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Gallo on RRV expansion: “Look at the facts”

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Back in September I blogged that Gallo was asking the Feds to approve a 14,044-acre expansion of the Russian River Valley AVA. I noted also that local opposition to the proposal was vehement. The Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) has extended the public comment period until Dec. 20, but the idea continues to draw widespread criticism. I recently spoke with Jim Collins, Gallo’s director of coastal winegrowing.

WE: Where is the area you want expanded?

JC: South of the Russian River Valley. It would include Cotati and part of the Petaluma Gap, depending on how it’s defined.

rrvmap.jpg

image courtesy of Appellation America

WE: What does Gallo have planted there?

JC: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and some Pinot Gris.

WE: To what appellation is the area now entitled?

JC: Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast.

WE: Why not just call it Sonoma Coast?

JC: Well, it’s part of the Russian River Valley. The soils are the same as over by our Laguna Vineyard, near Graton, and the climate is the same.

WE: Rod Berglund, from Joseph Swan, told the TTB, “The area that they wish to have included is, in no way, part of what has been defined as The Russian River Valley.”

JC: I think Rod’s a great guy, but if you look at the facts, it is. The climate data, the soil, it’s all the same as Russian River Valley.

WE: Berglund also says an expansion will create consumer confusion.

JC: I don’t agree.

WE: And Merry Edwards says this is a slippery slope that will lead to further expansions that eventually “will destroy the integrity of the Russian River Valley brand.”

JC: Again, I go back to the facts of soil and climate, especially in the context of the last expansion [of Russian River Valley], in 2005. This area was left out and it needs to be put in.

WE: Is it conceivable that the Russian River Valley AVA is too big? That instead of expanding it, it should be broken into smaller sub-appellations?

JC: That’s a good question that we could take up at another time.

WE: Are there any other areas that are not included in Russian River Valley which you think should be?

JC: I can’t think of any.

WE: So is this the last time Gallo will ask for an expansion of the valley?

JC: Well, I couldn’t answer that with 100 percent clarity.

WE: What happens when the public comment period is over?

JC: TTB takes it back internally, mulls it over, and makes their decision.

WE: If they reject the expansion, can you appeal?

JC: I’m not an expert on that. I imagine there is. But it’s hard to argue against the facts. And there are quite a few people who agree with us. You can be confident there will be letters [of support] coming in to TTB.

  1. Steve,

    Isn’t the real question here, “What wine brands will/do the grapes go into and do you plan on using the appellation as a marketing vehicle.

    Sounds like Gallo is working the geography angle when this is a simple marketing question to understand their motives.

    If an AVA is expanded for geographical purposes, that seems okay, but if it’s for marketing purposes, then that’s the slippery slope.

    Additional thoughts?

    Jeff

  2. Morton Leslie says:

    Usually “valley” appellations are defined by the watershed. If the existing RRV appellation consists of the watershed into the Russian River and nothing else and the proposed addition violates that principle this would be a strong argument for denying the expansion. But if there is no such underlying principle or the new area is within the watershed to the Russian River then they’re already on a slippery slope.

    As I understand it the argument for the expansion is based on climate and water shed and against it is primarily on climate. That is pretty difficult to establish with firm borders as the cooling influence in question is a eastward flow of cold air from the coast that gets pushed northward into the existing RR valley when it hits Sonoma Mountain. It would be like excluding a southern portion of the Napa Valley from its AVA because someone claims the cooling influence of the San Pablo bay stops somewhere up the Napa Valley.

    I suspect the primary reason to be for or against the expansion is actually economic.

  3. Morton, I tend to agree with you on this one. I’m pretty familiar with the area, and it doesn’t seem all that different from, say, River Road.

  4. East Coast winemaker says:

    I suspect that all AVA expansion, subdivision, etc, is a marketing ploy. And so is the opposition to Gallo’s lobbying effort; nobody wants their expensive wine part of the same AVA as a Gallo brand.

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