Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Identity Crisis(?)

The United States uses AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to define wine regions and while the effort to designate and delineate lagged for many years the process seems to have reached a breakneck speed.  Like hurtling down a mountain on skis or running down a steep hill, one might not fall down but keen observation and absorption of the surroundings is not possible.
Lobbying has always played a part in awarding AVA status.  Those with influence and a loud enough voice eventually get what they want.  The system appears to be out of control.
The attempt to categorize and specify regions should be applauded but the system leads to more confusion than enlightenment as expansion outpaces learning.  Napa County now has over 15 AVAs within it, including Napa Valley.  Sonoma County only lags slightly and includes Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain and Northern Sonoma.  Most wine drinkers would not be able to tell the difference between them, even after tasting examples.
One wonders how a new AVA can possibly be approved with only 37 acres of vineyards planted but I become absolutely stunned when the region includes more than 13,000 acres total.  That's over 350 times as much acreage than is producing grapes.  Someday it might make sense to more than a handful of people but that day may be decades from now.
I do not advocate ceasing the practice by any means.  We need meaningful ways for consumers to quickly know what to expect from wines they are considering purchasing.  However, I find too many of the regions lack defining character.  This means wine drinkers have no incentive to learn about the AVA and will actually ignore them, the opposite of the desired effect.

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