Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Middleburg Gets Some Signage For Their AVA

Courtesy of Boxwood Winery
The Commonwealth of Virginia is home to a number of American Viticultural Areas (AVA) such as Monticello (1984), the North Fork of Roanoke (1987) , the Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace (1987), Rocky Knob (1987), and Virginia’s Eastern Shore (1991), as well as sharing the Shenandoah Valley AVA (1987) with West Virginia. As you can see, the last AVA from the above list was Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 1991, with the remaining acquiring a designation in the 1980's.

In terms of the contemporary Virginia wine making industry, that's ancient history and quite a lot has changed since those early petitions. For instance, the petitioner of the North Fork of Roanoke AVA, Woolwine Winery, was the precursor to Chateau Morrisette and this AVA as well as Rocky Knob are currently home to very few commercial vineyards. In contrast, the number of vineyards in Northern Virginia have escalated rapidly in the past two decades particularly in Fauquier County and its northern neighbor Loudoun County, where there are now over 60 wineries operating between the two. 

Back in 2006, Rachel Martin, Executive V.P. at Boxwood Winery thought there was enough similar characteristics in geology, soil, climate and geography between many of these wineries that warranted a petition to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to designate a distinct AVA. The TTB defines an American Viticultural Area (AVA) as
A viticultural area for American wine is a delimited grape-growing region having distinguishing features as described in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 27 CFR part 9 and a name and delineated boundary as established in part 9 of the regulations. These designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin.
According to Martin, the designation matters for a number of reasons, first because it will allow wineries within the AVA to label their wines as “estate bottled” if the wine meets these conditions as stated by Steve Heimoff:
Take the term “estate bottled.” Up until now, a wine can be called “estate bottled” only if (a) it is labeled with an appellation of origin, and (b) the bottling winery is located in the labeled viticultural area, grew all of the grapes used to make the wine on land owned or controlled by the winery within the boundaries of the labeled viticultural area; and crushed the grapes (there are some additional restrictions).
Second, an AVA designation gives a wine a place of origin, even if it doesn't meet the estate condition. Since 85% of the grapes must be grown within the AVA, it gives consumers confidence that a particular wine labelled with an AVA contains fruit grown in that jurisdiction. Perfect for the locapour movement.

Finally, an AVA designation provides a huge marketing advantage to the area and even the state, particularly when the Virginia Wine Board and the Secretariat of Transportation and the Secretariat of Agriculture and Forestry get involved.  These agencies have developed the Virginia Wine Region Sign Program which, as you would expect, road signs promoting the various AVAs and wine regions within the state. 

View Midleburg AVA in a larger map

In September of 2012, the TTB announced that Martin's petition had been approved and the Middleburg AVA was officially created. The AVA boundary is quite detailed and maps to 46 unique points bounded by the Potomac River to the north and mountains to the east, south and west. The TTB lists these map points in detail here. In total, the Middleburg AVA covers approximately 190-square miles (121,600 acres) and contains 229 acres of commercial vineyards and 14 wineries.  I've created a map of these wineries that is also embedded above. It includes many of our favorite NOVA wineries, but is also interesting in terms of those that are outside the boundary. For instance, the borders exclude eastern Middleburg and Chrysalis Vineyards as well as the western slope of Short Hill Mountain and Breaux Vineyards. Other neighboring wineries may feel disappointed, but all should expect to benefit from the designation as well as the Virginia Wine Region Sign Program.

And yesterday, March 26, First Lady Maureen McDonnell and Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore unveiled the Middleburg Virginia AVA sign at a ceremony hosted by Boxwood. Both the sign and AVA designation will assist in the continued expansion of the Virginia Wine Industry. In the words of Rachel Martin, "This AVA designation promotes Northern Virginia as a recognized US wine growing region further placing Virginia in a national context of making wine and allows us to tell a more comprehensive story of Virginia vineyards, wines, viticulture and winemaking practices."

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