The Meaning of Meaningless
What say we just take the final and most logical next step here in America and simply abandon the idea of appellations and America Viticultural Areas altogether.
I read, thanks to Benson Marketing’s handy "Enews Monitor", of a development that is completely contrary to the entirely reasonable, historically verified and venerable notion that wine is defined by the place the grapes are grown.
First, it appears that the Federal Government is set to expand in size the already ludicrously large (1.5 million acres) American Viticultural Area they call "San Francisco Bay" on behalf of a grower who, for some unfathomable reason, wants to put that appellation on his wines. What was most interesting about the Fed’s reasoning for enlarging this appellation to include a new swath of land near the town of Vallejo is that it is:
"An area historically, economically and socially considered to be a part of the San Francisco Bay region."
Let me ask a dumb question: What does any consumer care that the plot of ground where the grapes for a particular wine were grown is "historically, economically and socially considered to be a part of the San Francisco Bay region?" Is there anything about this coincidence that delivers any information about th e wine in the bottle? Any?
But here’ s the kicker. The same winery that has petitioned, and found approval from the Feds, to have the San Francisco Bay appellation expanded to include its 127-acre ranch was denied its request to have the Central Coast appellation expanded in size to include its ranch because….wait for it…"it would cause consumer confusion."
So here’s my question: Does expanding the definition of "meaninglessness" cause confusion?
As many readers know, one of the organizations I work with via Wark Communications is Appellation America. One of the reasons I work with them is they are, simply, the most idealistic and progressive organization I’ve ever come across when it comes to the idea that the place makes the wine. And it strikes me today that not only is Appellation America working to turn hearts, minds, winemakers ad consumers toward this idea (it amazes me that this actually has to be worked at) but they are also fighting against a federal government that is controlling an appellation system that is doing nearly everything it can to undermine the idea that place means anything when it comes to the character of a wine.
There are only 3 reasons the feds would expand the already meaningless San Francisco Bay appellation: ignorance, stupidity or kickbacks. I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume only the first two apply to them.
It comes as no suprise to me that politics is involved in the formation of AVA’s. It isn’t just the federal government that is involved, local politics also play an important part. Lets be honest, AVA’s are arbitrary lines drawn on a map. There designation is initiated not by the Federal Government but by wineries and vineyards themselves. There are tremendous advantages to having your vineyard fall within the bounds of a new AVA, most of which relate to marketing. I can tell you for certain that the lines on a map show a much clearer distinction between AVA’s than actually exist in the wines themselves.
I believe that wines inevitably reflect the place they are grown. I also believe wines produced within some geographical areas can show great similiarities and can honestly be grouped together.
My problem with AVA’s ( especially those that subdivide an existing AVA ) is that; they are being erronously used to imply a standard of quality ( like the french cru system ), and the politcal and bussiness motives behind thier development.
I think Jerry has it right and this has always been one of my beefs with our AVA system (not that the French version is really better). If you happen to have the Sonoma County AVA maps made by Vestra you can see curious “zigs” made around certain large vineyards of notable growers to include them (or sometimes to exclude them).
AVA lines are arbitrary and drawn long after the vineyards were planted. For them to have real meaning, they should be drawn using soil, topography and weather data on maps that have no vineyard locations on them and without comment or interferance from winery/vineyard owners.
Then we might have something with some meaning to discuss, but since we can’t do it retroactively I think the whole debate gets pretty muddled.
Hey, Tom. Just posted a story on my blog on Appellation America and the importance of raising varietal consciousness in the US. Thanks for your great piece–I have a link to it in the story.