Plans to recognize and further divide grape-growing California regions are rapidly moving ahead. There are many proposals for New California American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in various stages of being considered by the U.S. Trade and Tobacco Bureau (TTB). In the process of consideration is the first proposed new AVA that has been presented in Napa in over 12 years, the historic and vital but obscure winegrowing region located in Contra Costa County, and the newly emerging Rancho Santa Fe area, in which the first grapes were planted in the year 2005. This is a look at six suggested AVAs.
Carmel Coast AVA
A proposed Carmel Coast AVA will sit north of Carmel Valley AVA and be entirely inside the Monterey AVA. “This is very much a cool-climate area,” states Patrick Shabram, the owner of an organization that offers geographic consultation and noting that the temperatures are at the edges of what is considered suitable for commercial grape cultivation. “It’s located on a slope that is mostly south-facing and has a direct shot of Carmel Bay, so you are able to see an inversion layer deep which is right there. The southern exposure permits sufficient solar radiation to bring about maturation for the wine.” Its soils originate from sedimentary material, the parent material, which includes Monterey Sandstone and shale, and are comparatively homogeneous, which is also what differentiates the area from those further in the inland regions that are more soil varieties.
At 4,127 acres, the Carmel Coast AVA is relatively tiny. Six growers are working on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on about 90 acres in vineyards. “We have a long hang time for our fruits. This allows us to bring the fullness and depth for our wines,” states Brad Bowlus, the creator of Albatross Ridge Wines and Bowlus Vineyards in Carmel. “They are much more balanced in terms of acidity.” This balance makes Burgundian wines packed with character and depth but less fruity.
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Contra Costa AVA
The petition to establish the Contra Costa AVA seeks to create a new viticulture region and change the boundaries for both the Central Coast and San Francisco Coast AVAs. The way it is now, this Contra Costa area would fall as part of both AVAs and a portion of an undefined region. The boundary changes will put Contra Costa squarely in the Central Coast AVA and provide more consistency within AVA boundaries.
One of the things that distinguishes this Contra Costa AVA, which is located within the county that shares the identical name, is its past. “Before Prohibition, Contra Costa was one of the places to visit wine country,” Shabnam says. Shabnam. Urbanization destroyed many vineyards, and then, as new wine regions emerged, there needed to be more demand. However, some vineyards remained, and there are still 100-year-old vineyards in Oakley and Martinez. Cities such as Brentwood are among the most popular places for tourism in agriculture, and “a lot of the reason these growers are interested in an AVA is so they can make wine tasting part of those outings.”
Climate plays a crucial part in this. “It’s has a transitionary climate between cooler coastal climate and warmer inland,” Shabnam says. Shabnam. Particular coastal winds and fog get into Suisun Bay and bring lower temperatures. However, the region is still experiencing warmer temperatures inland as well. Becky Bloomfield, the Contra Costa Winegrowers Association president and co-owner of Bloomfield Vineyards, says that temperatures can rise to 105°F in the daytime before cooling down at night.
Contra Costa currently lies across the Central Coast and San Francisco Coast AVAs. Photo credit: Weblative Media.
The area covers 167,146 acres and 1,700 acres of vineyards cultivated by sixty commercial wineries. The current number of wineries is 14. Although Zinfandel is considered the best well-known grape, there are also Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and several other varieties of grapes.
Crystal Springs of Napa Valley AVA
If approved, Crystal Springs of Napa Valley — the first new AVA within Napa after Coombsville had been approved by the Napa Valley Council in 2011–will be able to cover 4,500 acres with 300 acres of land planted with 30 vineyards. It will be bordered by Old Howell Mountain Road to the east, and it will connect the St. Helena AVA to the south as well as Calistoga AVA to the west, Calistoga AVA towards the west, and the Howell Mountains AVA in the northern part.
The topography is the primary distinguishing element for Crystal Springs. They are mountain wineries that span from 400 to 1,400 feet. “Being not too high keeps the maritime influence and diurnal temperature range, as we are not in the inversion layer,” says Steven Burgess, the president of Burgess Cellars. “This is an area that takes a lot of passion and drive to grow in, as it is not easy to farm on the hillsides compared to somewhere flat.” The southwestern part provides plenty of sunlight and full maturity of fruits. The soils mainly comprise tuff and compressed volcanic ash, perfect for grapes due to its good drainage and just enough nutrients.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel are the primary grapes grown in the region. “With smaller berries and full maturity every year, the wines exhibit darker berry flavors, rich tannin structures, and more complex aromas and flavors,” says Burgess. The chefs tend to appreciate these wines due to their lively and go well with food.
Rancho Santa Fe AVA
Early in the 1900s in the early 1900s, it was reported that the Rancho Santa Fe railroad company purchased a parcel of land located 25 miles to the north of San Diego to grow eucalyptus trees to use for railroad ties. The result was that eucalyptus proved to be an unwise choice. Not only was the material too soft, but it also warped quickly. The region was subsequently abandoned by the railroad and was later transformed into a planned community featuring a variety of houses designed by the renowned architectural firm Lilian J. Rice.
7 New AVAs in Nontraditional Winegrowing States
California isn’t the only state proposing new AVAs. Petitions are being considered for unexpected appellations on the East Coast and Midwest.
As of 2005, Jon Williams, the co-owner of The Cov Winery, decided to plant the Cabernet Sauvignon on a quarter-acre on his land. The wine that resulted was the distinct odor of eucalyptus because of the many trees still produced throughout the region. Other people were influenced by Williams’s experiment, which is why Rancho Santa Fe is now an emerging but growing wine-growing region, with 31 vineyards across 14 acres, which includes Williams licensed winery. “These are micro-boutique vineyards run by people willing to invest in high-quality wine,” Williams says. Williams notes that the largest vineyard houses more than 2,500 vines.
Rancho Santa Fe is about five miles away from five miles from the Pacific coast, which gives the area a mild climate all year long. Its average temperature is 62°F. “The terrain is more consistent than much of the South Coast AVA,” says GIS analyst and petitioner Katarina Jemec Parker, with an average elevation of only 184 feet and no points greater than 553 feet. The soil’s parent materials are sedimentary rocks, sandstone sha, le, and mudstone covered by loamy soil. The AVA covers 16,000 acres. Alongside Cabernet, the growers are also involved with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese.
San Luis Rey AVA
The San Luis Rey AVA is expected to extend south of the San Diego-Riverside County border until cities like Oceanside and San Marcos. It follows its watershed along the upper San Luis Rey River and is a beneficiary of cold breezes that flow through to the Pacific Ocean into the San Luis Rey Valley.
Comparatively with the South Coast AVA, located entirely inside the region, this one is drier and has more consistent average annual temperatures and lower than average year-round maximum temperatures, according to Parker. “The planned San Luis Rey AVA has generally older geological rocks as compared to the remainder of South Coast AVA and has an overwhelmingly higher percentage of sandy loam, and a greater proportion of granodiorite and granite as soil-forming materials. The proposed viticultural region has a lower average elevation, and more uniform terrain compared in comparison to South Coast AVA.”
The land will comprise just under 98,000 acres and greater than 256 acres of land planted with 44 cultivators. The primary varietals of grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Euan Parker, the winemaker at Fallbrook Winery, one of the oldest regional labels, believes that the structure and taste of Cabernet Sauvignon bear more similarity to wines made in Sonoma rather than Napa. “They’re not as jammy as Napa Cabs can sometimes be,” Parker declares. The Merlots are generally the most potent and bold wines, while the Cabernet Francs “are more in the line of Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil in terms of taste.”