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July 13, 2009, 12:29 pm

You Can’t be Serious…

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The reality in most of Western Europe is that wine areas carry with them laws, rules and regulations which are overseen by boards- Consejo Reguladors in Spain, Instituts National in France and the like. These organizations oversee the methods, procedures and regulations governing wines in an area, whether at a national level or a regional level. Some would argue that they are too restrictive (permitting and forbidding specific grapes, growing methods, yields and the like) while others would claim that the reason so many of their wines maintain typicity and specificity are because there are hard guidelines on what can and can’t be done.

The ‘new world’ wine regions of the USA, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa among others have their own systems. These systems tend to be nothing more than specific codifications of geographical jurisdictions and physical boundaries and tell you little more than that the fruit came from mostly (as laws vary as to minimum requirements) a specified area. No regulations exists surround mandates yields, harvest dates, grapes being in or out of bounds in a jurisdiction. After all, that would handcuff producers.

The truth be told, both systems have benefits and flaws. I tend to ride the middle ground, and then I saw this article surrounding America’s largest AVA and questioned why does it even exist? You can read the article yourself here.

The author, Stacie Hunt, brings to our attention the creation of the AVA (American Viticultural Area) of the Upper Mississippi River Valley which becomes legal on July 22nd. This huge AVA encompasses an area of 29,914 square miles taking in portions of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin. Ouch. Ms. Hunt accurately brings up that within this AVA’s borders you could fit the country of Denmark or the island of Jamaica or nicely tuck in the states of Vermont, Massachusetts and Hawaii. So what purpose does it really serve as there can’t be that much ‘similarity’ that would justify cutting up the AVA in the manner in which it has been done? As with all AVA wines, the laws stipulate that 85% of the wine inside the bottle be from grapes grown within the area.  This larger cold-weather area is best known for the exotic French red hybrids of Marechal Foch, Frontenac, and Saint Croix and the whites Edelweiss, La Crosse, and Chardonel.

Hmmm… so what’s the purpose? Our regulatory laws should have some reasonable rationale, beyond politics, to create an AVA which is defined as “delimited grape growing area”. Period. Yet there are no quality regulations or tasting panels and AVA’s refer only to geographic location. So the question is not so much- why bother, but how does this benefit the consumer buying the bottle. And the question in this case begs to be asked. Does it?

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