The Stags Leap District received its AVA distinction in 1989 and is a sub-appellation of the Napa Valley AVA. Sitting on 2,700 acres, Stags Leap is only 6 miles north of the city of Napa, California. The soil of this region includes loam and clay sediments from the Napa River and volcanic soil deposits from the gradual erosion of the Vaca Mountains. The heat of the sun reflects off neighboring hills onto the vines, causing warm daily temperatures in the vineyards. In the evenings, cool, marine air flows in from the San Pablo Bay through the Stags Leap District corridor. The cooling effect of this breeze means lower nighttime temperatures. This combination of warm days and cool nights allows the grapes to achieve an excellent balance of acid and sugar, and the result is a longer growing season. The majority of grapes grown in the region are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Northern Sonoma received its designation as an AVA in 1990. Situated over 329,000 acres, Northern Sonoma is home to sub-appellations Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Knights Valley, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Coast. It is the second largest appellation within Sonoma County. It contains myriad elevations, soil types and climates. It was designated, in large part to allow the term, "Estate" to be applied to vintages from large producers like Gallo and Rodney Strong but is home to some small producers as well. The primary grape produced in this area is Cabernet Sauvignon but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel are grown here as well.
Fair Play received its designation as an AVA in 2001. Situated on 23,198 acres, Fair Play is a sub-appellation of the El Dorado AVA. Centered on the town of Placerville, Fair Play's growing regions sit at 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level. Soils in the region are largely loam based and well draining. The climate in Fair Play features warm days followed by cold nights. The altitude allows the vines extra hours of sunshine and warm temperatures during the day, but also allows them to cool down at night. This diurnal cycle keeps the grapes from ripening too quickly and allows for the wines to develop their balanced acidity and tannin structure. The region is known for its production of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
San Bernabe received its designation as an AVA in 2004. Sitting on 24,796 acres, the region is a sub-appellation of the Monterey AVA. The most centrally located of all of the AVAs located in Monterey, San Bernabe is located between the Salinas River and the Santa Lucia Mountains. The soil of the region is a sandy loam and has excellent drainage. There are varying climates within the region, but it mostly has long sunny days and cool nights that allow for a well balanced but robust grape. The region grows over fifteen different varietals but is mostly known for producing Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
The Central Coast was designated as an AVA in 1985. Situated across 280 miles from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, the Central Coast is home to sub-appellations Arroyo Grande Valley, Arroyo Seco, Ballard Canyon, Ben Lomond Mountain, Carmel Valley, Chalone, Cienega Valley, Edna Valley, Hames Valley, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Lime Kiln Valley, Livermore Valley, Monterey, Mt. Harlan, Pacheco Pass, Paicines, Paso Robles, San Antonio Valley, San Benito, San Bernabe, San Francisco Bay, San Lucas, San Ysidro District, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley, and York Mountain. The Central Coast is so vast that it features a variety of soil types and microclimates across its sub-appellations. The most common vines planted across the Central Coast are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Altus viticultural area is located between the southern Boston Mountain and the Arkansas River Valley and around the town of the same name. The town was founded in 1870 along the Iron Mountain Railroad and soon German and Swiss settlers moved in and started making wine from the local fruit.
The first winery in the area was created by Johann Andreas Wiederkehr. Soon after arriving he established his winery and worked to improve the quality of the grapes used and soon received a patent for his Campbell Early varietal. Today, the Wiederkehr Wine Cellars still makes wine more than 130 after having been designated bonded winery number 8 in the United States. The winery is located outside the town of Altus in the city of Wiederkehr Village.
During the same time period, the family of Jacob Post arrived in Altus and began making wine for his family and friends. Mount Bethel Winery has been making wine in Altus almost as long as Wiederkehr family. Soon after arriving in the 1870s the Post Familie Winery established a winery in the 1880s. Unfortunately, the winery was forced to close when Prohibition began in 1918 in Arkansas.
Prohibition was hard on the Post family. Jacob’s son Joseph was jailed for bootlegging, which his daughter-in-law Katherine ran the family restaurant (while still producing and selling wine on the side, or so they say...) Katherine’s sons, Eugene and James worked to re-establish Arkansas viticulture after the Eugene went to the University of Arkansas and earned a degree in Chemistry which he used to reopen the Mount Bethel Winery. James worked with the Arkansas Legislature to write the new laws for wine production after the “Noble Experiment” failed. Later James and his son Matthew went on to buy the farm of Joseph Bachman, the foremost viticulturist in the state to create their own winery, Post Familie Vineyards.
The geology of the area is sedimentary with sandstones and shale that overlay older limestones and dolomites. The soils of the region are mostly from the Linker series and consist of sandy, slightly acidic loams that are well drained and rich in silica.
The climate of Altus is mild in the winter with temperatures average temperatures being slightly below freezing. The summers, on the other hand, are hot, averaging 90+ degrees in August. The precipitation falls fairly regularly in the region with each month receiving about 4 inches of rain.
In addition to the Wiederkehr, Mount Bethel and Post Familie cellars, there are two other wineries in the appellation. Chateau Aux-Arc, named for the bend in the Arkansas River that gave the larger region, Ozark, it’s name was established in 1998. The Neumeier Winery, located in Wiederkehr Village specializes in dry Muscadine wines.
Wine has a long established history of being our drink of choice for celebrating, entertaining, and savoring life; but it didn't start out that way. From the invention of the barrel to the designation of the separate viticultural areas, wine has a long and sorted history. In our daily feature "This Date In Wine History," we share an event of critical importance in wine history.
- Hugo Gernsbacher, Luxembourgish-American inventor, writer, editor and publisher and father of Science Fiction was born in 1884. He is the son of a winemaker.
- Fess Parker, film and tv actor and winemaker was born in 1924.
- The Bagnoli di Sopra or Bagnoli DOC designation was established in 1995. It is located in the Veneto region.
- The French have a saying, “À la Saint-Roch, grande chaleur prépare vin de couleur,” or (loosely) “Hot weather on St. Roch’s day, gives wine good color."
Diablo Grande received its designation as an AVA in 1998. Situated across 30,000 acres, Diablo Grande is located in Stanislaus County. The soils of Diablo Grande are mostly clay and sand and are very well draining. The climate is hot and dry but receives high winds that blow across Stanislaus County. The hot temperatures make for a short growing season and high yields of fruit. The region is known for its production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Syrah.
Saddle Rock - Malibu received its designation as an AVA in 2006. Situated on 2,100 acres, Saddle Rock-Malibu is located high in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County. Located just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Saddle Rock's growing region sits at an elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level. Saddle Rock - Malibu has sandy, rocky soil, which is well draining and forces the grapes to dig their roots deep into the ground in search of water. The region is washed in sunlight during the day, but its high elevation allows for cooling night time effects that lengthen the growing season, allowing the fruit to develop good acidity balance. The hot days of Saddle Rock-Malibu make the region ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel.
Oakville was designated as an AVA in 1993 and is a sub-appellation of the Napa Valley AVA. Sitting on 5,700 acres centered on the town of Oakville, it is probably Napa Valley's most famous appellation. The soil in Oakville is well-drained gravel soil deposits from the nearby Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains. The region goes from sea level in the valley to 600 feet in elevation at the base of the Vaca Mountains. Oakville has a warmer climate than much of the Napa Valley, with mild amounts of wind and fog from San Pablo Bay. The conditions in the region are ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, and many of America's greatest producers of Cabernet Sauvignon have vineyards in the AVA. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot are also grown here.
The Fountaingrove District received its designation as an AVA in 2015. Situated on 38,000 acres, Fountaingrove is located in Sonoma County. Most of the soils are derived from Sonoma Volcanic and Franciscan Formation bedrock and consists of volcanic materials, such as pumiceous ash flow tuff and basalt lava. The Fountaingrove District is located on the western slopes of the Mayacmas Mountains and features low, rolling hills as well as higher, steeper mountains with southwest-facing slopes. The Sonoma Mountains along the region's southwestern boundary, shelter Fountaingrove from the strongest marine breezes and heaviest fog, but an air gap in the mountains does allow some cooling air and fog into the region. The moderate temperatures within the Fountaingrove District are suitable for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Viognier grape varieties
Not all wine region stories end happily and Benmore Valley is one of those. Established in 1991 this Lake County location was named for Benjamin Logan Moore a cattle rustler from the 19th century. Moore would raid local ranchos and drive the cattle to the high mountain valley where they could graze and he could watch for pursuit. Unfortunately for him, news of his nefarious deeds made continued life in Benmore Valley impossible so he, as they said in his day, took a French leave. He is said to have gone to South America where no more was ever heard of him.
This is not an auspicious beginning to the story of this appellation. In truth, “valley” is not really an apt name for the location. It is really more like a mountain depression. The rocks bedrocks are part of the Franciscan Assemblage which was formed before the existence of the San Andreas fault and uplifted as a result the subduction of the Farallon plate. Benmore Creek runs through the valley floor and there are three small man-made lakes that received permits in 1990.
The soils on the floor of the valley are mostly Manzanita Loams with low slopes. The soils are very deep and made up of alluvial deposits from mixed rocks. While the soils are well drained the permeability of the soils are very slow that makes irrigation necessary and difficult. Up the walls of the hillsides, the soils are amix of Maymen-Etsel-Snook, Maymen-Etsel-Mayacama and Maymen-Etsel-Speaker series. These soils are found on significantly steeper terrain are shallow with high amounts of runoff.
The climate of the appellation is cooler than the surrounding area with an average temperature of 55℉ as opposed to 58℉ and 56℉ for Ukiah and Lakeport respectively. The other climate issue is frost. The surrounding lowlands typically experience their last frost of the season in March, but the Benmore Valley often have freezing into May. Because of this issue, the growing season is short and they grapes often fail to achieve peak flavor.
The transition of the valley to a vineyard was undertaken by the Trione family of Trione Winery and formerly of Geyser Peak. The vineyard was used primarily for growing Chardonnay and the grapes went to Geyser Peaks as well as Kendall Jackson and Korbel.
After several years of fighting the elements in the valley, the Triones sold the property in 2006. All but ten acres of vines were pulled out and the property is being used as a rental property. When asked if the family viewed the valley ashaving viticultural potential, a family spokesmen replied, “Because of the temperatures and the temperature changes, it is still expensive to farm."
Sadly, Benmore Valley has become a ghost of a viticultural area.
Fiddletown received its designation as an AVA in 1983. Situated on 12,044 acres, Fiddletown is a sub-appellation of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA and is located in Amador County. The terrain of Fiddletown is hilly with most vines situated between 1,500 and 2,500 feet above sea level. The soils are made up of decomposed granite and volcanic material, are well draining and not nutrient dense; leading to smaller yields in production, forcing the vines to put all their efforts into the fruit, developing deep rich flavors. Fiddletown doesn't receive the benefit of cooling Pacific Ocean breezes like many of its neighbors, but its high elevation results in a cooling effect in the evening to combat the dry, hot daily temperatures. This cooling results in a longer growing period and allows for the fruit to stay on the vine longer and develop the balance in sugar and acidity. The region is known for its old vine Zinfandel but also produces Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Barbera.
Sta. Rita Hills received its designation as an AVA in 2001, under the name Santa Rita Hills. In 2005, after a name dispute with the Chilean producer Vina Santa Rita, the region changed its name to Sta. Rita Hills. The region is situated on 30,720 acres in Santa Barbara County. Soil types within the Sta. Rita Hills are notoriously varied between mixed loams, Diatomaceous Earth, and shale. The valley's proximity to the Pacific Ocean along with its east to west running hills allow fog and wind off the Pacific to settle over the grapes and creates a cool growing climate. The cool climate has made the Sta. Rita Hills an excellent area for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Just west of the City of Paso Robles and located between the Adelaida District and the Templeton Gap District is the Paso Robles Willow Creek District. Marine breezes are a strong force in the district with substantial rainfall (24-30 inches per year) and fog commonly found in the area. The temperatures in the region are cooler than the majority of the main viticultural area, averaging 2,900 growing degree days. The coolness of the area, slows down the speed at which the fruit ripens allowing the maximum of flavors and sugars to develop. The Willow Creek District is located around three tributary creeks of the Paso Robles Creek. These creeks have helped erode and blend the shales, mudstones and sandstones of the Monterey Formation with the coarse sands and gravels of the Paso Robles Formation. This alluvial mix is slightly alkaline with low water holding potential and of moderate nutrient value.
Bordeaux and Rhone grape varietals are the most commonly grown in the Paso Robles Willow Creek District.
Lime Kiln Valley received its designation as an AVA in 1982 but has been home to vineyards since 1887. Vine cuttings were brought from France and from mission vineyards.
Situated on 2,300 acres, Lime Kiln Valley is located in San Benito County. The valley has been known for its kilns before 1900. The county formally named the valley in the 1970s. The soil of the region consists of fine limestone and dolomite base, with top layers of sand and gravel loam above.
The climate of the valley is noted for having less precipitation than the land at higher elevations but slightly more than the greater Cienega Valley. The valley floor averages 16 inches per year instead of 40 inches up in the mountains and 15 inches in other valley zones.
Lime Kiln Valley has a mild diurnal cycle; the region has bright sunny days and moderate evenings. Average temperatures in the valley are cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer than the surrounding areas.
Following the river of the same name through a canyon to the Salinas Valley, the Arroyo Seco appellation is largely nestled between the Gabilan and Santa Lucia Mountains. The name “Arroyo Seco” means dry creek or dry riverbed in Spanish and the river flows through the canyon to widen into a shallow sandy bed that goes dry seasonally. When the river is húmeda (wet) it flows into the Salinas River. As a result, there are two distinct microclimates in this viticultural area.
The main part of the appellation found in the Salinas Valley surround the City of Greenfield is cooler than the passage through the mountains due to afternoon winds and fogs blowing down the valley from Monterey Bay. This keeps the mid-summer high temperatures from stressing the vines and allows the grapes to mature more slowly and develop maximum flavors. The vines are prevented from getting too cold by the presence of 3-4 inch cobblestones called “Greenfield Potatoes” which retain the heat and release it slowly over the evenings. This section of the appellation produces cooler friendly varietals such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
The other portion of the Arroyo Seco appellation follows the river towards its source halting near the boundary of the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest. This section of the AVA is dominated by a steep canyon with poor soils that make the grapes work to find water. Climatically, it is warmer than the valley, a reversal of what one normally finds given the increased elevation. This area of the appellation produces Bordeaux and Rhone varietals as well as Zinfandel.
Though the Arroyo Seco Viticultural Area is one of the oldest in the country (formed in 1983) it has suffered because it has often been seen as a grower’s appellation. Initially planted in the early 1960s the grapes from its 18,240 acres were often sold to other wineries that used the grapes to produces wines with either the California or Central Coast appellations. This is changing as more wineries are using this Monterey County viticultural designation on their labels.
The proposed Eagle Peak Mendocino County viticultural area is another region proposed by Ralph Jens Carter. In the process of creating Eagle Peak, Mr. Carter proposed editing the already existing Mendocino and Redwood Valley appellations so all three viticultural areas were separated with no overlapping territory.
Eagle Peak Mendocino County is so named as there are nearly fifty “Eagle Peak”s throughout the United States. Mendocino County was added to the proposed name to clarify its location.
The area is slightly over 26,000 acres in size of which 120 are under vine in 16 commercial vineyards and surrounds the summit of Eagle Peak. The rocks in the area are mostly shale and sandstones from the Franciscan Complex which are found on rolling to steep, unstable slopes and terraces. These rocks tend to be high in nickel and magnesium which can have negative impacts on grape vines. Fortunately, the soils are thin and rocky allowing for the optimum canopy to maximize sunlight exposure. Thin soils on steep slopes are subject to erosion but hold enough moisture to avoid the use of irrigation until after the period of fast growth called “grand growth stage”.
The elevations in the viticultural area range from 800-3,320 feet which protect vineyards on the high slopes from frost by allowing cool air and excess water to drain into the surrounding valleys. The slopes are largely south facing giving the vineyards longer daylight.
The region is known for producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Syrah and Zinfandel.
Chalone received its designation as an AVA in 1982. Sitting on 8,640 acres, the region is located in the Gabilian Mountains situated in both Monterey and San Benito counties. Unlike many proposed viticultural areas, Chalone had a protracted fight over the name of the region. Initially, the region was to be called Pinnacles, a reference to the Pinnacles Nation Park that is nearby. However, as there were copyright issues with that name, the government and interested parties tried to settle on a more acceptable name. Gavilan and Chalone were also vetted. It was determined that Gavilan (in reference to the nearby Gabilan Range and was also problematic as it is a word used throughout California and the southwest United States as well as a trademark for a brand of tequila. Gavilan or Gabilan both translate as sparrow hawk. Eventually the name Chalone was agreed to as at some point in history the Pinnacles were referred to as Chalone.
The wine region is located on a bench in the Gabilan Range abutting the Pinnacles National Park. The viticultural area drains into canyons on the outer edge of the region and has an elevation of 1400-2000 feet above sea level. Chalone features limestone and decomposed granite soil. With sunny days and cool evenings, the region has a large diurnal temperature swing allowing the grapes a longer time to ripen and balance their acidity. Chalone is known for its distinctive mineral flavor that it imparts on its vines. With only 300 acres under vine, the majority of the production is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Tracy Hills received its designation as an AVA in 2006. Situated on 39,200 acres, Tracy Hills is located in both San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties between Tracy, Patterson and Vernalis, California. In the petition for its creation, the unique soils, microclimate, and slope were listed as distinguishing features. Initially, the proposed name for the region was Mt. Oso for the nearby Diablo Mountains peak, however, TTB felt that the petitioners didn’t meet the standard for name recognition. The name, Tracy Hills was more readily substantiated.
The appellation is located between 100 and 500 feet in elevation and slope to the valley floor to the east. Hospital, Lone Tree, and Ingram Creeks drain out of the foothills to form an alluvial fan that creates the free-draining alluvial and colluvial soils. The Tracy Hills is located in the rain shadow of Mt. Oso which is located to the southwest of the region. This means that they receive less rain, fog, hail or even dew. Instead, the region is known for constant winds, sunny days, and sparse morning fog, with occasional early morning frost.