Will Paso Robles be Divided?

Three years ago, I wrote about Paso Robles. Back then I pointed out that there was a proposal in the works to divide the Paso Robles AVA into eleven distinct districts. The thought is that a tightly defined district would help consumers determine what to expect when they open a bottle from a certain area. Think about it, Napa Valley has recognized districts, and you would expect that Stags Leap would taste different than Rutherford.

American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are grape-growing regions distinguishable by geographic features such as climate, soil, elevation, history and location that are recognized by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau)  and used in wine bottle labeling.

The Paso Robles AVA is big.  At 612,000 square acres, it is the largest appellation in California that doesn’t have any smaller AVAs or districts within. From San Miguel, in the north to Santa Margarita, in the south, there are over 30 miles between. The climate, marine influence, elevations, and soils vary. To lump these into one large AVA, and say they are equal, doesn’t make sense.

The first proposal to divide the Paso Robles AVA began back in 2005. At that point, 21 local vintners and grape growers submitted a plan to create an east and west sub-appellation. That proposal fell through in 2007, when many of the original applicants felt it didn’t adequately represent all the differences among the growing areas. Shortly after, a group known as the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area Committee (PRAVAC), petitioned the TTB to establish 11 new sub-appellations within the existing Paso Robles AVA, that has remained as one large district since it was established October 4, 1983.

According to the TTB’s website, the new proposed areas would be Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch and Templeton Gap District.

Templeton Gap
On September 20, 2013, the TTB published the proposal on its’ website, and allowed public comment until January 12, 2014. A final decision on the proposal is expected prior to December, 2014. At the end of the public comment period, there were only 45 public comments submitted. Of those, only three were against.  One of the more interesting comments came from the Bronco Wine Company, and it’s concern about brand name recognition for one of its’ wines known as Estrella (one of the proposed districts is Paso Robles Estrella District). The PRAVAC  reviewed the comment submitted by Bronco Wine Company and agrees that, "Paso Robles Estrella District" and "Paso Robles Estrella", not "Estrella" alone, are the proper terms of viticultural significance for the Paso Robles Estrella District.

Pomar Junction
Another of the comments against, involved AmByth Estate. AmByth Estate is Paso Robles' first and only winery to produce Demeter certified Biodynamic wines.  They asked if their property was in the proposed EI Pomar District or Templeton Gap District, and if they could choose which area to be in. In response, Dr. Deborah L. Elliott Fisk (Geographer) wrote, “I reviewed his brief description of why he believed his property should be included in the Templeton Gap District, not EI Pomar District. I reviewed all of my climate data, soils maps, geological information, etc. I do not support moving the Templeton Gap District's eastern boundary further to the east to encompass the AmByth Estate and, as a consequence, retracting EI Pomar District at its western boundary. The eastern boundary of the Templeton Gap District is formed by connecting peaks ranging in elevation from 1,329 to 1,452 feet. The AmByth Estate vineyard is east of the Templeton Gap District boundary ridgeline and at an elevation of roughly 1,200 feet. Mr. Hart's comments describe winds and, therefore, temperatures, affected by the property's position on the leeside (eastside) of the boundary ridgeline with the proposed EI Pomar District. The AmByth vineyards are on the Linne-Calado soil complex, but this soil type occurs in many of the proposed AVAs. In my scientific opinion, the evidence presented by Mr. Hart does not justify moving the ridgeline eastern boundary of the proposed Templeton Gap District. His vineyard clearly fits the climate, geomorphology, and topography of the proposed EI Pomar District.”

Calcareous soil of West Paso Robles
As you can imagine, being in the “right” district might make or break certain wineries. As it stand right now, all can call themselves Paso Robles AVA (and they can continue to do so), but with the proposed districts, a winery may be able to capitalize on the differences in their soil, terrain, climate, and in the case of Tempelton Gap…the marine influence.

One of the other concerns is that the proposed AVAs will diminish the strength of the Paso Robles name. The California Business and Professions Code§25244 requires that “any wine labeled with a viticultural area appellation of origin that is located entirely within the "Paso Robles" viticultural area shall bear the designation "Paso Robles" on the label in direct conjunction therewith”. This means that the Paso Robles name must be used on all wines from the region, even on sub-appellation districts.

For wine lovers, the events occurring in Paso Robles should be celebrated. The division into distinct districts will help consumers, by supplying them with more information. If, and when, the final approvals go through, Paso Robles will have been the most thoroughly analyzed of all petitioning AVAs in the history of California. This could possibly open the door for other wine regions in California (watch out Russian River).

For more information, and to read the entire 32 page proposal, go to: http://www.ttb.gov/news/ttb-proposes-11-new-viticultural-areas.shtml

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