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Notes from the road, on AVAs, and a frown on orange wine



Driving back from Oregon to California, I was really struck by how abruptly the climate changes in a relatively short distance.

I had stayed the night in Medford, in the interior section of Oregon, right on I-5. The daytime temperatures were very hot, well into the 90s. Then you climb into all the mountains—the Siskyous, the Klamaths, Mt. Shasta—where the temperature is still pretty warm, but this is also a very wet climate: hence the thickly-forested stands of fir (and so many ugly scars from clear-cutting).

Then, when you hit California and get into the top of the Sacramento Valley around Redding, how quickly things change! Suddenly the thick stands of trees are gone, and so is the greenery, replaced by mile after mile of the sere, golden hills that give California its nickname, The Golden State. Where there are trees they are drought-resistant eucalyptus. Otherwise, in this barren, droughty part of the state, nothing grows, except where it is irrigated. All this, within a few hundred miles.

* * *

I read in the news that the Petaluma Gap AVA petitioners still are waiting for TTB to approve their application (or not). I wrote about the effort in Nov. 2014, stating that I was “heartily in favor” of it, and that TTB would probably approve it “sooner rather than later.” Well, here we are, 20 months later, and still no approval! I don’t know if that qualifies as “later,” but it is what it is, and I still think the feds will allow it, although one of the petitioners was quoted in the article as saying, “It’s possible it could all be done this year,” which would definitely be “later” than I’d thought.

Here’s a list of all the other pending AVAs waiting for TTB action. As you can see, three of the nine are in California (although four of the nine are mere “expansions” rather than brand-new appellations). One of the pending ones is the Van Duzer Corridor, up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. That’s where I’ve been spending time: the “Corridor” is a gap in the coastal hills, similar to the Petaluma Gap, that allows cool maritime air and wind to funnel in from the coast. Jackson Family’s Maple Grove vineyard is a little too far south to be influenced by the Van Duzer Corridor, so it wouldn’t be included, which is why we’re looking into an appellation for our area.

* * *

I’m sorry, but I still think “orange wine” is a flash in the pan. Just because pre-scientific winemakers made this kind of dirty stuff thousands of years ago doesn’t make it romantic if it tastes weird. It just means we humans have learned how to make clean wine.

  1. Adam Lee says:

    Interesting that in the list of AVAs awaiting approval the Sta. Rita Hills proposed expansion is not listed, but no decision has yet been made on it (with all documents in since 2014). Here’s a link to that petition:

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  2. As they used to say in the good ol’ days:
    Orange Wine…better than cholera!

    Orange wine is a novelty. Loud voices speak of it, magazines have a cool splashy montage of “what’s hot” to drink in SF or NY therefore giving orange wines legitimacy. That fringe element will always be present in wine making, like unicorn wine discussions and all the other nonsense Pinot that tastes like dill pickles and jalapeno.

    I have difficulty with sour beers too, even though I hear about how many people drink them and want to use stinky garbage wine barrels to make the stuff. I usually can’t get past the smell.

  3. Bob Henry says:


    Do you use American oak barrels to make your wines?

    And if “yes,” do you perceive any dill character imparted to your (or others’) wines?


    Quoting “Oak – Wine Spectator”


    “American Oak: An alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine. Marked by strong vanilla, DILL and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It’s less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. New American oak barrels can be purchased for about half the price of French oak barrels.”

    (Silver Oak uses American oak barrels. Those with long memories might recall their mid-1980s “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernets having a very distinct dill bouquet and matching flavor.)

  4. TomHill says:

    “Orange wine” a flash in the pan??? That pretty much depends on what you call an “orange” wine. And that definition has become pretty muddled over the yrs.
    Originally, orange wines were characterized by the Georgia/Gravner/Radikon paradigm….wines made in large amphorae and that were almost always on the oxidative side. They
    could be very exotic in character sometime and often very tannic. But the orange wine was a description based on the color of the wine.
    Since those wines have appeared, there has been another genre appear that are often termed (mistakenly, in my thought) orange wines, only because of the color. But these I
    prefer the term “skin-contact whites made in a reductive manner”. These are “white” wines made w/ skin-contact, but not made in an oxidative manner, a la Radikon/Gravner/Georgia.
    The skin contact during fermentation can range from a few days to throughout fermentation, and then sometimes days/weeks beyond fermentation. Some are orange in color (if made from
    PinotGris or GWT), many are not. Some can be delightful & exotic, some can be dreadful. Most people still refer to this genre as orange wines….I choose not to use that term.
    Depending upon the length of skin contact, they can be quite phenolic & tannic. Oftentimes not. But there is a growing number of winemakers that are experimenting w/ this genre.
    They are not a “flash in the pan” and “dirty stuff”. And, indeed, they can be “weird”…if all you ever drink is K-J VintnersReserve Chard.
    Are these skin-contact whites and orange wines the next big thing??? I’m pretty certain not. Besides, we’ve been told by one wine authority that the “next big thing” is
    GamayNoir. But this genre and orange wines just adds to the diversity of the wine scene, which is hardly a bad thing. But YMMV.

  5. Bob Henry says:

    Tom and Steve,

    Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer have a slightly roseate skin color.

    They are also white wine grapes that have skin tannins.

    If Pinot Gris or Gewurz juice is left in contact with its skin, a vintner will produce a slightly “orange” colored wine with tannins.

    To minimize both, I floated a trial balloon idea around the world (via e-mail) to winemakers, Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers and wine writers to consider adopting carbonic maceration when making certain Pinot Gris and Gewurz.

    And indeed it has been done. Responses back . . .

    By Dan Rinke at Johan Vineyards (Oregon) who makes Pinot Gris.

    By Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon who made Riesling.

    By Manfred Tement in Austria who makes Sauvignon Blanc.

    By Fabio Bartolomei in Spain who makes Airén.

    Selectively by some winemakers in France reports Dr. Liz Thach, MW (relaying a translated message from Alain Razungles, Professor of Oenology in the IHEV dof Montpellier SupAgro).

    From my conversations with Oregon vintners, a few are intrigued enough to consider making a single experimental barrel of carbonic maceration Pinot Gris.

    In my conversation with Los Angeles wine merchant Lou Amdur, he thinks that “viognier might be a good candidate: the apricot flavors that are characteristic of the variety might play nicely with the aldehydes that are an artifact of carbonic maceration.”

    (Whereas Bill Easton of Terre Rouge demurs on using Viognier grapes.)

    ~~ Bob

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