After 10 years of disputes, the Federal government has approved the Fort Ross-Seaview American Viticultural Area. The new AVA, at 27,500 acres, was carved out of the 480,000-acre Sonoma Coast AVA, which has been criticized as too big since its approval in 1987—it actually extends as far inland as the Napa Valley border. Fort Ross-Seaview is unofficially part of the “true Sonoma Coast,” which lies above the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
The petitioners made the case that the terroir of Fort Ross-Seaview is distinct from the greater AVA in that much of the area is mountainous, placing it above the fogline that shrouds much of the remainder of the Sonoma Coast appellation. At the same time, nighttime temperatures fall away rapidly due to the elevation.
“We began getting together as a group in 1999, preparing a petition,” says Linda Schwartz, president of Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery, referring to their campaign for a carve-out of the greater Sonoma Coast AVA. “But there was huge infighting about boundaries, who was in and who was out, and also what the new AVA would be called.”
In 2003, vintner David Hirsch presented a formal petition calling for AVA approval; the new AVA takes legal effect on January 13, 2012.
Despite the government’s approval, though, it’s not clear that vintners will embrace the new name. “I’m not sure we’ll be changing to the new appellation on our labels, primarily because it’s not known,” says Bob Cabral, winemaker at Williams Selyem, who purchases fruit from the Hirsch, Precious Mountain and Peay vineyards, all of which are included in the new AVA. “People know the Sonoma Coast appellation far better than this new one,” he says, adding, “I just think it might confuse the consumer.”