For those whom aren’t familiar, AVA stands for American Viticultural Area. The entire concept was conceived some time ago to help explain the types of wines being produced in different regions. Interestingly, the very first AVA granted in the United States happened in 1980, in that great hotbed of wine……Missouri. The main idea is that the AVA should tell you a bit about the quality and type of wine in the bottle.
So here’s my complaint. Too often right now, I’m running into wines marked as simply California and not something more specific because of the way the AVA system is handled.
When you see a wine marked as California, it often means the cheap vineyards in California’s Central Valley. It’s usually the cheapest wine being produced in the state.
Take the Kinero Grenache I shipped last month. Perhaps the best Grenache in the state of California, but the vineyard sits too far west to be contained within the Paso Robles AVA.
The winemaker, who owns the label, didn’t have any choice but to label the wine as California.
Cheap, not even close….but the AVA approval process can take up to a decade. Seriously. Government red tape when it comes to alcohol and wine specifically is very real.
Another great example. The wine I made myself, Aselstine Family Cellars. I originally thought of making a 100% Grenache Blanc since that’s my favorite white wine grape.
But the only real vineyard sources that I had available to me, were from different parts of the state and there was not enough grapes at either site to make enough of the wine. One was located in the Russian River Valley and one was in Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara.
Both sites are highly prized and the AVA’s often garner around $40 for a bottle of white wine.
Put the wine together though and what do you end up with…..a wine that simply says California and that people assume, is cheap.
Look, there isn’t an easy answer here. Far from it. I don’t even have a suggestion, it’s not like stuff as complicated as this can be explained by a label, often limited to about 40 words, with 30 of these prescribed by the state of California.
But, the number of wineries using the natural wine label, since they can’t access the term organic is emblematic of a wider issue. Labeling requirements are pretty straight forward, but too many wines are falling through the cracks.
How do we fix it? I have no clue, but unlike a lot of people, I see it as an issue. It’s starting to change the very choices that winemakers make and that’s something that labeling and federal law requirements and how they effect marketing, should never do.
I do know a good place to start. When wine regions want to apply for new AVA’s, there should be a straight forward and articulated process. Look, the regions and the folks running the viticulture associations know what works. They know that soil specialists and geologists are among a wide swatch of about 10 categories that need to weigh in on any proposed AVA. Outline it for people. Make sure people considering new AVA’s know the rules of the game before they start playing as an example.
Secondly, don’t make them wait for so long. I understand that sometimes paperwork takes a while, especially when you’re talking about digging up sections of old seabed. But, if those rules were put in place before hand, shouldn’t you be able to tell people an answer to their AVA questions in relatively short order?
Lastly, let’s add this to the long list of things to brainstorm since it definitely does effect how people learn about and ultimately, buy wine.