Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | July 21, 2010

Making Wine & Confusing One Consumer at a Time

Napa's Newest AVA: Man With The Pipe

You know what confuses consumers? Wine regions with identity crises and multiple split personalities.

I’ve only seen one episode of Showtime’s United States of Tara and The Farmer doesn’t even have cable TV high up in the mountains on Monticello Road/Highway 121, a region not currently designated  by an American Viticultural Area (AVA). But, when I list those Merlot grapes for sale I use several geographical points of interest to describe the elusive mountain Merlot we grow there: Four driveways on the right past the Man With The Pipe Rock Structure OR Across the road from Jarvis OR on your way to Lake Berryessa. All points of reference winemakers can wrap their minds around, get behind and ultimately form a relationship or identity with; if they are familiar with Napa that is.

Yesterday when I scanned the Press Democrat’s piece: “Pine Mountain grape growers may drop ‘Mayacmas’ in their request for AVA designation” I shook my head every sentence of the way. Napa Valley Vintners says the designation should not identify ‘Mayacmas’ in the designate because the ‘Mayacmas’ mountain range covers four counties. According to the TTB regulations an AVA can only encompass three counties anyhow. The Pine Mountain grape growers say they’re willing to discuss a compromise.  I wonder where the Napa Valley Vintners were when the other 15 Napa AVA designates were formed and what their plan is to set Napa back right? And by right I mean obliterate the extreme segmentation we’re currently confusing consumers with.

I’m also curious just who is responsible for being at the start line when a group of growers decides their area should  be designated and as what?  Shouldn’t the individuals at the start line be both the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers functioning as unified governing  bodies for the Napa wine industry? Maybe it should be the California Association of Winegrape Growers? These are after all supposed to be the governing associations responsible for providing an infrastructure and support to the farmers who GROW winegrapes and the wineries who SELL the wine made from those AVA designated grapes.

Finally, I wonder why both the Mayacmas grape growers and whomever is advising them don’t consider mapping the entire AVA, all three major counties under the Mayacmas AVA designate? Keep ‘Mayacmas’ and ditch Pine Mountain.  After all, isn’t AVA designation about the Terroir and the grapes that are grown under particular geological, climate and natural influences in a designated region? And isn’t the extreme growing conditions and mountain fruit being produced as a result what you’re hoping to capture in applying for an AVA designate in the first place? This smacks of the “What’s In It For Me Club” not the Breakfast Club.  As a Millennial consumer and grape grower I can’t identify with with Pine Mountain, in fact it makes me think of that 80s flick Witch Mountain. But I can identify with one of the largest spans of  mountain range just beneath Mendocino, to the West of Clearlake, and through the middle of Napa, Sonoma counties. Perhaps tying your verbal description to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys aint half bad? It is after all one of the most identifiable wine regions in the world. Ask me about Calistoga though and you’ve lost me.

At this juncture, it should be noted that Thomson Vineyards is not a member of the Napa Valley Vintners. We simply can’t afford another annual association fee. I have pitched the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers on reduced fees for being members of both associations to no avail and have heard nothing back from either association.

I respect what they are trying to do over at the Napa Valley Vintners.  While I haven’t seen a plan or a platform, I sense they are trying to unify the 15 Napa AVAs under one collective entity – Napa Valley. I say now is not the time for the good ole boys network to sit at Butter Cream Bakery and coffee talk about how to do it though. Strip all 15 AVAs and combine The Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Vintners associations as one association. When they rebuild industries and corporations like the US Rail System, Yahoo! and eventually Goldman Sachs, do you think they brush shareholders aside, look at each other and point who dunnit fingers, and hem and haw back and forth on whether or not it will disrupt their short term profitability model? I didn’t think so. The wine industry and our leadership should be no exception.

I think it would behoove us to designate a wine industry “What’s In It For Me Club” policeman. I don’t really  have time. The Farmer needs too much help farming and selling wine grapes, specifically Los Carneros Chardonnay. Maybe we should hold an election? Or – what I am willing to do is be the nomination clearinghouse and submit the public’s nomination submissions and letters to the appropriate and designated authorities. Because the environment we’re living in has just gotten out of hand. It’s confusing consumers and preventing wineries from selling more wine.

If you need supporting evidence on just how the extreme segmentation of Napa and Sonoma AVAs is harming each and every single Napa and Sonoma Winery you can view the long list of  TTB Authorized Wine Appellations of Origin –  U.S. Viticultural Areas or I invite you to look at the hash tag list from last week’s Pinot Noir World Wide Tasting. You’re all smart individuals and will be able to immediately see why Washington and Oregon just may end up outselling and out performing Napa and Sonoma wines one day. If they can do it on Twitter, they can certainly do it at the cash register. Keep an eye on the Kiwis as well, they’ve got it together in New Zealand.

I’ve asked a lot of questions today. If you’ve got the answers leave a comment. I certainly don’t have all the answers, I’m just a Millennial on a learning curve who’s catchin’ up to all you old Boomers <wink, wink>.

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