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Appellations: The Real Issue and The Phony Issues

By Charles Olken

Where grapes come from is the important issue.

How many people can name all or most or even a couple of dozen appellations is the phony issue.

It used to be that appellations in the United States were mostly confined to state and county names with just a few other place names having significance such as Napa Valley. But there existed no organized methodology for less than county place names except as the locals themselves created them by custom.

Then, under pressure from collectors who had grown up learning about small places in Europe with names like Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte Rotie, Brouilly, Pauillac, our Government relented and created a system of sorts for the identification of wine places that would have more meaning than basic county lines.

Great idea, that. Less than perfect execution. But, even with the flaws in the system in which some places are nothing more than the existing geography such as the town names in the Napa Valley and others are bloated fictions like Northern Sonoma and San Francisco Bay, wine lovers who care are better off than they were before the small area nomenclature came into being.

Here is another bit of phony issue. Who will know, beside the folks who live in and near Paso Robles, where the boundaries for their newly adopted set of small area appellations are and what those separate places actually mean to wine character? I agree. Who will? But so what? Some wineries will succeed in making a few of those place names famous and important. And that is good enough. All of the new, small-area names do not have to become famous in order to validate the decision to differentiate the oversized Paso Robles AVA into smaller bits. Or to have separated Paso Robles from San Luis Obispo County in the first place.

The AVA system, as flawed as it is, and I could go on and on and on about the madness that abounds in some of the geographic delineations that have come into being, is nevertheless far more useful than harmful. We can hope that the day will come when some of those “definitions” will be rethought, but even if that is only wishful thinking, I would rather have a definition for Rutherford than to have none at all. The world is better off having a definition for the term, Russian River Valley, than not regardless of the fact that the area included is far too broad for my liking.

So, please, spare us all the need to “prove” the value of the AVA system when you ask how many of those small places can my wine-drinking but small-time collecting neighbors actually name. It is enough that they know more than a handful because that knowledge informs their choices and enables them to know more about the places in which grapes are sourced than they knew previously.

Call me a fan of the AVA system because, on balance, I am.


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No Subject
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:10/15/2015 10:54:49 AM

Bravo, Charlie... let that be the last word as we work to improve upon what we have so far...

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/15/2015 11:05:03 AM

Thanks, Randy.

In the blogging world, there is never a "last word", but I hope that the future of the AVA system will see, at some point, a more refined approach rather than the scattered, piecemeal array of identified places that we have today.

Competitions Could Help
by Mike Dunne
Posted on:10/15/2015 2:24:37 PM

Wine competitions could help show the potential significance of AVAs by organizing classes by region as well as by varietal or style and price. A couple do, but most don't.

by CHARLIE Olken
Posted on:10/15/2015 5:42:02 PM

it is, to my thinking, irrelevant what some people do. If they are happy, fine. 

in most pursuits, there are varying levels of complexity, and those who care will seek that knowledge.

The AVA system allows for a higher level of communication for those who want it. I can see no reason for it to not exist. 

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