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Having pride of place

Kelly J. Hayes

Does it matter to you where your wine comes from?Do you read a label and make decisions about what wine you are going to buy based on its origin? Would you be more inclined to purchase a wine because it comes from France? Or Italy? Or Napa? Or even Calistoga?Many in the wine industry have long believed that there is power in a products place of origin, that consumers take into account where a grape is grown and where the wine is made before they put their money down to purchase it. Research has born this out, and it has been said that a wine labeled as from the Napa Valley can fetch more than a similar bottle from say, Temecula, on the basis of the label alone.International laws protect certain wine regions from unscrupulous marketers who would usurp the name of a region, place it on bottles of wine made thousands of miles away from that region, and attempt to profit from the confusion they have created for wine buyers.This past January, authorities in Antwerp, Belgium, confiscated and destroyed 3,200 bottles of a product labeled as California Champagne. The sparkling wine is sold under the Andre label, a brand owned by E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif. Gallo denied involvement, indicating that a third party had shipped the wine, and, regardless, the wine was not designated for distribution in the European Union, which has strict laws about using the name Champagne on wines that are not from the Champagne region in France.But the situation brought international attention to the concept that a wine label should accurately reflect where a wine comes from rather than where the marketer would like the public to believe it comes from.The first classification systems for a wines origins were created to help identify the quality of what was in a bottle. As far back as the 1730s, the Hungarians had developed a system ranking vineyards based on sun, soil, location, the things that we have since come to refer to as terroir. Since that time the French, Germans, Italians and just about every other wine-producing region in the world have put designations in place to help consumers understand where a wine comes from and the qualities that have gone into making that wine.In the U.S., we have a system whereby an arm of the federal government, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), designates certain geographical regions as American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. Currently there are 187 AVAs spread across 30 states. These are also referred to as appellations of origin.For an area to become an AVA there must be a petition to the TTB that shows the region is deserving either because it is well known for its wines, or has distinct geological characteristics that make it unique, or has historical significance in wine production.California produces close to 90 percent of all the wines in this country and, as expected, has the most AVAs, with more than 100 areas so designated. The largest American AVA is the Ohio River Valley AVA, which spans 16 million acres across portions of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. The smallest is the Cole Ranch appellation in Mendocino County in Northern California, which measures just 187 acres, or about one-quarter of a square mile.The first American Viticulture Area was identified in 1980 by the TTB in the seemingly unlikely locale of Augusta, Mo. The region, which is on the north bank (would that be the left or right bank?) of the Missouri River, is west of St. Louis in St. Charles County. Perhaps half a dozen or so wineries operate in the region producing cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and wines from the official Missouri state grape, Norton.TTB laws state that if one is going to identify an AVA region on a bottle of wine as the place of that wines origin, then at least 85 percent of the grapes must come from that AVA. There are other restrictions and variations on these rules, but they are largely in place to help protect consumers from being misled about the origin of a wine.Where a wine comes from may not be as important as how a wine a tastes. But as consumers become more savvy about the origins of the things they consume, not just wine, but their food as well, it is good to know that it is easy to tell where you wine was grown.Simply read the label and picture the place. It may help you enjoy your wine just a little more.Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.

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