Gimme MORE, MORE, MORE Appellations in America
I love American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). They help make a PR Guy like me busy.
That’s why my heart was wounded when the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) of the U.S. Treasury Department, the agency that approves and regulates AVAs, announced a few weeks ago that they were suspending all new approvals or consideration of new AVAs…pending some sort of review of the process
I’ve been wanting to write about this wound to my heart for some time but have been waiting for the right moment and the right inspiration. I got that today in thinking about the French appellation system and after reading Alan Goldfarb’s article and interview at Appellation America about the TTB’s recent decision.
The implications of re-evaluating the AVA system are vast. Goldfarb sums it all up nicely when he writes:
"There are concerns as it applies to domestic as well as to worldwide
commerce and also pertaining to the viticultural significance of wine
grape growing areas. There are serious implications for geographically
named wineries and brands. Overriding it all is the very meaning and
future of AVAs in this country.
What conclusions will TTB make after it opens
yet-to-be-announced public hearings on the matter? Will there be
drastic changes? Will the broken AVA system – which some say is being
used merely as a marketing tool as opposed to the delineation of real
climatic and soil distinctions – continue to exist as we know it?"
I really wish the Treasury Department and TTB would just consent to leave the whole matter in my own personal hands as I could easily clarify the meaning of AVAs in America. In fact, let me save them some time and money right now.
1. FACT: The specific soils and climate of a well defined area has an impact on the character of wines made from the grapes grown in these specific "terroirs". The soil and climate won’t dictate the character of the wine, but it will have a consistent and identifiable impact on it. If you don’t believe this, ask yourself why they don’t make Cabernet Sauvignon in Germany.
2. An AVA, to have any meaning at all outside that which marketers and PR folks like me give it, must identify areas of consistent soil and climatic characteristics.
3. It is much easier to identify areas of consistent soils and climate when you are talking about much smaller geographic regions. In other words, 500 contiguous acres are more likely to have consistent soils and climate than 40,000 contiguous acres.
THEREFORE, it should be the mission of the TTB to encourage the creation of many more much smaller AVAs and sub-AVAs. We need more Green Valleys, Rutherfords, Mt. Veeders and Atlas Peaks.
THEREFORE, a winery’s brand name should be allowed to include the name of the AVA if it makes 90% of its wine from grapes grown in that AVA
THEREFORE, Any winery that has a placename in its brand name that is then later used as the name of a new AVA should be allowed to keep that brand name and not be forced to make 90% of its wine from that AVA: They were there first.
Up to this point the vast majority of AVAs have had very little to do with consistent soil and climatic factors except in the most meaningless of ways. As a result, these bigger, meaningless AVAs have become simple marketing tools that form the raison d’etre of local "regional associations" such as the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, the Napa Valley Vintners and the Carneros Quality Alliance.
Does anyone really believe that the climates of the southwestern and northeastern regions of the Russian River Valley really have much in common with each other? Or course not. All you have to do is observe where the fog comes in first and stays longest to figure that out. And what about the soils of the Russian River Valley. The RRV Winegrowers own website puts to rest any notion that there is anything consistent in this vast AVA’s soils when they write on their website: "Each of the various soil types has a sometimes subtle, sometimes profound effect on the grapes growing upon them."
There will be those that will object to the notion of creating more sub-AVAs inside larger AVAs and to the idea of creating more and more AVAs altogether. The argument is that we’ll just confuse the consumer even more.
I’ll grant them that.
It will be more confusing to have more and smaller AVAs inside larger AVAs running amok on the maps. The problem is that anything less is just a license to hoodwink the consumer by continuing to push the idea that the terms "Napa Valley" or "Sonoma Valley" or "Carneros" or "Russian River Valley" have any meaning whatsoever when it comes communicating what’s in the bottle that carries those AVAs on their labels.
My hope is that the TTB will be grateful I’ve cleared all this up for them and saved them the time of holding costly hearings. I’m not holding my breath.
Anyone who wants more insight into this very important issue should read Alan Goldfarb’s Appellation America piece. It lays out the issue wonderfully.