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Appellation Update: Government Approves Six New AVAs Around the Country

In addition, the borders of Sonoma's Russian River Valley are redrawn

Lynn Alley
Posted: December 14, 2005

The U.S. government has been cranking out new wine appellations this fall, approving six more American Viticultural Areas—two in California and one each in New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington—for use on wine labels. In addition, the government also officially expanded the long-debated boundaries of California's Russian River Valley appellation, best known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Three AVAs were approved last week and take effect on Jan. 6, 2006: the Ramona Valley AVA in Southern California, the Texoma AVA in Texas, and the Wahluke Slope AVA in eastern Washington. Another three were approved earlier in the fall, along with the resizing of the Russian River Valley, and have already taken effect: the Dos Rios AVA in Northern California, the Niagara Escarpment AVA in New York and the Red Hill Douglas County AVA in Oregon. That brings the country's total to 169 AVAs, with more than 30 additional AVAs still in the approval process.

Since 1999, the Russian River Valley Winegrowers association has been trying to revise the borders of the appellation, both by adding land and taking it away. On Oct. 11, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau granted one part of the organization's request, adding 30,200 acres to the appellation, for a total of 126,600 acres.

The Russian River Valley now includes a portion of Green Valley not originally part of the AVA, the remainder of the Santa Rosa Plain (an area bordered by the Sonoma Mountains and Alexander and Dry Creek valleys) and the Sebastopol Hills (a large, rural region to the west, south and east of the town of Sebastopol). Among the wineries that now fall within the Russian River borders are Copain, D'Argenzio, DuMol, DuNah, Paradise Ridge, Roessler and Siduri.

"The important part about all this is that the new boundary follows the fog line," said winemaker Merry Edwards, chairman of the RRVW's boundary revision committee. Fog brings cooler temperatures, ideal conditions for growing Pinot Noir.

Edwards said the more difficult removal phase still lies ahead. The organization has targeted a large area that lies above 900 feet on the western side of the appellation. "This area would never remotely be planted to vineyards," she said. The winegrowers also want to remove an area on the appellation's east side that lies above Chalk Hill Winery and the fog line.

• In addition to having the boundaries redrawn for an existing appellation, California has also gained two new AVAs. The Dos Rios AVA, in northern Mendocino County, took effect on Nov. 14. It lies in a long canyon at the confluence of the Eel River and its Middle Fork, 40 miles north of Ukiah and 25 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. Dos Rios contains a total of 15,500 acres of land, but only 6 acres of vines, which were planted in 1993 for the area's one winery, Vin De Tevis. "The river and the canyon have a great deal to do with how well we can grow grapes," said vintner Steve De Tevis, who produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Charbono, Merlot and Zinfandel. "The canyon acts as a conduit for the marine winds in the evening and winds coming from inland in the morning, while the river reflects light onto the hillsides."

• The even newer 89,000-acre Ramona Valley AVA surrounds the small town of Ramona, 28 miles northeast of San Diego and 35 miles south of the Temecula wine appellation. The area, which has an average vineyard elevation of 1,400 feet, covers a variety of soil types and land formations, and its climate is influenced both by the Pacific Ocean 25 miles to the west and the Anza-Borrego Desert 25 miles to the east. The Ramona Valley and its surrounding small valleys are currently home to 20 vineyards, with an estimated total of 62 acres planted to a wide range of red and white grape varieties. Only two wineries, Schwaesdall Winery and Ramona Vintners Cellars, are open to the public, although the AVA contains seven other wine-production facilities.

• In southwestern Oregon, the Red Hill Douglas County AVA joined a growing list of similarly named appellations. The Nov. 14 birth of the 5,500-acre AVA has been in the works since 2002, as the proposal ran into several snags over the number of other AVAs—including Red Hills of Lake County in California and Red Mountain in Washington—with which it could possibly be confused. Ultimately, the TTB settled on the name Red Hill Douglas County, which was chosen, like the names of its counterparts, because of the area's red volcanic soils and a local geographical landmark, in this case Red Hill.

Red Hill Douglas County is located entirely within the existing Umpqua Valley AVA and lies 50 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. It is distinguished from surrounding areas by its higher average rainfall of 51 inches and its lower growing-season temperatures, which average about 75° F, compared with 105° F in the lower elevations. Currently, there are 194 acres of vineyards planted in the area, mostly to Pinot Noir. Red Hill Vineyard is the sole vineyard in the AVA, while the soon-to-open Sienna Ridge Winery will be the first winery.

• In New York, the Niagara Escarpment AVA took effect on Oct. 11. This 18,000-acre appellation is at the tail end of a 650-mile-long limestone ridge that runs through the Great Lakes region. The Niagara River, which is the boundary between the United States and Canada, also forms the western boundary of the new AVA. The area is about 30 miles long and half a mile wide, and the soils are clay over limestone, according to Michael VonHeckler of Warm Lake Estate, one of the area's four wineries. Currently, 400 acres are planted to vineyards, but only 50 of them are vinifera (mostly Pinot Noir), while the remaining 350 are planted to Concord grapes, destined for juice.

• In north-central Texas, the Texoma AVA covers 3,650 square miles (2.3 million acres) on the south side of manmade Lake Texoma and the Red River, which both lie along the Texas-Oklahoma state line. The area is of historical significance because renowned 19th-century viticulturist T. V. Munson, who found a solution to France's phylloxera epidemic by grafting vinifera vines onto native American rootstock, chose Texoma for his experimental vineyards. Today, the AVA contains four wineries and a number of small vineyards with a total of about 55 acres planted to both native Texas varieties and vinifera. The intense heat during the day is cooled by breezes from the bluffs and hillsides, and numerous small creeks, lakes and ponds provide ample irrigation for vineyards. In addition, the area's sandy, loamy soils are a natural deterrent to the phylloxera louse.

• In eastern Washington, the 81,000-acre Wahluke Slope AVA lies entirely within the existing Columbia Valley AVA, although it is separated from the region's other wine-producing areas by government-owned land. Its boundaries are determined by the alluvial fan known as the Wahluke Slope, and its elevations range from 425 feet along the Columbia River to 1,480 feet on the south slope of the Saddle Mountains. With an average annual rainfall of just 5.9 inches, the AVA is the driest area of eastern Washington. About 5,205 acres of vineyards are planted to varieties such as Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. In addition to the area's two wineries, Fox Estate and Coventry Vale, the grapes are used by well-known Washington producers such as L'Ecole No. 41 and Columbia Crest.

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