Thursday, July 06, 2006

Carneros inland?

Eric Asimov penned an article recently about California Chardonnay, and the desireable characteristics of higher acidity than the current focus of most Cali producers. I have to say I'm in agreement with him on the majority of his points, as well as the main theme. His observations about the Sonoma Coast AVA, and how many of the Sonoma AVA's overlap somewhat is true on the face of it. But the following seems a little off base, especially when he states -

[t]hat the Sonoma-Cutrer actually takes the Sonoma Coast appellation illustrates some of the issues with the designation. The grapes come from five different vineyards. Four are in the Russian River Valley, and the fifth is near the Carneros region, inland. But the wine qualifies for the catchall Sonoma Coast on the label. Go figure.

Well technically it IS further East and inland when compared to the Pacific coast of Sonoma County. But it sits right on the San Francisco Bay, and routinely has higher winds and lower temps with much more fog than say Calistoga, Cloverdale, Saint Helena, or even Napa or Sonoma proper.

One of the reasons is that the Carneros region is the fog's southern pathway to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and on days that the fog won't travel far enough inland to get to the upper locations of the valleys, it will more than likely still be sitting over the Carneros. So I think we can disregard that as a detriment to the wine's acidity.

The Sonoma Coast app is about fog coverage and maritime influence, not about soil types (which as I've mentioned before, are of a secondary interest in winemaking). If one WERE to define AVA's by soil type, then I think most people would be in for a surprise - soils change across something as geographically small as VINEYARDS, so there would be a need to have many, many AVA's, potentially several for even a small producer!

Many American Viticultural Areas, as the American appellations are formally called, are unwieldy designations, with boundaries chosen for political reasons rather than because they circumscribe areas with discrete characteristics of climate and soil. The Sonoma Coast region stretches way too far inland, for example, lumping vineyards east of Highway 101 with those actually near the coast, from as far north as Annapolis to as far south as Occidental. Meanwhile, the Russian River appellation meanders west from Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, following the river to the Pacific, crossing over other appellations like Green Valley, Chalk Valley and Sonoma Coast.

I'm pretty sure the criteria for the area was based on the weather and cooling effects of the fog. The mention of HWY 101 is misleading...the California DMV never intended to have the highway serve as a demarcation of coastal weather - it follows the NWP railway lines, and was placed almost on top of the original road north through Sonoma County (what is now referred to as the "Old Redwood Highway"). If you want to take the position of that side of the valley (or Santa Rosa plain if you wish) being too hot, then do so...but to use HWY 101 as the line seems a bit arbitrary and succumbs to the same 'political rather than actual reasoning' argument he uses above...
And the Chalk HILL AVA (not Valley) still gets quite a bit of fog and is much cooler than it is just north of Healdsburg (which gets its share of fog too) in the Alexander Valley or Knight's Valley.


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