Keeping Santa Cruz Weird

Santa Cruz

Visitors and residents alike (both of which I have been, at various points in my life) agree: Santa Cruz is unique. Witness the surfing santas, omnipresent drum circles, kooky politics, and even the tag line “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” (borrowed from Austin, Texas, which can also boast all of the above). Combine this with incredible natural beauty, a moderate climate, 29 miles of coastline, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with its Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – and you have a heck of a place.

Viticulture as well has a unique place in this inspired environment. The area has been home to famous winemakers in the past, such as Paul Masson, Martin Ray, Randal Grahm and David Bruce; and it remains a vibrant center of wine production as well as a leader in organic and sustainable winemaking.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981. It was one of the first AVAs to be established according to elevation, and largely follows – and sits above – the fog line along the coast. The region encircles the ridge tops of the Santa Cruz Mountain range – which reach over 3,000 (920 m) in elevation. The eastern boundary of the AVA rests at 800 feet (240 m), while the western edge, located close to the Pacific Ocean, extends down to 400 feet (120 m).

Santa Cruz 3However – the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which is tucked in betwixt and between several other AVAs, is the only section of the coastal region from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco bay that isn’t part of the larger Central Coast AVA. As a matter of fact, it is “specifically excluded” from both the Central Coast AVA and the overlapping San Francisco Bay AVA as well.  Sounds a bit tough, doesn’t it?

The story goes as such: When the Central Coast AVA was first created in 1985 (four years after the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was born), it was much smaller than it is today, and, due to differences in topography and climate, did not include or extend above Santa Cruz. The southern boundary of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was (and still is) contiguous with the border of the Central Coast AVA.

However, 1n 1999, a petition was made for a new AVA, to be known as the San Francisco Bay AVA. It was proposed that this new AVA would include the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda (which includes Livermore), and Contra Costa, as well as parts of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties – including the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At the same time, it was petitioned that the Central Coast AVA be expanded to include this new San Francisco Bay AVA. The Central Coast AVA would, then, encompass virtually all of the area west of the Central Valley from the North Coast AVA on down to Santa Barbara.

santa cruz 2However, when the proposal was open to public comment, the TTB received almost 50 comments. Thirty-three of these were opposed to combining the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with either the new San Francisco Bay AVA and/or the expanded version of the Central Coast AVA.

One comment claimed that combining the established Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which many viticulturists and vintners had worked so hard to build the quality, reputation, and distinctiveness of, with the Central Coast AVA would cause “incalculable damage.”

Others stated that combining the areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains with such far-flung and diverse regions as Livermore and metropolitan San Francisco would “undermine the meaning of American viticultural areas.” Another respondent made the point that, culturally, people that reside in Santa Cruz do not consider themselves residents of the San Francisco Bay area, and that if Santa Cruz could be called part of the “San Francisco Bay Area,” then the North Coast AVA could be called the “Napa Area,” and the Central Valley could be called the  “Yosemite Area.” It was a vinous version of “hell no, we won’t go.”

Screen shot via http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/us_by_ava.pdf

Screen shot via http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/us_by_ava.pdf retrieved on September 26, 2015

The San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, along with an expansion of the Central Coast AVA (both were expanded again in 2006).

However, the boundaries of the new and expanded AVAs “specifically excluded” the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, as well as its sub-region, the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA.  And it remains so – keeping Santa Cruz weird.

Click here to read the official documents relating to the petition and public comments of the: Central Coast Expansion -Federal Register Jan 20 1999

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

Mind your Latitude: 36° North

We’ve looked at wine through the lens of grapes, places, soils, barrels, bottles, and stems…and for the next few weeks we’re taking a look at latitude. Today, we present: 36 degrees North!

Island of Rhodes: The island of Rhodes, located in the Aegean (Mediterranean) Sea is one of the most famous of the Greek Islands.  Rhodes is rugged and mountainous, with most of the vineyards planted near the coast in the lower slopes and foothills of the mountains. Rhodes produces a range of wine, including two styles with protected designation of origin (PDO) classification. The Rhodes PDO is approved for a range of dry to semi-sweet wines in red, white, or rosé. The main grape varieties of the Rhodes PDO include Athiri (white) and Mandilaria (red). The Muscat of Rhodes PDO is approved for the production of sweet wines based on the Moschato  Aspro (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) variety. Muscat of Rhodes PDO may be produced as a vin doux naturel (a wine fortified during fermentation), vin du liqueur (a wine fortified before fermentation), or it may be produced from sun-dried grapes.

Jerez de la Frontera: Jerez de la Frontera—a city well-known for flamenco, dancing horses, and an amazing Cathedral—is home to Sherry, one of the world’s leading fortified wines. Tucked into a sunbaked corner of Andalucía about ten miles (16 km) inland from the Bay of Cádiz,  Jerez forms one “tip” of the Sherry Triangle along with the towns of El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The famous wine of region—produced under the auspices of the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO—is aged within the boundaries of the Sherry Triangle. Here, the warm-yet-fluctuating climate—somewhat tempered by the salty sea breezes—as well as the 300-plus days of sunshine a  year combine to create the area’s unique terroir. We can find thousands of barrels of Sherry here, piled upon one another in hundreds of solera systems, scattered throughout dozens of bodegas…all experiencing the alchemy that the region plays upon its wine.

Málaga: The Málaga DO is located in a warm, sunny area of southern Andalucía bordering the Mediterranean Sea and the fabulous beaches of Spain’s Costa del Sol. A wide range of wines are produced here, mainly from heat-loving grape varieties such as Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel de Alejandría, and Moscatel de Grano Menudo (Moscatel Morisco).  Dry wines produced in the area are typically released under the Sierras Sierras de Málaga DO, while those of the Málaga DO are typically sweet, but produced in a range of styles—including off-dry, semi-sweet, and very sweet wines—as well as fortified wines, unfortified wines, and those that are enriched with arrope (concentrated, heated grape must). Wines of the Málaga DO include Vino Tierno (produced from sun-dried grapes),   Vino de Uvas Sobremaduradas (produced from overripe grapes),  and Málaga Trasañejo (aged for a minimum of 5 years in oak).

Monterey, CA: Monterey County, located along California’s Pacific Coast between Santa Cruz County (to the north) and San Luis Obispo County (to the south) is included—in its entirety—within the California Central Coast AVA. Monterey County is one of the top five wine-producing counties in California and produces over 20% of the state’s Chardonnay. Despite its southerly latitude, Monterey County is largely a cool-climate region due to the east-west orientation of parts of the coastal mountain ranges, which helps to draw the cooling ocean breezes inland. Well-known wineries in Monterey County include Hahn Estate, Calera Wine Company, and Chalone.

Grand Cru Mornag AOC: Grand Cru Mornag is an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) wine region located in Tunisia. Located in the north of the country near the Mediterranean Sea, the region surrounds the city of Tunis, stretching from the coastal plain into the hills that slope down towards the Lake of Tunis. Tunisia is Africa’s northernmost country, and contains nearly 35,000 acres (14,000 ha) of vines—almost all located in the far north of the country near the Mediterranean Coast. There is a good deal of French influence to be found in Tunisian wine, and the grape varieties largely mimic those found in the French regions of Provence and Languedoc. One of the best-known wines of the region is a red blend   produced by Château Mornag using a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Merlot.

Nagano: The Nagano Prefecture is located on the Japanese island of Honshu (the largest and most populous island in the country). The area—sometimes referred to as the Shinshu Wine Valley, referring to an old-fashioned synonym for Nagano—is surrounded by the mountains that reach up to 9,400 feet (3,000 m) high. The vineyards of the Nagano Prefecture are tucked into valleys and basins of these mountains and feature a range of grapes including Merlot, Pinot Gris, Niagara, Ryugan, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Muscat Bailey-A. The Nagano Prefecture was one of the first places in Japan to pass legislation to regulate its wines—approving the Nagano Appellation Control (NAC) program in 2002. According to NAC standards, Nagano wine must be produced using 100% Nagano grapes in accordance with specific standards for viticulture and vinification.

Santa Cruz Mountains AVA: The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, established in 1981, was one of the first AVAs to be established according to elevation, and its western boundary ensures that it is perched just above the fog line on the Pacific Coast. The AVA is largely planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—however red Bordeaux varieties thrive here as well—and the area lays claim to being the coolest (in terms of climate) Cabernet Sauvignon-producing region in California. The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which is tucked in betwixt and between several other AVAs, is also the only section of California’s coast—stretching from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco Bay—that is not part of the larger Central Coast AVA. As a matter of fact, it is “specifically excluded” from both the Central Coast AVA and the overlapping San Francisco Bay AVA. It seems that by the time the Central Coast AVA was dreamt up, Santa Cruz Mountains already had an established reputation, and they did not care to be swallowed up by the new (at the time), somewhat amorphous Central Coast AVA.

Shandong, China: The Chinese province of Shandong, located on the shores of the Yellow Sea, has a 1,800 mile- (3,000 km-) long coastline, a temperate climate, and mild winters.  Shandong has been producing vinifera-based wine since at least 1890, when the owners of the Changyu Winemaking (now known as the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company and considered by many to be the first “modern” winery in China) imported more than 100 vinifera varieties into the region. The leading vinifera grape varieties of Shandong include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt, Riesling, Chardonnay, Marselan, and Petit Verdot.

Yadkin Valley AVA, North Carolina: The Yadkin Valley AVA is tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwestern North Carolina. The region follows the Yadkin River for over 100 miles—through eight counties—and is home to over three dozen wineries and 400 acres (162 ha) of vines. This area was traditionally home to tobacco farms, but as tobacco farming and cigarette manufacture declined, local farmers turned to viticulture and wine production as an alternative. The Yadkin Valley AVA grows some native North American varieties—such as Norton, Muscadine, and Scuppernong—but is also planted to some vinifera varieties including Pinot Gris, Riesling, Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Approved in 2003, the Yadkin Valley AVA was the first AVA in North Carolina. North Carolina now contains two other AVAs—the Swan Creek AVA and Haw River Valley AVA—and is, along with the state of Georgia, part of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Click here for more information on our “Mind your Latitude” series

Five Fast Facts about the Mayacamas Mountains

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The Mayacamas Mountain Range is a short mountain range—stretching just 52 miles (80 km) in a northwest-southeasterly direction—but it is very well-known to wine lovers as the range that forms the dividing line between Napa and Sonoma counties. However, the famous Napa/Sonoma divide only accounts for about 30 miles of the famous mountains’ total length of 52 miles. Read on to see what else makes the Mayacamas Mountains famous!

#1—Cobb Mountain: Cobb Mountain, peaking at 4,720 feet (1,439 m), is the highest point in the Mayacamas Range. It lies just outside of the town of Cobb in Lake County. The mountain is located outside of the range of any Lake County AVAs, but is only about five miles south of the southern edge of the Red Hills—Lake County AVA (and the larger Clear Lake AVA). This portion of the Mayacamas is responsible for the rolling hills and high-elevation vineyards of the Red Hills-Lake County AVA, which range in elevation from 1,600 to 2,500 feet (490 to 760 m) above sea level.

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#2—Mount Saint Helena: Mount Saint Helena, located at the boundaries of Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties, has five peaks that form something of an “M” shape. One of those peaks is located within the Knights Valley AVA and is the highest point in Sonoma County. The second-tallest peak—at 4,200 feet (1,280 m)—is the highest point in Napa County (this peak is located within the Napa Valley AVA but to the north of the Calistoga AVA). Both of these peaks may be reached via hiking trails located within Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

#3—The Napa River: Mount Saint Helena is the source of the Napa River. The Napa River runs for 50 miles (88 km) from the southeast slope of Mount Saint Helena through the revered Napa AVAs of Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and Oak Knoll (as well as the city of Napa) before heading towards the Napa/Sonoma Marsh. The last 17 miles of the Napa River take it from the Trancas Steet bridge in Napa to the city of Vallejo through the Carquinez Straits—a long estuary bordering and empyting into San Pablo Bay.

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#4—The Watersheds: Towards their northern edge—just before the Mayacamas Mountains blend into the Mendocino Range in Mendocino County, the Mayacamas Mountains form the boundary between the watershed of the Russian River (as it flows south into Sonoma) and Clear Lake. This is one of the differentiating factors between the terroir of Mendocino County and Lake County.

#5—The Howell Mountains: The famous Howell Mountain AVA (of Napa Valley) is actually located within a mountain range known as the Howell Mountains. The Howell Mountains blend into the Mayacamas in northern Napa just north/west of their famous namesake mountain and namesake AVA. The Howell Mountains begin just north of San Pablo Bay and form the border between the Suisun Valley (of Solano County) AVA and the Napa Valley AVA. From there, they extend to the north/northwest for about 40 miles (64 km), after which they blend into the Mayacamas. The Howell Mountains are also known as the Mt. George Range; the southern portions of the mountains are often referred to as the Napa Hills.

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In terms of mountainous parentage, the Mayacamas Mountains are considered to be part of the Coast Ranges of California—which (in addition to the Mayacamas Range) include the Vaca Mountains, the Mendocino Range, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Coast Ranges of California span for over 400 miles (640 km) from Humboldt County, through Mendocino, onward through Napa and Sonoma—all the way south to Santa Barbara County.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Wine Geo: Pass, Gap, and Gorge

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I checked the ever-expanding list of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) the other day, and for some reason my attention was drawn (once again) to the various geological formations that are mentioned in the titles. These include ridge, slope, plateau, sound, highlands, peak, ledge, and delta.  Fascinating! But…what do they all mean?

Let’s consider these for now: pass, gap, and gorge—as in Pacheco Pass, Templeton Gap, and Columbia Gorge.

What is a pass? Geomorphologically speaking, a pass (often referred to as a mountain pass) is a low-lying, somewhat flat area surrounded by much higher and more rugged terrain. A pass forms when a glacier or stream erodes away between two mountains or a series of mountains. Passes are typically the easiest route for people to travel across mountain ranges and many of the best-known passes in the world—such as the Great St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland and the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan—have served this purpose for millennia.

The Pacheco Pass AVA is located in north/central California, straddling the borders of San Benito and Santa Clara counties.  Casa de Fruta, part of a large fruit orchard and fruit stand complex catering to thirsty tourists on the road to Gilroy and Santa Cruz, is the only winery within the AVA. The area was awarded an AVA in 1984 after a petition was filed by the Zanger family (the owners of Casa de Fruta), who produce fruit wine under the Casa de Fruta label and vinifera-based wines under the Zanger Vineyards label.

Highway 152 along the Pacheco Pass. Photo by Chevy111 via Wikimedia Commons

The Pacheco Pass itself is a 15-mile long corridor that crosses the Diablo Range (part of the California Coast Mountain Ranges) along what is now State Highway 52. The Pass was named for Francisco Perez Pacheco who owned the land in the mid-1800s, back when the area was still a part of Mexico known as Alta California. For a time in the 1880s, the pass was known as Robber’s Pass due to two highwaymen that robbed (and sometimes murdered) travelers along the route. Even today, the stretch of the Highway 152 from Los Banos to Gilroy is quite dangerous, as witnessed by the high number of traffic accidents. There are even rumors that the pass is haunted (best not to pick up any hitch-hikers).

What is a gap? A gap is also a low area between two mountains; however, gaps are smaller than passes, and therefore more rugged and difficult to navigate.  Gaps (sometimes referred to as water gaps) are often created through the twin forces of water erosion and tectonic plate uplift.

A wind gap is a former water gap that no longer has any water due to stream capture (the diversion of a stream from its bed into a neighboring stream). The narrow valleys that remain behind after the stream has diverted allow rain, fog, and other climate features to penetrate beyond the point where the mountains would typically halt their progress.

The Templeton Gap District AVA is one of the 11 sub-appellations of Paso Robles. Surrounding the town on Templeton, it is one of the four sub-appellations hugging the western edge of the Paso Robles AVA and is the coolest of them all. The area benefits from a series of water and wind gaps carved through the California Coast Mountain Ranges by some long-forgotten water ways in addition to the Paso Robles Creek and the Salinas River. These gaps draw cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean inland towards Paso Robles.

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What is a gorge? A gorge is deeper than a pass or a gap, and is better described as a narrow valley with steep, rocky walls and an often-tumultuous river running through the bottom. The term comes from the French word gorge, which means throat or neck.

Wine students will easily recognize the name of the Columbia Gorge AVA, which straddles the borders of Washington State and Oregon.  The gorge itself is a deep canyon—up to 4,000 feet deep—of the Columbia River that stretches on for over 80 twisty, turn-y miles following the river as it flows west through the Cascade Mountains.  (The AVA covers about 40 of those 80 miles.) The Columbia Gorge (also technically a “water gap”) is the only water route from the Columbia River Plateau to the Pacific Ocean, and was used in 1806 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition (the first U.S. Army expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States) to reach the Pacific Coast.

The Columbia Gorge AVA is known for having a remarkable diversity of specific microclimates within its relatively small boundaries—so much so that the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers invite you to experience their “world of wine in 40 miles.” The soils of the Columbia Gorge AVA include alluvial soils from the river beds, colluvial soils from landslides, and soils from volcanic activity (hello, Mount Hood and Mount Adams). The elevation of the vineyards ranges from just above sea level to 2,000 feet high. The cool, moist air coming from the west turns warmer and drier as it travels inland, even losing an inch of rain a mile from west to east. That’s what we call diversity.

The Columbia Gorge

Geo notes: In addition to pass, gap, and gorge, other terms may be used to describe the breaks in mountain ridges: notch, saddle, and col, for example. These terms are not too sharply defined; overlaps exist, and usage may vary from place to place. No one ever said wine (or geology) was easy!

Geomorphology is the study of the origin and evolution of physical features of the surface of the earth (and other planets if you care to venture forth).

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Tales of the Vine: Flying Cigars

Tales of the Vine: Flying Cigars

Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhône is one of the oldest and most prestigious wine growing regions in France.  The famous red wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is made from a chorus of grapes, with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre making up the bulk of the blend.

The town name, roughly translated as “New Castle of the Pope”, refers to a time in the fourteenth century when the French Pope Clement V resided not in Rome but in the city of Avignon, a short fifteen-minute drive from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine making region. Pope Clement’s successor, Pope John XXII, chose the town for his summer residence, and built the namesake “new castle” papal estate on a hill overlooking the vineyards. Pope John XXII also planted olive trees, expanded the vineyards, and was a great proponent of the wines of the region.

To this day, the castle’s majestic remains loom over the town and form a picturesque backdrop to the surrounding vineyards.

In 1954, at the height of the cold war, this famous wine region and the nearby town were suddenly plagued with a series of U.F.O. sightings.  The town and the surrounding areas were full of panic-stricken citizens and rampant rumors of an alien invasion. The town council was very concerned – but not about the public panic or the possibility of local citizens being abducted by aliens.  What concerned the town council was protecting the region’s priceless vineyards. In response, the following municipal decree was adopted:

Article 1:  The flying overhead, landing, and taking off of aeronautical machines called “flying saucers” or “flying cigars”, of whatever nationality they may be, is strictly forbidden in the territory of the commune of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Article 2:  Any aeronautical machine –“flying saucer” or “flying cigar”-that lands on the territory of the commune will be immediately confiscated and its passengers taken off to jail.

The “flying cigar” laws remain on the books today.

Several decades later, renegade winemaker Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz, California set out to create a California Wine based on the grape varieties and in the style of the legendary red wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, he named his wine, with a respectful tongue held-in-cheek, “Le Cigare Volant”.  “Le Cigare Volant” is the French term for “flying saucer”.

Oh…and by the way – you can stop worrying…as far as I know, no flying saucers have ever landed in the commune of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.