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That proposed Freestone-Occidental AVA: an interim status report



I had a little time to catch up on the proposed Freestone-Occidental appellation. Here’s what I found out.

It was first proposed to the TTB in 2009, according to First Leaf, a Sonoma company that helps investors acquire agricultural land, and whose website contains valuable information on Sonoma’s various wine regions. Freestone and Occidental are, of course, small towns in the southwestern part of Sonoma County. Here’s a link to one version of a map, Free-Occ,  prepared by my friend, the AVA specialist Patrick Shabram. The website, everywine, has done a nice job summarizing the facts of the proposed appellation.

So what’s happened since 2009? In a word, nothing. “TTB returned [the application] last year,” explains Mike McEvoy, vice president of sales and marketing for Joseph Phelps Vineyards, which has vineyards in the area. The problem, according to McEvoy: “The reason TTB gave was, they had clarified their view on new AVAs that overlap with existing AVAs. And because part of the Freestone-Occidental appellation overlaps Russian River Valley, they sent back the petition back.” The problem seems to particularly apply to Freestone, not Occidental.

Shabram told Marimar Torres, (who shared the email with me) back in 2012, that he was aware of the overlap problem, and that “resubmitting a revised petition with the overlapped area removed, is much more plausible.” McEvoy, however, says little has occurred lately to push things forward. He says a group of members of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners, including Andy Peay, Ehren Jordan, Regina Martinelli and Ted Lemon, has plans to meet new month “to tackle this Freestone dilemma.” Unfortunately, the group wants any Freestone AVA “to include the area that’s overlapping with Russian River Valley,” which TTB is opposed to. Of course, no matter what the new eventual appellation is, starting this year it will have to append the words “Sonoma County” to it, according to the county’s new conjunctive labeling law, which will make for quite a mouthful.

My own feeling is that there should be at least one new AVA carved out from that area. I’ve always said the existing Sonoma Coast appellation is too big to mean anything. I was excited when Fort Ross-Seaview was approved by the TTB in 2011, but, as Marimar Torres, whose Doña Margarita Vineyard lies in the proposed new AVA, correctly notes, Fort Ross-Seaview is quite a distance away from Freestone-Occidental. “It’s so far north [whereas] Freestone-Occidental has a distinct personality.” The elevations there aren’t as high as in Fort Ross-Seaview, meaning the region is more subject to fog, making the wines deeper, heavier, more brooding than those of their northern cousins. Marimar’s 2005 Doña Margarita Pinot Noir is a classic example: dark, tannic and lush, not to mention ageworthy.


  1. Their objection puzzles me: Doesn’t the extant “Sonoma Coast” AVA *already* overlap with RRV (and bits of Carneros (?))?
    I drink a fair bit of wine from the F/O area and whilst I’m skeptical of many of the specifics tagged to the concept of “terroir”, I do find the wines of that area to be pretty distinct from its notable neighbors; particularly the pinot noirs

  2. dr, I can’t answer that. The TTB sometimes can be a very untransparent bureaucracy.

  3. dr, the objection to overlapping AVAs is relatively recent. At the time that the Russian River Valley AVA and Sonoma Coast AVA were created, the ATF (now the TTB) didn’t object. Each AVA petition was viewed as independent. Now existing AVAs need to be taken into account in the petitioning process. That change occurred while Freestone-Occidental was pending.

  4. Doesn’t the TTB’s objection to new appellations overlapping old appellations put TTB in a position of favoring the old appellations even in the face of evidence that their may be a reliable way to describe growing regions to consumers?

    It looks like a matter of favoring process over reality to me.

  5. If appellations like Russian River and Sonoma Coast had been created in a more realistic size to begin with we wouldn’t have these issues. Marketing trumps any desire to aide consumers in recognizing specific growing areas in most cases.

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