It has been a busy few months for the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which has approved a series of changes to grapegrowing appellations in both California and Washington. The latest is the approval of two new appellations—Coombsville in Napa Valley and Fort Ross-Seaview in Sonoma County.
The Coombsville American Viticultural Area (AVA) lies east of the city of Napa in the southeastern corner of the county. It becomes the valley’s 16th AVA. Coombsville includes a total of 11,075 acres, of which 1,360 acres are planted to vineyards, mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties. The AVA is distinguished by eastern mountains that surround the growing area like a horseshoe and offer shelter from the wind and fog common in southern Napa.
Grower and vintner John Caldwell, who farms 65 acres in the region, says Coombsville is one of the most unique growing regions in Napa Valley, early to bloom in the spring and one of the last areas to harvest. “We have one of the longest hang times in Napa,” said Caldwell.
Located along the mountainous western edge of Sonoma, Fort Ross-Seaview is Sonoma’s 15th AVA. It lies entirely within the Sonoma Coast AVA and includes prominent vineyards owned by wineries such as Marcassin, Martinelli, Peter Michael, Rivers Marie and David Hirsch.
Encompassing 27,500 acres and ranging in elevation from 920 to 1,800 feet, the area has about 500 acres of vines currently planted, mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is distinguished by cool temperatures from the nearby Pacific Ocean but is situated above the fog line, which allows for extended sun exposure.
Hirsch was among those who submitted the petition in 2003 and said the original idea was to distinguish the “true Sonoma Coast” from the larger Sonoma Coast AVA, which includes 115,200 acres and spans a wide swath of the county. The approval process was delayed by the post-9/11 reorganization of the TTB as well as a second and ultimately unsuccessful petition that sought to expand the originally proposed area of Fort Ross-Seaview.
Now about a decade later, Hirsch says, the AVA is almost a moot point. “It’s like a generation has passed,” he said, adding that the key growers and winemakers have successfully established their reputations with consumers. He won’t be using Fort Ross-Seaview on his own label and doubts other wineries will either. “The wines,” he said, “speak for themselves.”
In November, the TTB approved the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak appellation in northern Sonoma County and OKed a controversial plan to expand the Russian River Valley AVA by more than 14,000 acres. The Coombsville and Fort Ross-Seaview AVAs become effective Jan. 13.