11 new grape-growing regions could be carved out in North County

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comOctober 3, 2013 

The North County’s wine region is on its way to becoming more distinct.

Federal regulators on Sept. 20 proposed changing how Paso Robles’ grape-growing regions are defined, in response to petitions filed by local vintners who want a better way to designate where their wines come from, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The potential move, still in the public comment phase, is a big step for the region, officials said.

“Overall, it’s just a great indication of the maturation of the Paso Robles AVA,” said Jason Haas, partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard. Haas is one of 59 members on the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area Committee that petitioned for the change in 2007.

American viticultural areas (AVAs) are grape-growing regions distinguishable by geographic features such as history, climate, soil, elevation and location that are recognized by the federal government and used in wine bottle labeling.

The proposal is to create 11 new sub-appellations within the existing 612,000-acre Paso Robles viticultural area that’s remained as one large district for three decades.

The change would also reflect the area’s growth. When the Paso Robles AVA started in 1983, it consisted of a handful of wineries, Haas said, compared to today’s more than 200 wineries that operate within its vast boundaries that touch several North County cities and communities.

“The thing it does for the consumer is it starts a conversation on the diversity we have inside Paso Robles (AVA),” Haas said. “As wineries, we’re able to tell better stories on why we’ve chosen the certain grapes that we have and why we’ve chosen the area we’re in.”

The new proposed areas would be Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch and Templeton Gap District, according to the Trade Bureau’s 39-page proposal.

“(They) will remain one AVA with multiple districts within,” said Christopher Taranto, spokesman for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, a wine marketing group. “It’s just a matter of providing more information. As wine consumers become more and more interested in Paso and the different attributes that make us unique, they could delve more into these specific regions.”

The physical difference, Taranto said, is each winery’s specific sub-appellation could be added to their labels if they choose to. Also, due to a labeling law passed in 2007, the Paso Robles viticultural area won’t lose the “Paso Robles” brand it has been building over the years. Should the Trade Bureau’s proposal pass, wine labels would still list Paso Robles first on the label, followed by the special sub-appellation from which the winery sources its grapes.

Changing wine labels would bring minimal costs to wineries, Haas said.

Wine Enthusiast Magazine California Bureau Chief and longtime wine writer Steve Heimoff wrote in his blog last week that it’s about time a change is made.

“In Paso’s case, the appellation is so huge that the subdivision is entirely warranted,” Heimoff wrote. “For years Paso suffered from the reputation that it was all the same: a hot, broad swathe that extended practically to the Central Valley. That never was the case.”

The Trade Bureau, which regulates the wine industry, released the proposal years after an original group of 21 local vintners and grape growers in 2005 supported a plan to divide the Paso Robles AVA into east and west sub-appellations. That plan fell through in 2007. Some of its original members wanted more defined groupings. Shortly after, another group of petitioners sought to give greater definition to the area and proposed the 11 sub-appellations under consideration today.

The public can comment on the 39-page proposal at www.ttb.gov until Jan. 21, 2014, before the bureau considers its final ruling.

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