The AVA Shuffle

New AVA 1The bureaucrats down at the TTB must have been hard at work lately processing the applications for more than 18 new AVAs.

Read on to learn the details of some of the more interesting proposals!

Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench – Lake County – Two new AVAs have been proposed for Lake County, CA; to be named Big Valley District – Lake County and Kelsy Bench – Lake County.

The Big Valley region is located on the south shore of Clear Lake and has a long history of agriculture (pears and walnuts) and viticulture.  The Kendall-Jackson winery is said to have had its beginnings in the area in 1974, when Jess Jackson and his wife purchased a Lake County farm and soon after planted their first vineyards.

The Kelsey Bench is located between Mt. Konocti, Lake County’s resident dormant volcano, and the alluvial flood plain on the lower elevations.  The proposed Kelsey Bench AVA understandably has primarily volcanic soils, higher elevations than the adjacent (proposed) Big Valley District, and northeastern exposures. The proposal for both new Lake County AVAs has reached the final ruling stage. To read all the documents related to these proposed AVAs, click here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=TTB-2013-0003

Cabernet TopEagle Peak Mendocino County – A proposal to establish a new AVA to be known as Eagle Peak Mendocino County is in the final ruling stage.  Eagle Peak Mendocino County is proposed in an area of moderately sloping, hilly terrain at elevations from 800 feet to 3,320 feet up the slope of Eagle Summit.  Along with the new AVA, the proposal calls for the modification of the boundaries of the adjacent Redwood Valley AVA in order to avoid splitting two vineyard properties, Golden Vineyards and Masut Vineyards, between the Eagle Peak and Redwood Valley AVAs.  If the proposal passes, both properties would be within the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA. To read more about this proposal, click here:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=TTB-2013-0004

New AVA 3Paso Robles – After years of debate about the possible division of the Paso Robles AVA into North Paso Robles/South Paso Robles or even East Paso Robles/West Paso Robles sub-appellations, a proposal to establish eleven new AVAs within the existing Paso Robles AVA has made it to the “proposed rulemaking stage” of the AVA approval process.  If you have an opinion, now is the time to speak up! Public comments are welcome through January 21, 2014.  If all goes as planned, the new AVAs will be as follows:  Adelaida District,  Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch, and Templeton Gap District. For all the details, click here:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=TTB-2013-0009

If you would like to see all of the current AVA proposals on record with the TTB, just click here:  http://www.ttb.gov/wine/wine-rulemaking.shtml

 

Coro Mendocino

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Mendocino County is known for many things, including its often mentioned “official #1 cash crop,” the Skunk Train, and the Point Arena Lighthouse. We wine lovers also apprciate its 13 AVAs (two more pending), it sparkling wines, and the Café Beaujolais.

But did you know that Mendocino County is also home to the only “Regional-Identity” wine program in the United States? In an approach somewhat similar to that of many European appellations, any wine producer in Mendocino County can produce the wine, known as “Coro Mendocino,” provided they follow the rules.

According to the Coro Mendocino website, “Coro means ‘chorus’ in Italian and Spanish and is reflective of the collaborative spirit of Mendocino County’s winemakers, our distinctive voices heard together in harmony–in accord.”

The rules – and there are many – include basing the wine on the Zinfandel grape variety.  Zinfandel must be between 40% and 70% of the blend, and no other grape variety can take a dominant role.  The other grapes in the blend can include the following varieties, as long as they do not overpower the Zinfandel:  Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo. There is also a 10% “free play” provision that states that 10% of the blend may be from any vinifera variety.

Coro Mendocino LabelsAll grapes in the blend must be 100% Mendocino fruit and the wine must be produced at a bonded Mendocino County Winery.  The wine must be aged for one year in barrel, followed by one year in bottle.  Along with a fairly detailed list of production parameters and labeling requirements, the wine must pass the strict review of the Coro Mendocino selection panel and review process.

Coro Mendocino has been produced every year since 2001. The 2010 version, set to be released on June 22, 2013, has a total of ten producers, including Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. Tickets to the release party are almost sold out…but if you hurry, you might be able to grab a pair.  There will be a lovely dinner, and you know the wine will be great!

For more information:

 

Water and Wine: Clear Lake, Lake County

Lake County VineyardsLake County, California, has some mighty impressive wine country neighbors.   The region shares its borders with Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino; collectively the four regions make up the North Coast Regional AVA, a relatively neat  if somewhat irregular “rectangle” north of San Francisco.

Located at the intersection of the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains, Lake County is only 10 miles from Calistoga, yet the drive along the winding roads takes an hour. The namesake lake of the region, Clear Lake, is the largest freshwater body of water in the state of California. The presence of this lake buffers the temperature and provides great diurnal temperature swings, which promotes good acid retention in the grapes grown in the area.  Surrounded by rollings hills and (hopefully) inactive volcanoes, the diverse volcanic soils provide excellent drainage througout the region.

Before Prohibition, Lake County accounted for more grapes than Napa, but with no rail service, it wasn’t able to recover after repeal the way other areas of California did. Cheap land values sparked resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and now the area is producing award-winning wines and has nearly 8,500 acres planted with vines, with continued growth anticipated.

The average elevation of Lake County’s vineyards is 1,500 feet, with some reaching up to 3,000 feet above sea level. The high elevation coupled with good air quality (the purest in California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) maximizes the solar potential, resulting in higher levels of ultraviolet light. Consequently, the grapes develop thick skins, with high levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols, and tannins and low levels of pyrazines. This low-pyrazine producing  attribute made Clear Lake a popular region for growing Sauvignon Blanc, which until the region’s recent resurgence was the most widely grown grape in the region.

Lake County Wineries

Lake County has five designated AVAs:

  • Benmore Valley AVA was named for Benjamin Moore, a 19th century cattle rustler.  This area is cooler than the surrounding areas.  As there are currently no wineries located in the Benmore Valley AVA; grapes grown here are sourced by several local wineries.
  • Half of the area in the Clear Lake AVA is taken up by the lake itself.  The lake moderates the temperature of the vineyards in the area, minimizing the diurnal temperature swings as compared to the surrounding regions.
  • The High Valley AVA is located in the eastern part of the county at elevations ranging from 1,600 feet to 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • The rolling hills of the Red Hills Lake Country AVA lie along the southwestern shores of Clear Lake, at the foot of Mount Konocti, an extinct volcano.
  • Established in 1981, the Guenoc Valley AVA was the first AVA granted to an area with just a single winery. Geologically, Guenoc Valley is a small inland valley extending from upper Napa County.

Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the most widely planted grape in Lake County, followed by Merlot at a distant second, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. Petite Sirah, while not being one of the most widely planted grapes in the area, does exceedingly well here…fans of P.S. should keep their eyes open for award-winning wines from Lake County!

To learn more about Lake County Wines:  http://www.lakecountywineries.org/

Lake County Winegrape Growers’ Association:  http://www.lakecountywinegrape.org/lcwc/

Extreme AVA’s

vernaccia san gimignanoAccording to the website for the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), an AVA is defined as “a delimited grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary.”  The website goes on to state that “these designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin.”

 

Anyone, including a winemaker, landowner, or interested party may file a petition for the recognition of an AVA.  The petition must include:

  • Evidence that the proposed name of the AVA is “directly related to the location” and that the name is locally or nationally known to refer to the region.
  • USGS maps with the boundaries of the proposed region clearly marked.
  • An explanation as to why the geographic boundaries are drawn where they are as well as a description of the distinguishing features such as climate, geology, elevation, or soils that differentiate growing conditions from the area outside the proposed AVA’s borders.
  • While there are no size restrictions, proof must be provided that either total acreage or a broad distribution of viticultural activity across the region is enough to constitute both a “grape growing region” and “an area in which viticulture exists.”

Cabernet TopOnce an AVA is established, at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the specified area if an AVA is referenced on its label.

While of course I agree with the official governing body, I also like to think of The American Viticultural Areas like a big, unruly political family.  Someone, it seems, is always trying to take the helm or grab all the attention as the biggest, the newest, or the always-and-forever reigning patriarch. I’ve been trying to keep up with it all since the AVA system since it began back in 1980.

As of today (March 13, 2013), here are the contenders:

Oldest AVA:  Augusta – Located near the town of Augusta, Missouri, the Augusta AVA was approved on June 20, 1980.

Smallest AVA:  Cole Ranch – Located in Mendocino, California, the Cole Ranch AVA spans just 62 acres.  That’s less than one quarter of a square mile.

Largest AVA:  The Upper Mississippi Valley – The Upper Mississippi Valley AVA, approved on July 22, 2009, covers 29,914 square miles and includes parts of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

077Runners Up:  Coming in at #2, The Ohio River Valley AVA covers 26,000 square miles.  Third place goes to The Columbia Valley at 26,000 square miles.

Happiest AVA Names (Just for Fun):  Fair Play, Happy Canyon, Horse Heaven Hills, High Valley, and Rocky Knob.

Best Use of an Abbreviation:  Sta. Rita Hills

Most Mysterious Names:  Linganore, Lime Kiln, and Jahant (Comment below if you know what they mean!)

 

For more information:

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org