new ava... help wanted... congratulations

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Last spring (April 25) I proposed that Ancient Lakes would next be certified as the 12th Washington AVA. Now it appears I was wrong. The 12th man – if you will allow a nod to the ‘Hawks – looks to be Naches Heights. A poster on my blog, who seems to be on top of this application’s fortunes, writes that “Naches Heights AVA final rule (approval) will be on the Federal Register tomorrow, establishment effective in a month.”

The new AVA, located north of the city of Yakima, contains just three wineries and roughly 40 acres of vineyard (out of more than 13,000 acres to be included). The application points out the “single, elevated Tieton andesite plateau landform that ends in andesite cliffs that descend into the valleys surrounding the plateau.” Unlike the great majority of eastern Washington vineyard land, it was not impacted by the Missoula floods that followed the last ice age. It is affected by being in the rain shadow of the Cascade mountains, and has one of the highest (perhaps the highest) elevations in the state, beginning at 1200 feet.

The enormous amount of time and effort that goes into the preparation of an AVA proposal cannot be understated, and Phil Cline and Paul Beveridge, the principals behind this effort, are certainly to be congratulated on their success. Naches Heights is neither the smallest nor the least explored AVA in the country, but by any measure it is far too soon to make any projections about its ability to produce wines that express a unique and desirable stamp of terroir. As a good friend of mine has often opined (quoting Lewis and Clark here)... “all hope permitted.”

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Are you thinking about an exciting career in the wine business? There sure have been a lot of opportunities lately. In just the past few months, the Executive Director positions at three major winery associations – Walla Walla, Oregon, and Paso Robles – have been filled. Another top spot at the Washington Wine Commission, is currently looking for a successor to Robin Pollard.

I don’t suppose there is any meaningful linkage among all these vacancies, but if nothing else they point to the enormous difficulty of the job. Herding cats comes to mind, as the person in charge must listen to the needs and often conflicting goals of hundreds of member wineries, large and small, while at all times being careful not to step into any political landmines. Budgets are rarely adequate to the challenge, though a lot has been achieved when the right person was in charge.

I am very pleased to see that here in Walla Walla county, where I reside, the Wine Alliance is once again under solid leadership, in the person of Duane Wollmuth, who inherits an organization that was rudderless long before the previous executive departed. The Washington Wine Commission has lost several key players along with its soon-to-depart Executive Director. I look forward to seeing who steps in and what her or his priorities turn out to be.

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Congratulations are in order for Walla Walla Community College, just named one of the top five CC’s in the country. The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence award brings a one-time prize of $100,000. This is surely a welcome drop in the rapidly-emptying funding bucket that is the result of draconian cuts in state funding for the college. Of special concern is the impact of these dwindling dollars on WWCC’s Enology & Viticulture program.

This wildly successful, two year program gives students hands-on experience in both grape growing and winemaking. The current course offerings are the best yet, with intensive lab work, a new vineyard being planted, and ongoing winemaking projects, many released under the College Cellars label. What is missing is any certainty about future funding. The Executive Director position for this program is also unfilled at the moment, with founding director Myles Anderson stepping in as interim, unpaid volunteer to keep things rolling along.

This program is not as far-reaching nor as ambitious as the expansive efforts spearheaded by Washington State University, and does not have research capabilities. But that is not the point. In terms of real world, hands-on, practical experience, with easily-measured results, it is absolutely essential. It needs, deserves, and must have the support (I mean dollars folks!) of every winery and vineyard organization in the state. The time to step up is now.

2 comments:

Felip said...

Paul Beverage has planted a virtual vineyard laboratory in Naches Heights, with 22 varieties from six historical wine producing areas - everything from standard Bordeaux grapes to Portuguese port varieties. Most are just beginning to produce usable quantities of grapes.

Phil Cline has a longer track record there, and, I think, produced some white wines that clearly reflect the unique character of this new AVA.

It will be fun to watch as the experiments continue, the existing vineyards mature, and the winemakers explore the possibilities contained therein.

Anonymous said...

"it is far too soon to make any projections about its ability to produce wines that express a unique and desirable stamp of terroir."

Quite so, but nevertheless, the fact that the whole AVA is on top of andesite intrigues me. Though related to basalt, it is a bit different, having rather more silica and alkali and calcium, among other things (depends on the type of basalt one is using as a comparator; I gather from reading "MR T's" paper that most of the Columbia Valley basalt is tholeiitic, which is relatively high in silica). It is fair to say some of this is on the soil, through fracturing and pulverization over the millenia, in spite of the soil being mostly wind blown loess. The extent to which roots suck up andesite based nutrients is obviously going to vary from place to place within the AVA.
Alas, I only know enough geology to be dangerous. And while the geology seems the most distinctive feature of the AVA, whether or not one will be able taste the difference is another question. What Washington AVA strikes you as the most distinctive? Red Mountain with its chalky tannins? Does anyone here feel they can taste a Washington AVA? That is, if you were tasting bind, but told the varietal, and that it was from Washington, can you tell what AVA it's from?

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