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Gallo proposes big expansion of Russian River Valley AVA line

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The pesky issue of expanding existing AVAs has again arisen, this time with Gallo’s request to the TTB to expand the Russian River Valley boundaries. TTB announced, through their Industry Circular 2008-4, the proposed expansion late last week, explaining that Gallo Family Vineyards (the former Gallo of Sonoma) is requesting a 14,044-acre increase to the 126,600-acre appellation, or a little more than 10 percent. Gallo’s arguments are that the proposed expansion area lies within the Russian River Valley watershed; that the area historically has been considered part of Russian River Valley, and — perhaps most importantly — that the area “lies directly in the path of the fog that moves from the ocean into southern and central Sonoma County; thus, the same fog influences both the proposed expansion area and the current viticultural area.” Fog is, of course, the central rationale for a Russian River Valley AVA in the first place.

There is opposition to Gallo’s proposal. TTB reports “more than 50 pieces of correspondance opposing the petitioner’s proposed expansion,” with most of the writers asserting “that the proposed expansion area falls outside the coastal fog line and thus has a different climate than that of the current viticultural area.” TTB reports that the opponents “are mostly vineyard or winery owners from the current viticultural area” (although what that has to do with it, I don’t know). TTB doesn’t identify who the opponents are. This sentence in Industry Circular 2008-4, “…the assertions in the [opposing] correspondance were not accompanied by any specific data that contradicts the petitioner’s submitted evidence,” leads me to believe that the proposed expansion will be permitted.

I don’t know whether the proposed extension area is really “coastal cool” or not, and it probably doesn’t really matter. Remember Sonoma Coast? That bloated AVA just proves that, with enough money for lawyers and consultants, you can buy any AVA you want. Heck, they talk about cool coastal influence in Lodi and Temecula! It all makes me revert back to the idea that AVAs are meaningless.

I’m off to Seattle for a few days and will resume blogging this weekend. Meanwhile, please visit my other blog at Wine Enthusiast’s Unreserved.

  1. Any data on how many acres under Gallo title or control this would affect?

    As far as AVAs rendered meaningless, I am not sure this is the case. One can look at the importance and see the glass as half empty or full, it’s how you interpret the affect of what the AVA claims to have on the vines. Average Joe Consumer might find a particular AVA useful when trying unknown wines, but to wine geeks like you (a compliment), less-than-subtle characteristics of an AVA are useless.

  2. The politics around AVA’s are infinite everywhere (think about France or Italy, just look at the recent expansion of the Champagne region as an example). We can only be sad that all of this is driven more by greed than truly by the love of the terroir.

  3. Sonoma Coast….I love that East Petaluma is included in that one. Makes my trips to the coast so much shorter!

  4. Frank, big savings in this era of high gas!

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