Have you noticed what’s happening to wine regions? They’re getting sliced and diced into smaller appellations (officially designated winegrowing regions) all the time.
It used to be that if you knew the name of half a dozen California counties, you could hold up your end of a conversation about wine regions. Napa was the prime example. Now there are half a dozen different appellations between Napa Valley’s two biggest towns, and more than a dozen within the Napa Valley appellation.
This is not just a Napa phenomenon. Recently I did some errands in Sonoma County and went through five different appellations without getting on the freeway. Willamette Valley used to be the place they made Oregon Pinot Noir. Now they’ve sliced Willamette Valley into a bunch of sub-appellations. (Can I interest you in some nice Yamhill-Carlton Pinot?) Same with Columbia Valley in Washington. (Anyone for a Horse Heaven Hills Cab?). Heck, even places most Americans don’t think of as wine states (Virginia comes to mind) are starting to pile up appellations.
It appears that this trend is only going to continue, so I have already started thinking about what we should do about it as consumers. My recommendation is that you pick a new, small appellation and adopt it as your own. After some study on the matter, I really believe there’s no downside to this approach, and plenty of upside.
First, you will make some fast friends. It’s no snap to start an appellation or carve one out of a bigger one, so the people who do it tend to be passionate boosters who will shower fans of their new creation with love. It’s always nice to be appreciated.
Second, those fast friends will have wine to share with you — never a bad thing. Not only that, they will be eager to make that wine attractive to you, either by pricing it well or giving you access to the best they make because you actually care enough to learn about where it’s made. There’s a good chance you’ll be pouring stuff for your friends that they’ve not only never had, but never heard of. Great way to boost your wine cred.
Third, everything that goes on in that new appellation will be more fun for you than it is for everyone else. For one thing, you will actually know how to get there, how to get around, where to eat, all that stuff. For another, new appellations tend to have new wine events at which you can become a VIP just by showing up the first few years and being one of the few people on earth with that distinction.
And here’s the kicker: if you harbor some secret dream of making wine, either at home for fun or commercially, everything and everyone you need to make that dream come true will be located in that new small appellation that you have adopted.
Because it’s new, it’s more likely to have good grapes available for you to buy than established appellations will. (You can always get bad grapes anywhere.) Because you know the area already, you’ll know whose grapes you want. Because you’re a VIP, they’ll be more likely to sell ‘em to you – and teach you what to do with ‘em. Heck, they might even let you pick ‘em yourself, at the perfect moment.
There are a number of ways to find new small appellations near you. One is to visit a winery you like in a huge existing appellation and ask if there are any plans to carve out something smaller. This is going on all the time, and it could be going on in a wine region near you. Dry Creek calves off Rockpile, Rogue Valley gives birth to Applegate Valley, and so on.
Another is to search online – the federal Tax and Trade Bureau that regulates appellations in the U.S. posts appellation petitions on the internet for people to comment on. (With this kind of inside info, you could become a fan before there’s officially an appellation to be a fan of. That should make you really popular.)
The most adventurous way, though, is to try a wine with some totally unfamiliar appellation on the label and see how it grabs you. You slide by these wines on store shelves and wine lists all the time, right? Next time, reach out and pick one. The appellation doesn’t have to be near you, or even in your home state. If you really dig the wine, you can start learning about its place of origin and finding more of the wine to drink. Eventually you’ll plan a visit, and when you get there in person, it shouldn’t take long for your newly adopted appellation to start returning your affection.
Ultimately, vintners are creating more appellations for one reason: to get our attention. I say, let’s give it to ‘em, and see what they’ll give us back.
– Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.