Thursday, July 31, 2014

Contemplations Before Heading West

I’m getting ready to head out to the western part of the Sonoma Coast to work at the West Of West Wine Festival. This is a young organization that has banded together to promote the landscape and history of the Western Sonoma Coast. I’m looking forward to learning from and meeting new producers and other wine professionals from around the country.

Having traveled to Sonoma several times over the last few years I’ve become enamored with the place and the people. The rugged coastline and the laid back farmers vibe has me hooked. Maybe it’s the college kid who spent four years in Missoula, Montana, but the uniformity and overbuilt Napa Valley has made it easy for me to devote most of my time to the exploration and the wide open spaces of Sonoma. In addition to wine you’ve got some iconic landmarks such as Nick’s cove, Hog Island Oysters, redwoods, rugged coastline, and Langunitas. There’s just an authenticity and a genuine community of growers that I’ve connected with.

Sonoma is home to about 400 wineries. The Sonoma Coast AVA is 500,000 acres with about 8,000 planted to vine. This is a very large area with varying climate, topography, and proximity to the coast which means that there can be many different styles of wine not representing a true identity of the region. The time to create a smaller, more localized AVA’a has never been more relevant in Sonoma. After all isn’t this why the AVA is supposedly so important?

National events such as WOW are very important to participate in. The land ultimately tells the story of the wines we sell in our restaurants. Meeting organized groups of winemakers is equally as powerful. In addition to working with the growers we get time to spend time with our colleagues from other cities and states. Chatting about there restaurants, wine programs and regional trends.

We get to discover new producers. Figure out how to better answer questions for guests and for us as buyers.

Why should the guest pay more for this pinot noir vs. that pinot noir? There’s a multitude of factors. Some land is harder to work and more difficult to grow grapes than others.

Why is some Pinot Noir from Sonoma 13.2% alcohol and others are 14.7%? Which areas and producers make for more lush and rich styles of pinot noir, where others focus on lean and focused styles? Who uses whole cluster? What kind of oak treatments are being used? Is the goal to meet demand or to reflect the specificity of the AVAs of the Sonoma Coast?

How do politics play a role in the creation of AVAs?

I’ll report back in a few weeks and share my experience complete with pictures, interviews, and stories.

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