Is You In or Is You Out?
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On August 24th, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) ruled to establish a new American Viticulture Area (AVA) in Virginia, the Virginia Peninsula Viticultural Area which will go into effect on September 24th. Williamsburg Winery was instrumental in helping to make this region and AVA for about seven years. This will transform not only Williamsburg Winery, but also New Kent Winery, Upper Shirley Vineyards, Gauthier Vineyards, and Saudé Creek Vineyards.
Demarcation of Viticulture regions starting back to the 10th of September 1756 in the Douro region of Portugal. It became necessary for Portugal to protect its production and commodity as a unique product made no other place. The British Port lodges surrounding the city of Porto meant that Port wine became the primary product of the region and it was easily exported.
The French expanded the vision for why demarcation is necessary and established a hierarchy for quality in regional areas. The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualite (INAO) was established to govern the usage of a place name for wine regions. A really high-level explanation of this is that the French have determined a certain quality level of wine can be achieved in a certain geological region given the terroir (climate, elevation, latitude, sun exposure, soil composition, topology, accepted grape varietals, and culture) production decisions (ageing requirements and etc.)
The most broadly accepted designated area (demarcated region) is called vin. A slightly higher quality of wine can qualify to be labeled Indication Geographique Protegee (IGP) and must follow the stricter rules of viticulture and production in order to have the IGP letters on the label. For instance, the bottle must have 85% of the fruit from that region and from that vintage. The top of the French wine classification pyramid is the appellation d’origine controllee (AOC) which includes most of the very best wines in France. Here there are even higher, stricter guidelines that the wineries must follow in order to qualify to put the higher tier on the label.
There are some variations to these three levels depending on where you are in France. Mainly, throughout the EU the usage of demarcation became somewhat standardized using terroir and production methods to assess regional quality. The New World, which is every where else in the world that makes wine, may or may not have adopted all the ideology form the Old World. Meaning that a demarcated region might just be called that because of some political line like a county or a state line and not because of terroir and production methods.
The RUB? Well, consider a wine made in Chianti Classico, vs Chianti, vs Tuscany. How much would you pay for a bottle of Sangiovese from each of these regions? They are all made in Tuscany and all the bottles can have Tuscany written on the label. But the line is the line. Chianti Classical is a special region that produces a much higher quality. Soil samples have been made, the rain inches counted, the grape clones studied, the amount of ageing determined all to produce a specific level of quality. When the line is moved to a large location, the quality had a chance of diminishing which results in customer bases not trusting the label to know for what they are paying. There is an expectation from the customer’s perspective that if the label has Chianti Classico, it will be experienced by the customer in the Chianti Classical way which is superior to a wine just from Tuscany.
Here in the United States, almost since the beginning of the country, there has been a taxation and regulatory control on alcohol. The United State Treasury Department created the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to carry out the work of controlling alcohol, tobacco, firearms, ammunition excise taxes and to keep everyone compliant based on industry.
TTB defines the boundaries of The American Viticulture Area (AVA) at the request of the wineries and other petitioners. As typical of the new world wine growing regions, sometimes the region is defined by political lines like say Napa, California which represents the entirety of the county. And sometimes the region is defined by the terroir like the Virginia Peninsula Viticultural Area which encompass portions of James City, York, New Kent, Charles City, Poquoson, Hampton, Newport News, and Williamsburg.
According to Matthew Meyer, Williamsburg Winery’s winemaker, the establishment of the Virginia Peninsula AVA “validates that we have a unique terroir here, and we have unique growing conditions. it’s a really big deal for labeling. We will be able to label our wines as ‘Estate Grown’ and ‘Estate Bottled’.”
The regions has shown it self to be of importance. This year’s 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, it produced several gold and silver medals for Upper Shirley Vineyards, Williamsburg Winery, New Kent Winery, and Saudé Creek Vineyards. More to come on the horizon.
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