Friday, December 26, 2008

Expansion of the Russian River Valley Appellation: Big Business Ploy or Natural Evolution

Wow, it's been over a month since the last article! Since keeping this blog updated with new and interesting topics is one of my new years resolutions, I thought why not start early. Today's entry deals with a topic this is hot, I would expect, for those involved in the California Wine industry. Appellations and the expansion there of. Recently Wine Spectator published a piece in its Upfront section that dealt with the proposed expansion of the Russian River appellation in the Sonoma County, California. The expansion, if approved, would add 14,000 acres located in the Sonoma Coast appellation to the Russian River app.

This move is somewhat controversial for a couple of reasons. One is that if the expansion does take place, many will attribute it to the political might and power of the Ernest & Julio Gallo empire, which is the main proponent of the change. The second reason is that many opposed to the expansion argue that the soils and climate conditions are quite different from those that have made the Russian River famous. Both sides have dug in their heels and are waiting for the Board of Russian River Valley Wine Growers to vote on the proposal. A previous attempt failed two years ago when the Board unanimously opposed the change. If the growers association supports the expansion, most believe the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) will approve the petition and make the expansion law.

So where do I stand? Well, quite frankly, I believe that this decision could have serious impact on the legitimacy and reputation of the entire California wine industry. As I grow and advance as a wine lover, I have become more convinced that Terrior is more than just a French philosophical concept but is the true origin of great wine. There is something distinct and unique about wine that comes from a certain viticulture. I dare anyone to tell me that a wine that come from Barolo tastes the same as a wine made from nebbiolo grapes anywhere else in the world. It is just not the case. The great wine making regions of Europe have used their appellations to defined their terrior, we in America must do the same, if we ever want to claim a place of equality beside France and Italy.

The Russian River Valley wines have begun to establish a reputation of high quality and the wine public has been responding accordingly. With such being said, it’s no surprise that the Gallos would want to capitalize on this appellation's name and market appeal. It would be a great shame, though, if we ruined this region's growing reputation by allowing politics or money to “water” the appellation down. If the Board of Winegrowers and the TTB are wise, they will make their decision only after a detailed analysis of soil and climate is complete. If that results indeed show that the terrior is all but the same, then by all means make the expansion. However, if the results show what most expect, that the area in question is more influenced by the Pacific ocean than the Russian River, then they most not allow the expansion to take place. If they do, they will prove that the all mighty dollar is more powerful than the creation of a world class wine industry. And that would indeed be a loss to us all.


Jon-Paul said...

Wow, Ant! Great post! You've piqued my curiosity now about the outcome of this--I am in agreement with you that if it's revealed that the conditions are not consistent aross the proposed expansion region, then they shouldn't be labelled as such (if I'm understanding your argument correctly). Of course, expect there will be devil's advocates out there that will call such action an 'innovation' of the California Wine Industry rather than a bastardization of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The areas they want to add, if I have read the articles correctly, have more in common with the central coast region (which I happen to like, despite the apparent disdain shown by the Gallos) and should remain there. The move is simply to squeeze and average of 6% more per bottle in price. Good article.