. 

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¥7,590 (incl. tax)
2019 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Compared with the inland valleys, the northern Sonoma coast does not look ideal for winegrowing, with more wind, higher rainfall, cooler temperatures, and even a bit of snow some years. But the folks at Flowers find the conditions make for a distinctive Chardonnay with balance, pure fruit, freshness, minerality, and bright acidity. In 2019, the coast was considerably milder than inland, where heat spikes made picking decisions difficult. As a result, the fruit came in with excellent natural acidity and flavor. Inside the winery, low-impact methods, such as native yeast fermentation, low sulphur additions, and a mix of stainless steel and neutral French oak barrels enhance the natural flavors of the Chardonnay fruit. Jeb Dunnuck awarded this wine 94 points, saying, “appellation 2019 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast is well worth seeking out, revealing a lighter gold hue as well as a crisp, nicely defined bouquet of poached pear, citrus, spice, and hazelnuts. Beautiful on the palate as well, it's medium-bodied and has nicely integrated acidity, notable balance, and a great finish.” The wine’s bright acidity and freshness suggest excellent pairing with raw or lightly cooked shellfish, seafood terrines, or creamy risotto with scallops.

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¥9,130 (incl. tax)
2019 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Floral notes - lilac, rose petals, and rose hips - swirl in tandem amidst layers of crushed red berries, plums, savory herbs and earthy minerality. Here’s a wine that lives up to its label! 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 2019, the winter brought above-average rainfall (an even a dusting of snow) to the vineyards, ensuring that irrigation would not be needed all summer. 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. Jeb Dunnuck described it as “ruby-hued (with) pure, classic, textbook notes of ripe cherries, raspberries, spring flowers, and underbrush. The balance is spot on, it has ripe, present tannins, good freshness, and a great finish.” Roast lamb, pork tenderloin, grilled salmon or shiitake risotto are just a few pairing suggestions.

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¥9,570 (incl. tax)
2021 Flowers Sonoma Coast Rose Wine (1.5L)

Flowers Rosé is 100% Pinot Noir, sourced from the winery’s estate and from a few other vineyards located nearby. Fermented on native yeast and aged a few months in stainless steel, this rosé offers not only an early taste of the 2021 vintage but an expression of the cool and rugged coastal terroir. With notes of rose petals, fresh strawberries, and grapefruit on the nose, the wine exudes a fresh and energetic melange of strawberries, peaches, and orange zest. A fantastic match with salmon, shellfish, salads, or quiche, Flowers Rosé is the obvious choice for lunch in the garden, and the 1.5 L bottle ensures that everyone at the party can enjoy a glass... or two!

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¥16,280 (incl. tax)
2017 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir
2019 Flowers Sea View Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

Like Camp Meeting Ridge, the Sea View Ridge Vineyard is planted along a high ridge (elevation 500 m) that looks out over steep slopes of redwood forest to the Pacific Ocean nearby. Breathtakingly beautiful to the human eye, the conditions are tough for the vines: shallow and rocky soils, strong winds, and cool temperatures - even in the summer. Compared to Camp Meeting Ridge, Sea View Ridge is nearer to the ocean, has more volcanic ash among the sandstone and slate soils, and includes a higher percentage of Dijon Clone (in addition to Swan, Calera, and 777) among the vines. Seductive elegance is one way to describe the wine. Plusher and rounder than Camp Meeting Ridge, it leads with high-toned fruit aromatics of huckleberry and strawberry balanced by a beautiful, minty, forest floor earthiness. Pour a glass and be patient: the wine may take a few minutes to reveal its secrets.

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¥17,600 (incl. tax)
2017 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. 2017 started out cold and wet as winter turned to spring. Some midsummer days were hotter than usual - but coastal vineyards were spared the extremes felt inland. The winery summed up the vintage as, “wonderfully expressive, with intensity of fruit and a supple, evolved texture.” Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay is a wine that captures the rugged terroir of the Sonoma Coast, crisp, with lively citrus fruit, intense focus and mouthwatering minerality. Try it with cracked crab or fresh figs sprinkled with gorgonzola.  

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¥20,900 (incl. tax)