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Anderson Valley AVA

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | June 17, 2011

In stark contrast to Sonoma County American Viticulture Areas (AVAs), most other wine regions have their AVAs defined in a much more orderly fashion. Nowhere is this truer than Mendocino County of northern California. In addition to the relatively simple layout used for defining the AVAs found in Mendocino County, each individual AVA maintains unique characteristics. This can be seen in comparing wines produced within the Anderson Valley AVA against wines produced elsewhere in Mendocino County. Anderson Valley wines have a definite distinction of place while most other Mendocino County AVAs produce good but predictable wine.

The Anderson Valley AVA was formed in 1983. This was roughly the same year most other Mendocino County AVAs were formed. Despite being formed in the early 1980s, the Anderson Valley AVA still retains an element of youth. This can be seen in the fact that at the time of this writing only 2,000 acres of grapes have been planted. Out of these 2,000 acres the majority are owned by one wine producer, Roederer Estate.

The Anderson Valley AVA has an almost perfect geometric shape to its borders. Located in the middle of Mendocino County, the Anderson Valley AVA is approximately twenty miles long and eight miles wide. The Anderson Valley AVA is completely contained within the Coast Mountain range and also is home to the Navarro River. One additional AVA overlaps into the northwest portion of the Anderson Valley AVA. This AVA is known as the Mendocino Ridge AVA. Finally, while the Navarro River does flow through the Anderson Valley, the Anderson Valley AVA stops about nine miles short from reaching the Pacific Ocean.

The climate of the Anderson Valley AVA is greatly influenced by the moderating effects of the Pacific Ocean. Due to this fact, the Anderson Valley AVA falls within the characteristics of cool climate viticulture. Due to the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean, cool air and fog normally flow into the Anderson Valley AVA. From the starting point of the Anderson Valley AVA, fog rolls in and gradually diminishes as it infiltrates the Anderson Valley. Due to the fog variations, temperature variations are also found within the Anderson Valley AVA. Several towns within the Anderson Valley AVA serve as reference points for the temperature variations. The town of Navarro is closest to the Pacific Ocean while the town of Boonville is located at the opposite end of the Anderson Valley AVA. The town of Philo is located between Navarro and Boonville.

As mentioned earlier, the Pacific Ocean has a moderating effect on the temperatures of the Anderson Valley AVA. With the density of the Pacific Ocean fog becoming lighter further inland, the corresponding temperatures are usually warmer than those temperatures found near the Pacific Ocean and Navarro. For example, temperatures found at the town of Boonville are typically eight degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the temperatures found at the town of Philo. Cool would be the word to describe the normal temperatures found within the Anderson Valley AVA. On a typical day in July the midday temperature may reach the lower 80s while nighttime temperatures fall down to the high 40s.

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Plantings found within the Anderson Valley AVA are small. Varieties such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer stand out. This is not very surprising as the cool temperatures found within the Anderson Valley AVA result in cool climate grapes such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer performing the best. Because of this fact, the Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines produced within the Anderson Valley AVA show a definite distinction of place. The quality of both Gewurztraminer and Riesling is evident in the fact that late harvest Riesling wines retain characteristics found within the Mosel region of Germany. The only other location within Northern California sporting a comparable Gewurztraminer wine is Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines produced within the Anderson Valley AVA are not as refined as Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines. This mainly has to do with poor clone selection during vineyard development. It is important to remember that during the development of the Anderson Valley AVAs vineyards, cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones were unavailable. Recently new plantings of Dijon cloned Pinot Noir have been introduced, but it is still to early to determine the quality of wine produced by these clones.

Looking to the future, it seems clear that Anderson Valley acreage will increase with the introduction of Dijon clones and the continued development of Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

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