The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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Page 106 of 112

106 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2015 In October 2014, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Tax and Trade Bureau (aka TTB) approved 11 new American Viticultural Areas (or AVAs) located entirely within the boundaries of the 614,000-acre Paso Robles Viticultural Area (an AVA since 1983; amended once, in 1996). 59 winery owners and vineyard grow- ers submitted the original petition for 11 new Paso Robles AVAs in 2007. According to Wines & Vines (Oct. 2014), this was the longest approval process on record—understandable, according to Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance spokesman Christopher Taranto, because "this was also the most complex and . . . largest single request" ever considered by the TTB. Internal re-evaluation of the peti- tion/review process as well as cutbacks in TTB staffing occurring between 2007 and 2014 also factored into the delay. TTB evaluation of AVA proposals rou- tinely entails consideration of objections, and there were a number of them logged on the TTB website in opposition to the Paso Robles petition. One Paso Robles vintner commented, "There are enough microclimates and varying soil profiles within each area to make these designa- tions meaningless and arbitrary . . . these requests were based on politics and bul- lying by a few large interests." There was even an objection filed by a Las Vegas sommelier, who wrote, "This proposal sounds great for those in Paso thinking that their sub-appellation will be the next big thing, but at the consumer level it seeks to confuse and nothing more." Nonetheless, the evidence for geo- graphical, environmental and historical distinctions submitted by the petitioners proved more than sufficient enough for the TTB to confirm all 11 proposed appel- lations, under these official names: Adelaida District Paso Robles Willow Creek District Templeton Gap District San Miguel District Paso Robles Estrella District Paso Robles Geneseo District El Pomar District Creston District San Juan Creek Paso Robles Highlands District Santa Margarita Ranch Anticipating potentially divisive concerns that the Paso Robles "brand" might be watered down by a plethora of new, unfa- miliar AVAs, the petitioners also gained approval for conjunctive labeling—that is, the requirement that all sub-appellations be used on labels in conjunction with Paso Robles (i.e., Adelaida District–Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, El Pomar District– Paso Robles Merlot, etc.). It is true that, in the initial stages, sub- dividing of broader regions always has less meaning to consumers as well as much of the trade (sommeliers, retailers, distribu- tors, etc.) than to vintners and growers working in those region—think of the 16 sub-AVAs of Napa Valley, or the 16 AVAs crisscrossing Sonoma County. For the Paso Robles petitioners, 11 new appella- tions were far preferable to settling for the way Paso Robles used to be sub-divided in the minds of most people: as "West Side" or "East Side," in reference to vineyards on either side of Highway 101, running north- south. The inference being that West Side vineyards, located closer to the coast, are superior because they are in a cooler cli- mate region and on visibly steeper hillsides, and that East Side vineyards are warmer, flatter, and therefore not as interesting. The reality is considerably more com- plex and site specific. While it is clear, for instance, that west-side AVAs like the Adelaida District and the Paso Robles Willow Creek District are closer in prox- imity to moderating winds moving through the Templeton Gap from the coast, there are sheltered pockets of vineyard sites in these regions that are warmer than sites in the El Pomar District east of Highway 101, and even warmer than hillsides in the Creston District further to the east. The Templeton Gap District is considered the coolest climate region in Paso Robles, but it also has some of the warmest sites where the AVA spills east of Highway 101 near the town of Templeton. Like the Templeton Gap District, the San Miguel District further to the north also straddles both sides of Highway 101, and is one of the warmest appellations in all of Paso Robles. Divide and Conquer THE SPECTACULAR NEW VITICULTURAL AREAS OF PASO ROBLES by Randy Caparoso

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