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

FLOWERS Chardonnay Sonoma Coast

One of the pioneers in the cold, rugged northwest corner of Sonoma County, Flowers produces Chardonnay with impressive balance, pure fruit, freshness, minerality, and bright acidity. The 2022 vintage was notable for a September heatwave that pushed temperatures above 38 °C even out at the coast. Fortunately, most of the Chardonnay had already been picked, and the wine is refreshingly elegant, lighter-bodied, and finely textured. Decanter (93 points) noted, “soaring lemon cream aromatics accented by notes of seaspray, lemongrass and beeswax mark this coastal Chardonnay… The palate is fresh and linear. Oyster shell salinity, bee pollen and grilled lemon make for a savoury balance with delicate crushed chalk minerality.”

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¥11,440 (incl. tax)
FLOWERS Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge

This 2016 Chardonnay is a great opportunity to try a wine from a great vineyard that has spent more time in bottle than we are used to. It was sourced primarily from the Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard with additional fruit from other growers in the AVA with vineyards close to the ocean. The rocky soils and cool climate produce Chardonnay with fresh, bright fruit flavors, complex minerality, and bright acidity. In the cellar, Flowers Winery leads in crafting wines with balance, freshness, pure fruit and elegance. The winter of 2016 brought rains that refreshed the soils following some dry years. A warm spring suggested an early harvest; however, coastal fog brought the phenolic chemistry of the fruit to optimal harvest levels during late August. The wine is richer and more full-bodied than younger vintages, offering pleasant bright notes of pear and citrus, but with an earthier and more robust finish on the palate. Vinous (94 points) described it as an “intriguing wine, especially in its structural, phenolic feel. The candied lemon peel, white flower and mint flavors are rendered with considerable power in a Chardonnay that is exotic, alluring, and full of nuances.”

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¥20,900 (incl. tax)
FLOWERS Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge

Sitting well above the fog line, the vines in the Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard enjoy plenty of sunshine without high temperatures because the vineyard literally overlooks the ocean. Planted in 1991, this organic and biodynamically-farmed vineyard produces the exceptional fruit for this distinctive Chardonnay. 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. James Suckling described this wine as “unique in character, with sliced apple, honeysuckle and lavender. Spearmint, too. It’s medium-bodied with some pine and cooked-apple character in the palate. Flavorful, yet sophisticated and thoughtful. Minerally, compact and focused.” 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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¥20,900 (incl. tax)
FLOWERS Rose Wine Sonoma Coast

Whether you see rosé as a fad or a delight, this wine should convince you that rosé can be made to take seriously. Sourced from the same, small vineyards along the rugged Sonoma Coast as Flowers’s other impeccable wines, this is an elegant style of rosé made from 100% Pinot Noir. Gentle pressing and native yeast produced a rosé with a delightful salmon hue, lifted aromas of red berries, grapefruit, and rose petals, and a complex palate of raspberry, watermelon, fresh acidity, and stony minerality. While priced higher than supermarket rosé, it is one of California’s best and serves as an excellent introduction to Flowers's portfolio of wines.

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¥7,590 (incl. tax)
FLOWERS Rose Wine Sonoma Coast (1.5L)
FLOWERS Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Bright ruby color, charming nose, refreshing palate, and an outpouring of lively flavors — that’s the coastal style of Pinot Noir that Flowers Winery, as one of the first to plant vineyards at the western edge of Sonoma County, helped to define. 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 2021, winter rains were sparse, which led to a lighter crop and smaller bunches and berries. But mild temperatures at the end of the growing season produced fruit of outstanding quality. About this wine, the Wine Spectator said, “This has racy, mouthwatering acidity coursing underneath the core notes of mulberry, bitter cherry, and blackberry. Shows the streamlined tang of a coulis, while offering a range of additional bramble, anise, and savory tea details through the finish. Delicious.” Roast lamb, pork tenderloin, grilled salmon or shiitake risotto are just a few pairing suggestions.

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¥10,780 (incl. tax)
FLOWERS Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Vineyard

The Sea View Ridge Vineyard looks out across the Pacific Ocean from an elevation of 1400 - 1875 ft (426 - 521 m). An ancient seabed, the soils are shallow and rocky with a mix of broken sandstone and shale as well as volcanic soils in the lower blocks. Dijon, 777, Pommard, Calera and Swan clones were planted in 1998 and are farmed organically and biodynamically. Compared with Camp Meeting Ridge, the soils have significantly more volcanic ash, which, according to the winery, makes the Seaview Ridge Pinots plusher and rounder on the palate. Moreover, the diverse clones produce a style of pinot that features high-toned fruit aromatics of huckleberry and strawberry balanced by a beautiful, minty, forest-floor earthiness. 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: let the layers of nuance and mystery unfold slowly from the glass. 

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¥17,600 (incl. tax)
FLOWERS Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard