Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Whose brainfart is this? I opened it to a page "Subregions in Washington Producers that make wines with designation Washington". According to them, Bonair Winery makes 30 wines, only four of which are designated Washington. (I don't think we make 30 wines, but we have had 30 different labels for wines.) Do these people think we import grapes from the late great state of California? Don't they know that wineries have a choice when placing an AVA on the label, either a geographic designation such as a political entity (state or county) or an actual TTB approved AVA?

On further investigation, I think I figured out what these two guys are doing. They sent out search engine bots to websites and collected a lot of data. Data are good when interpreted correctly, but these guys are European and don't quite understand the American system of labeling the origin of wine. In Europe, wine labeling is strictly controlled by the government. In America it is a marketing decision made by the wineries.

As a winery, we can use the largest region (American) or the smallest region that the wine qualifies for. "Washington" appears on bottles for marketing reason for sales outside the state. The grapes can come from somewhere in the state . Ste. Michelle uses the Columbia Valley designation because production comes from several subregions, but all from the Columbia Valley AVA. They think 'Washington' implies DC or soggy Seattle. The subregions of the Columbia Valley have subregions also. (For people who don't get out often, think North Coast, Napa Valley, Rutherford) It amuses me that some wineries in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA (a warm AVA known for big reds) insist on using the Yakima Valley AVA (known for cool weather whites) on their Cabernets for more prestige. When I see Yakima Valley on a Bordeaux variety, I think vegetative - unless it is from a really warm year like 2003.

One of the problems with the Columbia Valley, the Walla Walla Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. is that they are cross-state appellations. Both dip into Eastern Oregon. So, I guess you can't be assured that a wine is from Washington if it is labeled Columbia Valley. If it is labeled Yakima Valley, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope, or Horse Heaven Hills, you can rest assured the grapes were grown in Washington even though it doesn't say Washington on the bottle. The real question is, who cares if the grapes were grown on the Oregon side of the AVA?

Other information on the site is wrong, for example the breakdown of reds vs. whites. I get the USDA reports and white production still outpaces red in Washington State. Chardonnay is still the most widely planted grape in the state, contrary to their graph. But again, their interpretation of the data is incorrect because they don't have a complete set. The USDA publishes this data each year. I have posted it on my website if you are having trouble sleeping.

For the record, Bonair Winery now uses only two AVA designations. The less expensive wines use the Yakima Valley AVA and our barrel-select, vineyard-designated, estate-bottled wines use the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.

1 comment:

  1. Dear grumpy winemaker,

    I just discovered your posting about our brainfart Vinopedia. As an ignorant European I wanted to thank you for enlightening us with your explanation about the American AVA system.
    Actually, the AVA system is not so much different from the European systems of appellations. European wineries can also choose to use a broader designation if they want. On our region page about Columbia Valley, we simply did not include the wines that were made in sub-AVA's of the Columbia. We understand that this was extremely confusing for you so we changed it. The fact that the Columbia AVA is a cross-state appellation does not make it easier indeed, but I can assure you we had nothing to do with that decision.
    On the statistics (red vs. white): We are a web site covering all wine regions around the world. We want to give our visitors a bit of background information in case they have never heard of a region so they can get a feeling for the wines that are produced. What we report are the grape varieties and wine color based on the amount of bottles that are currently on the market. We understand that is different from official reports on harvests but it's impossible for us to hunt down official figures from everywhere around the world every year.


    Jasper Hammink