Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book your own f*cking AVA

We've gotten a lot of questions about where we get our grapes from and usually the answer of The Fruitland Ridge in Southern Humboldt ("you know right above the Avenue of the Giants") brings raised eyebrows and jokes about Humboldt's #1 cash crop.

So I thought I'd take a few minutes to list the reasons for our love of the fruit from Elk Prairie Vineyards, Fruitland Ridge, Humboldt County, CA.

1) Alan Estrada - In a lean year that seemed destined for heartache and what could have beens Alan offered to sell us fruit that was already being fought over because he dug our blog and where we were coming from. Bonus for the fact that he refers to us as "the punks" and sends me Devo videos!

2) The fruit - The fruit is absolutely outstanding. There is a lot of talk about the typicity of place and this has it and then some. From the first whiff of the nose you can smell Elk Prairie and the fruit itself has a mix of french bramble and CA fruit that you just don't taste in other pinot growing regions.

3) Humboldt County Pinot Noir - Even we were a little uncertain about the potential of Pinot from Humboldt until we tasted the 2002 Woodenhead Pinot from Elk Prairie. This was an epiphany wine for both of us it signified just how good wine from this fruit could be. There is finite amount of vineyard land on The Fruitland Ridge and it produces some grapes that insiders know stand up to many of the more "prestigious" pinot growing regions in CA and OR.

4) The Vines - Unlike almost everywhere in Europe or North America the vines in Humboldt are on Native Root Stocks. In the 19th century Phylloxera (which was introduced to Europe by Phylloxera resistant American grape vines) almost completely desimated the European wine industry, and then relatively new American wine industry for that matter. The final solution for dealing with Phylloxera was to graft European vines on to American root stocks. To this day, shy of select wine growing regions in the Southern Hemisphere, almost all vines are grafted. The Fruitland ridge vines are not grafted and though possibly academic are very unique in being Pinot from roots to shoots.

5) Making great wine without an AVA - The AVA system, though useful in showing a focus towards and gift for growing certain types of grapes in certain regions, has become to some extent an overused marketing and pricing tool. There is no real "policing" of quality or typicity or even the types of grapes that are grown within an AVA shy of dollars themselves. This creates artificial prestige valuations of wines instead of valuations based on quality. Fortunately you do have a large number of grape growers and wine makers that are interested in producing quality wines that reflect a regional quality. You also have artificial pricing of land and grapes that are solely based on County lines and drawn in barriers (that can be grown or shrunk to suite) to keep this pricing. Producing high quality grapes and wine outside of the AVA process means you need to let your wines stand up for themselves and you need to find customers who see this quality as a good thing and seek out the lesser known and harder to find; wines with their own story to tell. Don't get me wrong - we looooove a good Russian River Pinot and look forward to adding some of that fruit to our 2010 efforts but we also see the value in reaching outside of these areas and seeing what honest sweat equity and great fruit can achieve in some of the lesser known wine producing areas of our state.

4 comments:

dan-O said...

couldn't have set it better myself...

mr aaron said...

and to add to the Humboldt praise. check out the mention of the '06 woodenhead from Humboldt on the top 30 list:
http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/worlds-30-best-pinot-noirs

Tracie Broom said...

h*ll yeah!

Andrew said...

Hi Guys,
We are here in Humboldt and can help fill is some gaps on what is happening with PN and other grapes. We also have some great PN made from other Humboldt Vineyards that we like at least as well as those from Elk Prairie/Fruitland Ridge.

I hope you have a chance to taste a Le Chien Blanc, or a Phelps, or one of the wines we make from grapes sourced from Elk Prairie Vineyard, on Fruitland Ridge, next door to Fruitland Ridge Vineyard. These are all from Briceland Vineyards Winery.

Joe Collins, the winemaker, is responsible for most of the PN that has been planted in the area. He still has first dibs on most of the best grapes and most of that wine sells locally. He has also encouraged several local growers to plant Sauvignon Blanc, which has done very well, including multiple awards in major competitions.

As far as the root stock issue, allow me to clarify. Some of the vineyards have been planted from cuttings that have not been grafted to Phylloxera resistant root stocks. We consider this to be a serious risk. However, some vineyards are doing OK. Perhaps due to fact that the vine density in the area is low, so far they seem to be dodging the bullet.