The Tobacco and Trade Bureau, the latest incarnation of bureaucracy responsible for the US system of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), is not particularly known for getting things right. That is, unless you happen to be one of its successful petitioners, having spent years (and a significant amount of cash) assembling the documentation to justify your request for a patch of ground with a governmentally sanctioned name.
Thanks to our political machinery, those petitioners are most often big wine companies with the deep pockets required to produce the various studies required by the government as part of the process. As a result, our American Viticultural Areas are often largely useless, political constructions that, like our congressional districts, say more about the people responsible for creating them than what they truly contain. Witness the recent enlargement of the Russian River Valley AVA by 14,400 acres (5,827 ha) at the behest of the Gallo family, whose vineyards dominated the newly expanded area.
California's massive Sonoma Coast AVA has long been one of the most egregious examples of such a construction. It begins where one might expect: at the cool, fog-inundated hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but then sprawls lazily inland to microclimates 20 degrees hotter and soil geologies that might as well be on the other side of the country.
This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
The Superb Grace of Old Vines: Drinking Janasse The Zinfandel Experience: January 31, San Francisco Vinography Unboxed: Week of January 4, 2015 Vinography Images: The Colors of a New Season Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 27th, 2014 Vinography Images: Rich Skies Losing a Legend in Serge Hochar Flirting with the Ecstatic: The Wines of Nikolaihof, Austria Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 20, 2014 A Grape By Any Other Name
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune