Calistoga 14th


in famed wine-producing region


For the Capital Press

Calistoga is the newest American Viticultural Area in the United States, and local vintners and wine producers agree it's about time.

"The application was originally submitted in late 2003," said Napa County Farm Bureau executive director Sandra Elles. "It was a long process and now Calistoga is the 14th sub-appellation in the Napa Valley AVA.

An AVA is a designated winegrape-growing region in the United States that is distinguishable by unique geographic features with boundaries set by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

At first, Calistoga's application seemed to sail through the many governmental steps but ran into trouble after the public comments. It was then that two Calistoga vintners -- Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estates -- contested the new AVA designation. Bureau rules specify that at least 85 percent of grapes used to make wine must have been grown in that geographical location, and they did not comply.

The two sourced their grapes from vineyards in Saint Helena, a completely different appellation.

Calistoga Estates had no comment and Calistoga Cellars could not be reached.

"Napa Valley Vintners led the fight along with Bo Barrett of the Chateau Montelena Winery and other members in the Calistoga AVA," Elles said. "It was a long, arduous process that ended early this year."

The group wanted the Calistoga AVA but not any harmful grandfather provisions that would create a patchwork of grandfather dates and confusion about wine labels.

There are about 57 winegrape growers in the new Calistoga AVA. It borders Sonoma County on the west and the Saint Helena appellation on the south and extends northward.

Elevation ranges from 300 to 1,200 feet. Daytime summer temperatures soar above 100 degrees and plunge to low 40s at night.

The principal varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

"Most people were surprised that Calistoga had no appellation of its own," said Rex Stults with Napa Valley Vintners. "Napa Valley was the first appellation in California and the second in the nation."

The first AVA, awarded in 1980, was in Missouri.

AVAs range in size from Ohio River Valley at 26,000 square miles to Cole Ranch in Mendocino County at 62 acres.

All of Napa Valley's sub-appellations began making their way north in the 1980s and 1990s but Calistoga never seemed to get around to it. It is one of the most historical wine growing regions in the country, dating back to the 1880s.

"Wine, more than any other product, is tied to place," Stults said.

"At the end of the day we got what we wanted and that is a victory for Napa Valley, wineries and consumers of American wine. The sensible solution is for the two brands buy fruit from the Calistoga AVA or have a second label and put their Saint Helena-grown fruit in there."

The two Calistoga brand vintners have three years to comply.

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