Talkin’ AVA boundary blues
Once again the subject of new AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas, arose in conversation this week, relative to a story I’m working on. It concerns an area that some people, including me, as well many if not most who actually grow grapes and have wineries in the region, believe should have its own unique appellation. I won’t mention it, because you’ll read about it in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast.
The problem, as one person expressed it, comes down to this: “You either have to cut cut some people out, or include everybody, to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”
He’s talking about boundaries, of course. They have to run somewhere, have to be based on something (climatic, dirt-wise, watershed, history). They can’t just be arbitrary because that would pollute the very concept of an appellation. Trouble is, depending on where you draw the boundaries, somebody who wants in always gets left out. (Never mind that some people who shouldn’t be in automatically get included. That’s a different story.) Whoever gets left out becomes grouchy and, potentially, litigious. And who wants a grouchy, litigious neighbor? (As a condo dweller, I can say with certainty that I don’t!)
I thought this topic was worth some observations on some current California AVAs. I won’t mention all 9,476,746 of them because then this post would be War and Peace. But here’s a start.
All the valleys need to be redefined to bring down their elevation lines. For example, in Sonoma Valley, the AVA line goes up to 2,530 feet! That’s a half-mile. If 2,530 feet is a valley, then I’m a [fill in ridiculous metaphor].
(All my statistical conclusions about AVAs in this post come from the Wine Institute’s link to American Viticultural Areas.)
Alexander Valley’s highest permitted elevation is 857 feet. Again, that is not a valley–conditions that high are in stark contract to the valley floor. These higher stretches of Alexander Valley (even well above 857 feet, where I guess they’d qualify only for Sonoma County) desperately need their own AVA. The late Jess Jackson tried, and failed, to get Alexander Mountain an AVA. I don’t care what the name is, but somebody should continue that struggle.
Anderson Valley goes up to 2015 feet feet, a situation relieved, in some part, by the Mendocino Ridge appellation. Still, it’s weird.
Many of California’s AVAs really don’t matter because few wines are produced from them and much of that is common. The bigger AVAs, like Napa Valley, are pretty meaningless, especially in this age of the negociant, where tons of wine with Napa Valley on the label are standard stuff. Napa’s mountain AVAs make sense to me. As for the communes, well, they’re weathervanes, in the sense that an Oakville Cab will have some particular characteristics, a Rutherford Cab will have its own traits, and so on. But these generalizations often break down under close inspection. I think they need to split Oakville in half: east and west. That would be a beginning. Rutherford’s awfully sprawling. It takes in everything from Flora Springs on the west to Staglin in the middle to Quintessa with its little hill there to Hall up above the Silverado Trail in the Vacas. Crazy. And don’t even get me started about Russian River Valley. I’ve been calling for years for it to be subdivided into at least three AVAs, maybe as many as six. Nothing ever seems to happen.
Edna Valley–now there’s an AVA that makes sense. You can tell an Edna Valley wine a mile away, whether it’s red or white. Green Valley’s pretty dependable, too. Santa Rita Hills, Dry Creek Valley–you usually know what to expect from them, and you get it. Those are AVAs at their best.
I do understand the argument about grouchy neighbors being left out. That’s too bad–it’s why so many of our AVAs are so porous. They let in vineyards that shouldn’t have been there, out of consideration (or fear) of somebody. Still, we need more appellations in California, not fewer, but they should be rational and small, not gigantic and meaningless. San Francisco Bay? A lovely place, my home, but not an appellation, in any sense except that somebody had enough money to buy it.
What are your nominations for the smartest and dumbest AVAs in California?