Waters Winery 2007 Forgotten Hills syrah

Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on Sept. 6, 2010:

There’s some confusion going on in the tasting rooms about what is an ‘appellation of origin’ and what is an AVA (American Viticultural Area). Granted, tasting room staff are mostly unpaid volunteers who passionately love the wines where they donate their valuable time at and are compensated with a bottle (or two) for an afternoon’s service, these devoted souls are not an authority on the administrative codes of the TTB, formally known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau within the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Ask them about the wines they pour and they will wax poetic. Ask them about the definition of an AVA and you will never get the same answer twice.

Let’s clear it up and become versed in the fundamentals of wine regulations, starting with the words on the front label that can be a major influence on buying decisions and, thus, can make-or-break a winery’s financial existence.

When it comes to location of where the predominant wine grapes were grown for the wine in a package, the mother of all geographic locations is called “appellation of origin.” For simplicity’s sake, this topic will be restricted to non-imported wines.

There are seven sub-categories under “appellation of origin”: (1) United States, where at least 75% of the finished wine is produced from U.S.-grown fruit and fully finished in the U.S.; (2) a State, where at least 75% of the finished wine is produced from fruit grown within said State and fully finished within that State OR adjoining State; (3) two or three CONTIGUOUS States, where all of the fruit was grown in the indicated States and the percentage of wine from each State is shown, and the wine is fully finished in one of the labeled States; (4) a County, where at least 75% of the finished wine is produced from fruit grown in the County and the wine is fully finished within the State where the County is located; (5) two or three Counties in the same State, where all of the fruit was grown in the indicated Counties, the wine was fully finished in the State where all the Counties are located, and the percentage of wine from each County is stated; (6) American Viticultural Area (AVA), where the appellation has been approved by the TTB, at least 85% of the finished wine is produced from grapes grown within the AVA, and the wine is fully finished in the State where the AVA is located; and (7) overlapping AVAs, where more than one AVA may be used if (a) the AVAs overlap, and (b) at least 85% of the volume of wine is produced from grapes grown in the overlapping area.

Keeping it simple, an AVA is a TTB-approved wine grape-growing locale with distinguished geographic features, as opposed to political boundaries (County, State, etc.), and originated from petitioners or wineries. Unlike the French AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée), there are no other restrictions tied to an AVA, other than general restrictions on additives in the making of wine. The AVA becomes a legal name 30 days after the approval is listed in the Federal Register. The first AVA is the Augusta AVA in Missouri, approved June 20, 1980. The first Washington State AVA (and 48th overall) is the Yakima Valley, approved April 4, 1983. As of the end of August, 2010, there are 197 approved AVAs in the U.S., eleven within Washington State. (To give you an idea of how small a number that is for being the 2nd-largest premium wine-producing State in the nation, the Napa Valley AVA boasts 15 “nested AVAs” within.)

A listed AVA on a wine bottle is not a guarantee of quality. It is also not a 100% guarantee of its contents. The 85% requirement that the grapes come from the AVA is also interpreted as an allowable upper-limit of 15% of grapes grown from OUTSIDE the AVA. Does it make a difference? Rasa Vineyards 2007 Principia reserve syrah (Walla Walla Valley) includes grapes from Lewis Vineyard and Portteus Vineyard, both located in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.

Quiz: Wine made by an Oregon winery by blending 25% wine produced by their own fermentation with 75% Chardonnay wine produced in Washington, both from 2006 grapes, and shipped in bond, could be labeled as? (name all possibilites)

Tasted at 56-61 degrees on the IR gun. Chalky, dark purple in color with overtones of earth and farm animals, this syrah carries a medium-weight on the palate and blooms with juicy plums, dark chocolate, root beer, and white pepper on a long, 9-second tail. That Walla Walla-stank is kept in check, meaning I was not floored by a sack of steaming-hot manure in the glass. Gorgeous.

Alcohol: 13.8%. 100% syrah. 514 cases. Seven-acre estate vineyard. Walla Walla Valley AVA. Winemaker: Jamie Brown. Assistant winemaker: Sean Boyd of Rotie Cellars. Rated: 93.Value: $45. Paid: $36. Label designed by Alimat Inc. Music pairing: “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers. This is WAwineman…uncorked, TTB-educated but not uncouth.

Answer: (1) 2006 Washington Chardonnay, vinted and bottled by (OR winery); or (2) American Chardonnay, vinted and bottled by (OR winery).

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