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Russian River Valley Winegrowers to Gallo: Fuhgeddaboudit!!

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A bare majority of the voting members of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) trade association cast ballots last week to oppose Gallo’s proposed expansion of the Russian River Valley AVA, but the vote was far from unanimous, and fewer than one-third of the membership even bothered to vote. (I blogged on proposed expansion on Nov. 20).

A Dec. 10 letter reporting the results, sent by the RRVW to the Tax and Trade Bureau, reveals that, of the RRVW’s 380 members, only 114 actually voted. Of those who voted, 71 were against the expansion, 18 in favor, and 25 cast a “neutral/withhold” vote.

That’s not exactly a ringing condemnation of Gallo’s proposal, although it is technically true, as a RRVW press release stated, that “Members of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers voted Tuesday to join the Russian River Boundary Integrity Coalition in opposition to a proposed expansion of the famous AVA.” That press release also called into question Gallo’s contention that the proposed expansion area, which is within the Petaluma Gap, has a climate similar to that of the current Russian River Valley AVA. “[T]he area in question was part of the ‘Petaluma Chicken Belt’ because it was really too cold to grow the prunes and apples that were the foundation of the area now known as the Russian River AVA,” it says.

A spokesperson for the RRVW, Paige Poulos, said the organization has no problem with a Petaluma Gap appellation. There is a Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, but there’s no sign that anyone has begun the lengthy and expensive process of applying for a new AVA to the TTB. The leading AVA drafter in Northern California, Patrick Shabram, told me, “As far as I know, a petition has never been submitted to make it an AVA.”

Whatever the TTB ultimately decides concerning the Russian River Valley expansion, an appeal is likely, given the vehemence on both sides. An appeal has to go through complex TTB levels, each of which has long (45-90 days) time periods. Ultimately, a plea for appeal can be brought before the Federal courts, but only after the applicant has exhausted all TTB avenues.

CORRECTION: The spokesperson for the Russian River Valley Winegrowers is Chris Donatiello, not Paige Poulos. I regret any inconvenience caused.

  1. At the end of the day, who really cares?!?!?!? This all boils down to the ‘marketing importance’ of an AVA these days . . . and Gallo obviously feels that there is much more to gain by being considered RRV instead of North Coast or whatever it currently is . . .

    Of course, if enough of your neighbors ‘disagree’, should this sway the TTB one way or another? Or more importantly, DOES this? And what if, instead of Gallo submitting this request, it was “Fill in the blank with a cooler, smaller label’ submitting it? Would their ‘neighbors’ have the same issue?

    I can understand why the TTB has thrown it’s arms up in the air over this . . . and the whole Paso issue. Very confusing indeed . . .

    Cheers!

  2. Morton Leslie says:

    Larry, that is exactly the point. Their customer doesn’t really care. My guess is that many of the 71 (of the 380 members) who voted against it represent a provincial group who don’t get out that much. Ultimately all that really matters to the customer is that there is a RRV appellation, whatever its boundaries, and the wines are better than the crap that comes from “Fresburg.” And that they have heard about the AVA.

    Somehow the Napa Valley has survived including such diverse grape growing conditions as Carneros, Calistoga, Pope Valley, Oak Knoll, and Howell Mountain. It might be that they worry less about the AVA boundaries and more about the quality of the wine and the quality of their promotional effort.

    It seems to me that since the boundaries of the RRV are already contaminated by political considerations, they might just consider the politics of enlisting the full support of a powerful and professional wine marketer like Gallo.

  3. Morton, you do an injustice to wines from Fresburg!

    But seriously, your second paragraph says it all. “worry less about the AVA boundaries and more about the quality of the wine.” Amen brother!

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