Monday, March 29, 2010

Pacific Northwest AVAs

The Importance (and Confusion) of AVAs
American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are winegrape-growing regions that have been legally established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB - created as a reorganization of the functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2003). The purpose of these regions is to allow wine producers to better describe the place of origin of their wines, and to allow consumers to more easily identify wines that they may wish to purchase. Simple enough. But this simple concept can actually lead to a lot of confusion. This post will detail the Pacific Northwest AVAs, and the next post will address some of the issues raised by the American Viticultural Areas system.

(A bit outdated, but the best map I could find to give you the total picture. Thanks to Quentin Sadler's blog for the map.)

Pacific Northwest AVAs
Before diving in to some of the complexity surrounding AVAs, and Pacific Northwest AVAs in particular, I wanted to list all of the AVAs, sub-AVAs and in one case "super-AVA" found in the Pacific Northwest as of March 2010 (as this is bound to keep expanding). A caveat - I'm an Oregon guy, so my coverage and knowledge of Pacific Northwest wines are jilted in that direction (a deficiency I am working (drinking?) to correct).

Willamette Valley AVA - the largest AVA in Oregon, and the one containing the highest percentage of the state's wineries. Has six sub-AVAs:

Southern Oregon Super AVA - This AVA was established specifically to encompass two already-existing AVAs in Southern Oregon. This was mainly done to allow the southern AVAs to better distinguish themselves from the much larger and more influential Willamette Valley AVA which, to many buyers, was simply synonymous with "Oregon wine". The Southern Oregon AVAs are:

Umpqua Valley AVA - Part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, centered around the city of Roseburg, OR. Has one sub-AVA:

Rogue Valley AVA - Again, part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, located just across the border from California. Contains one sub-AVA and two AVA-ish regions:

Columbia Gorge AVA - An approximately 40 mile long stretch of the Columbia River Valley, including land on both the Washington and Oregon sides. I can't explain it any better than Paul Gregutt did here.

Columbia Valley AVA - Starting just east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, the Columbia Valley AVA includes some land in Oregon and then follows the Columbia River north into Washington, becoming Washington's largest AVA. Paul Gregutt has an excellent description of the Columbia Valley AVA posted here. The Columbia Valley AVA includes eight sub-AVAs:

Puget Sound AVA - Washington's "outlier AVA" (as described by Paul Gregutt here), the only AVA in Washington located west of the Cascade Mountains. Includes the entire Puget Sound region from the Canadian border down to Olympia.

Snake River Valley AVA - Idaho didn't want to miss out on all the fun, thus was born Idaho's first (and currently only) AVA (the Snake River Valley AVA also extends into Oregon, although I do not believe there are any wineries or major commercial vineyards there yet).

To help you figure out where all of these are:

The Confusion of AVAs
Phew, good to get through that list - and I think in reading over it you will already have picked up on several of the issues that make AVAs overly complicated. More on that in the next post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wine Closures Over Time

After winemakers have spent so much time and attention birthing and nurturing their wines in the winery, they face a big decision when it comes time to send those wines out into the world - what type of closure to use on the wine bottle (or should they even use bottles at all)? This decision can have a huge effect on the aging and longevity of the wine, and it is a topic of hot conversation in the wine industry.

There is a lot I could say on the matter, and I will likely address this issue at some point in the future, but for now I simply wanted to share a graphic that very convincingly makes the point for why screw-top (aka Stelvin) closures need to be considered as the closure of choice, particularly when bottling white wines (thanks to @Herbguy for the link). Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vinvenio *RESET*

SO, it has been almost 2.5 years since my last blog post. A lot has happened in those intervening years, and I feel like the time has come to jump-start this blog once more and slightly redirect it towards my current pursuits. But first...

A Vinvenio History
I started this blog in April 2007 when I was moving beyond wine as a mere hobby or interest, and heading into the realm of obsession. The wine bug had bit, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about, well, everything really, and I thought I may as well write some of it down along the way.

I started out fairly simple, blogging about different wines I was drinking, and why I liked or disliked them. This quickly lead to my desire to know WHY I liked or disliked them, so I began doing some background research on the varietals or regions of each of the bottles. The posts started getting longer, and started including links to various Wikipedia and other sources to provide a more complete picture of what was in the bottle. Then, I started working at a Virginia winery.

At first I worked in the tasting room, and found that you can learn a lot about wine by pouring a glass and then listening to how hundreds of people describe the exact same bottle. I was able to further educate tasting room guests about different varietals and just wine in general, and getting asked a lot of good questions had me do my homework so that I would be able to answer any questions I missed the first time they were posed to me. I then had the opportunity to step in to the cellar and help with the wine production.

I had never really seriously considered a career in winemaking, but after a few short weeks in the cellar, I was in love. My scholastic background is in molecular microbiology with a minor in geology, and then a graduate degree in environmental engineering; I found that winemaking combined everything I loved about all of my previous scientific fields of study, added in a distinct artistic element which I felt had been lacking in my career up to that point, and did so in a way that resulted in a bottle filled with a scrumptious beverage! (the importance of this last bit cannot be overstated - the existential joy experienced by producing a "thing", rather than just adding to the piles of paperwork in offices everywhere, is a large part of the appeal for me).

I tried to continue the blog with posts about my experiences learning winemaking, but was quickly overwhelmed by my full-time job in the "real world", my part-time job in the cellar, and my inability to find the time to post content with the thoughtfulness and attention I believed it deserved. So I stopped writing (but continued working in the cellar!).

Vinvenio 2010
Fast-forward 2.5 years to March 2010. I now live in Portland, OR, and have embraced winemaking with open arms. I am taking winemaking courses through Chemeketa Community College in Salem, worked the 2009 harvest at Beaux Frères (a northern Willamette Valley winery focusing on ultra-premium Pinot Noir), and am seeking out full-time employment in the cellar. My goal is to continue to learn about winemaking, and progress up from the cellar to assistant winemaker, then winemaker, at an established Willamette Valley winery. And hopefully sometime in the near future I will be able to become an indie winemaker, making a small quantity of wine under my own label!

Current Wine Interests
Since this is my blog, I'll use it to talk about stuff I find interesting. What might this be?
  • Winemaking, and learning more about winemaking.
  • Interesting wines / wine varietals (particularly those from the Northwest, or those I think should be planted in the Northwest) - especially interested in "lesser known" Northwest winegrowing regions such as the Columbia Gorge, Yakima Valley and Southern Oregon.
  • Sustainable winemaking practices, such as Oregon's LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) program, Demeter's Biodynamic wine program, and the new Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) label.
  • Technology, such as Wine 2.0 (the blend of wine and new technology, particularly social media and other similar tools to reach consumers); I am also interested in the adoption (or not) of new technology into the vineyard and winery as well.
  • The expansion of and/or opportunities with collective winemaking facilities, such as the Carlton Winemaker's Studio, and custom crush facilities, such as the Northwest Wine Company and Wine By Joe. Particularly interested in seeing whether there is a future for something like this within Portland.

Updating the Blog
Not only are the posts out of date here, but many of my initial links are as well. I'll slowly update these to 2010, and hopefully start integrating other social media like Facebook and Twitter. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'til Morning
So, hopefully you've got an idea on where this thing is now headed (at least, as good of an idea as I do!). Although I'm moving into the more "professional" side of the wine business, I hope to keep my posts at a level that anyone with an interest in wine can appreciate. I also may be using this space to post interesting articles I've come across, mainly so I can find them later. If other people find this interesting too, then that's just great. I'm really looking forward to the possibilities I'm facing in 2010, so hopefully I'll be able to share that with you.