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Four new AVAs approved in California

The final rulings on four new California AVAs, which were delayed by the US government shutdown, have now been approved.

California AVAThe final rulings on four new California AVAs, and a small boundary change to a fifth appellation, were intended to be published on 2 October but the government shutdown prevented that happening on time. Now, with employees back at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, we have final approval of the following:

Four new California AVAs will take effect on 1 November: Ballard Canyon, Moon Mountain District Sonoma Valley, Big Valley-Lake County, and Kelsey Bench-Lake County. The organisation also makes a change to the boundaries of the Red Hills Lake County AVA.

Three of the changes take effect within the existing Clear Lake viticultural area which itself falls in the larger North Coast AVA.

Big Valley-Lake County, located on the southern shore of Clear Lake, covers 11,000 acres, and currently has less than 10 bonded wineries and 43 commercial vineyards covering 1,800 acres. The AVA sits at 1,360 feet above sea level and is relatively flat. The Big Valley name comes from a tribe of Pomo Indians and has been used on maps and in soil surveys from the late 1800s onward. Published accounts from 1881 include comments such as: “Big Valley is the garden spot of Lake County”. (History of Napa and Lake Counties, California, Slocum, Bown & Co. Publishers).

Lying south of Big Valley, the new Kelsey Bench-Lake County AVA covers 9,100 acres and was petitioned by the Kelsey Bench Growers Committee. The region currently has one bonded winery and 27 vineyards. As relayed in the petition, the name is a combination of the “Kelsey” surname used by early settlers and “bench” to describe the region’s higher elevation terracing (1,400 -1,600 feet). There is a local town named Kelseyville but most of it falls outside of the new AVA so the final name of Kelseyville, sometimes seen in AVA promotional pieces, was not chosen by the petitioners.

The southern portion of the proposed Big Valley-Lake County overlaps the northern part of the Kelsey Bench-Lake County. In its petition to the TTB however, the two petitioning groups included letters from the two vineyard sites which would be divided between these two AVAs, acknowledging the split and their support of the two proposed AVAs.

Red Hills and Mount Konocti (a dormant volcano) fall to the east of both new regions, and the Mayacamas Mountains — which are home to Napa Valley’s Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and other existing AVAs, are to the west.

Napa Valley

Red Hills, an AVA established in 2004, which has received lots of positive press in the last few years for its high quality grape growing and wine production, is getting the slightest of boundary shifts. To clear up a discrepancy of unmarked roads in an older 1959 maps used in creating the Red Hills AVA that do not appear on updated 1993 maps used for the Kelsey Bench AVAs, the Red Hills boundary is being slightly stretched so the two regions abut (with not gap and no overlapping).

The Ballard Canyon AVA is the newest for Santa Barbara County and falls within the Santa Ynez and Central Coast viticultural areas. The new AVA covers 7,800 acres, 565 of which are planted to commercial vines. There are currently 10 commercial wineries, with Syrah being the major varietal focus. The new Ballard Canyon AVA joins Sta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon as appellations in Santa Ynez Valley — all of which are nested within the larger, multi-county Central Coast boundaries. Cited in the AVA’s petition were uses of the Ballard Canyon designation by wine critics Robert Parker, Randy Caparoso and Steve Heimoff.

The Moon Mountain District Sonoma County AVA falls within Sonoma Valley and the larger, multi-county North Coast viticultural area. The new appellation covers 17,663 acres, 1,500 of which are commercial vineyard acres. Eleven wineries and 40 vineyards fall under the new boundaries. The Moon Mountain name comes from a peak on the Mayacamas mountain range. The area has been referred to as Moon Mountain since 1957 when a road was re-named Moon Mountain Drive. The name also plays off of the region’s neighbouring valley, Valley of the Moon.

The official name of the AVA includes the term ‘district’ to distinguish it from the use of the name Moon Mountain in nine other States.

It remains to be seen whether these AVA terms on the label help the customer make informed decisions in the marketplace, one of the intentions of the U.S. AVA system. Congratulations in any event to California’s four new appellations.

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