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California Coastal Appellation Rejected by BATF


Thomas Garrett
Posted: January 13, 1999

Don't look for a California Coastal appellation on wine bottles anytime soon. Although a group of winemakers and growers has been pushing for such a designation for nearly two years, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms rejected their petition last week.

In April 1997, a group called the Coastal Alliance submitted a petition requesting the creation of a California Coastal American Viticultural Area. The AVA would have linked the four current coastal appellations--North Coast, Sonoma Coast, Central Coast and South Coast--by a narrow strip of land.

The BATF cited a lack of climactic similarities among the regions as grounds for dismissing the petition. The proposed appellation would have comprised 14 million acres of land, spanning 600 miles of coastline stretching from northern Mendocino County to Temecula, near San Diego.

Kendall-Jackson Winery, which owns about 6,600 vineyard acres within the proposed California Coastal region, was one of the lead wineries behind the petition. It was joined by 16 other area vintners and growers, including Wente Vineyards and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. The supporters of the new appellation wanted to differentiate wines blended from grapes grown in the cooler coastal regions from wines that use fruit from the hotter Central Valley region, which often carry the generic California appellation. "Grape quality from coastal vineyards is higher" than that of Central Valley grapes, reasoned Pete Downs, Kendall-Jackson's vice president of governmental affairs.

Downs was not sure yet if the petition for the California Coastal AVA would be resubmitted. "We thought we had overwhelming evidence," he said. "I've tried to get [the BATF] to look at [the AVA] as moving from west to east, not north to south. We're talking about maritime influence. Obviously it's going to be a diverse region when you consider the change in latitude."

Many other growers and producers opposed the petition, including Robert Mondavi Winery and E. & J. Gallo Winery, both of which have major brands that rely on grapes grown in Central Valley.

Some wine industry insiders view the California Coastal AVA as an attempt to charge higher prices for wines by associating them with the Napa, Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara growing regions. "It's a marketing ploy," said Jack Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars. "You've got to give [Jess Jackson, proprietor of Kendall-Jackson] an 'A' for effort, but I think it's too much of a stretch."

Echoing local sentiment that the proposed AVA would be vague and misleading to consumers, Cakebread added, "I don't know how coastal in Temecula is the same as coastal in Mendocino. Once you start overlapping appellations, you really open Pandora's box."

Related articles:

  • May 19, 1997
    BATF Considers New California Coast Appellation

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