Sta. Rita Hills Wines: A Question of Integrity or Cynicism
There is a proposal sitting on the desk of the Feds that, if approved, would expand the Santa Barbara County-based American Viticultural Area called the Sta. Rita Hills. The expansion proposal has been submitted by a grape grower whose vineyards now lie just outside the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The upshot of that unfortunate placement is that the grower does not get as much money for his grapes than if they were inside the boundary of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.
There is significant disagreement over whether this expansion should take place. Most vineyard and winery owners inside the Sta. Rita Hills AVA oppose the expansion. Clearly, the grower outside the AVA, who submitted the expansion petition, supports it.
You can read more about it all here.
The question on the table is: Is this AVA Expansion justified?
There really are only two ways of looking at this.
1. AVA Integrity Approach
If you believe the AVA system is one that is meant to give consumers information about the character of a wine based on the AVA on the bottle, then very great care should be taken in drawing AVA boundary lines. This care should be taken at the time the lines are originally drawn and, after the AVA is established and has a reputation, the lines should be altered to include new land only under extraordinary circumstances. The priority is the maintenance of an AVA that can continue to deliver grapes that are made into wine of a particular character reflective of the area.
2. The Cynical Approach
If you believe AVAs are primarily marketing vehicles that, under the guise of giving consumers key information about the character of wines made from grapes grown inside the AVA, really are just brands and promotional words, then every effort should be made to expand the AVA’s territory in order to grow more grapes to make more wines to carry the brand name.
I’m not familiar with the case and don’t know who the grower is or the quality of his product, but one thing to consider….The Santa Rita Hills AVA is less than 15 years old and, in the relative scheme of things, grape growing in the area does not have a particularly long track record. If we are talking about adjusting the boundaries of a Grand Cru Burgundy vineyard, the boundaries of which were drawn after centuries of close study, then I would say “sorry…too late”. However, when it comes to a region as young as the Santa Rita AVA, is it possible that when the boundaries were originally drawn we did not know enough about the area to say with a high degree of certainty that grapes grown on one side of the border are likely to be different than grapes grown just over the other side of the border?