American Viticultural Areas: The final straw?

Allow me to be the first to question the utility of the "American Viticultural Area" scheme by which defined geographic areas are granted this AVA Status supposedly because there is something so unique about the area’s climate and soils as to offer something unique to wines made from grapes grown there.

Exhibit #1: Washington State’s new "Horse Heaven Hills" AVA.

This region, located on the Columbia River’s north slope, was granted AVA status by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax And Trad Bureau of the Federal government.

Now get this. The area encompasses over 570,000 acres. More than Half a million acres. Context? The Russian River Valley, one of Sonoma County’s largest AVAs, if not the largest, includes barely 100,000 acres. Outside of its marketing uses, the Russian River Valley AVA is fairly useless. It really offers nothing in the way of telling the consumer what to expect from a wine that carries the designation on the bottle.

Now Washington is celebrating a half million acre AVA? How it is possible that a half million acre area could have anything close to a consistent set of soils and climate, the necessary ingredient for a region to offer some sort of character stamp to a wine?

I dislike posting rants to this blog. But I’m just uncertain of any other way to deliver news of this abomination. What little credibility America’s existing AVAs have are diminished even further by this sort of thing.

Posted In: Terroir


8 Responses

  1. Jack - August 2, 2005

    Tom, I think we need to elect you American Wine Czar. You get the power to veto all wine-related laws and regulations. (All smiles – Jack)

  2. tom - August 2, 2005

    Jack: There would no doubt be an early, quick and successful revolt in my Wine Czardom and I’d be overthrown in favor of someone with more sensibility, like Randall Grahm. But, it would be fun while it lasted

  3. Fredric Koeppel - August 2, 2005

    tom, the reason we read “fermentations” is for your rants. keep it up, please! keep the scoundrels’ feet to the flames …..

  4. huge - August 2, 2005

    Yes, more rants please.
    The process for submitting an AVA for approval is pretty simple. Show that there are grapes planted there, define how they are different in an essay, pay a large fee (I think its about $25k), submit some maps and soil tests. Wait, follow up with calls and voila, you have an AVA. No joke.

  5. Bradley - August 2, 2005

    I’ve seen the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. It’s a huge, long ridge all folded and windswept like a big woman’s thigh after a month at the beach. Most of it looks unplantable. These are observations from the Horse Heaven Hills truck stop just off the interstate. They have plenty of parking and an excellent deli. I recommend it. Not sure about the AVA. A description promoting it actually emphasizes the constant wind as stress factor for the grapes. I suppose vineyard workers should take care to frequently face the other direction to avoid having their hair or other features permanently shaped by the wind.

  6. Tish - August 2, 2005

    The biggest issue I have with American AVAs is that while the potential for kinship among wines made in a given AVA may be there, the reality rarely works out that way. Gerneally speaking, the more AVAs they approve, the less I care…

  7. Beau - August 3, 2005

    Currently, I’m working on submitting paperwork for a new AVA, “the Great Basin.” It’s 10 million acres-worth of fine dusty American west soil. I understand Great Basin Zin is mighty tasty. Who’s with me?!

  8. Tyler - August 4, 2005

    So much for protecting microclimates. 570,000 acres is one heck of a macroclimate! Terroir anyone? Oh yeah, that’s French.

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