08.07.2013  
 

Northwest Prepares for New Wine Districts

TTB accepts petition for Willow Creek Idaho vineyard area

 
by Peter Mitham
 
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Buds break on Dijon clone Chardonnay at 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards, where owner Martha Cunningham is seeking creation of the Willow Creek Idaho AVA.
Eagle, Idaho—Plans are afoot for the first sub-appellations in Idaho’s Snake River AVA, the sprawling territory in which most of the state’s vineyards operate.

A petition led by Martha Cunningham of 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards seeking creation of the Willow Creek Idaho AVA just north of Eagle, Idaho, was recently accepted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

The petition was drafted with the assistance of Dr. Clyde Northrup of the Department of Geosciences at Boise State University and Dr. Gregory Jones, a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Southern Oregon University. Jones previously analyzed the climate and landscape of the Snake River Valley AVA for the Idaho Wine Commission in 2009.

While the Willow Creek name is well known, work was required to define the distinctive viticultural character of the area that has 67 acres of vineyards planted. An additional 400 acres have been identified by real estate developer M3 Companies LLC for vineyard development.

(One winery besides 3 Horse Ranch—Woodriver Cellars—sits within the proposed AVA’s boundaries.)

“Located in the foothills north of Eagle, Idaho, in higher, more rugged terrain than much of the Snake River Valley, the proposed AVA contains rolling foothills, benches, alluvial fans and badlands commonly underlain by alkaline lake bed deposits,” Cunningham said in description issued last weekend in announcing the petition’s submission. “Due to the hilly local topography and source materials, soils are well-drained and rich in rock and mineral grains, with relatively low water-holding capacity and low organic matter contents.”

Cunningham explained to Wines & Vines that multiple pronounced microclimates in the hilly region as well as well-drained soils with low organic matter contribute to what she described in a news release last weekend as, “a regionally unique phenology and chemistry of wines produced from grapes grown in the Willow Creek area.”

The petition for Willow Creek is the second such petition from Idaho; in May, growers led by Dr. Alan Busacca—a former Washington State University professor and now principal of Vinitas Vineyard Consultants LLC and general manager of the Center for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College—refiled a petition for the creation of the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. The proposed AVA lies in eight counties surrounding Clarkston, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho, and is home to approximately 20 vineyards and five wineries.

A June 2011 petition was returned by federal regulators for revision last year with a request that petitioners address an overlap with the Columbia Valley AVA, a point addressed by the new proposal (see “Idaho Wine Industry Readies for Growth”).

Defining the Northwest
Idaho isn’t alone in its bid for the creation of new sub-appellations. However, growers in the Pacific Northwest are among the most ardent outside California when it comes to seeking the creation of new AVAs.

While there are 18 new AVAs proposed for California (11 in the Paso Robles AVA alone), all but one of the four remaining on the TTB website are proposed for the Pacific Northwest.

In January growers in Umatilla County, Ore., petitioned for the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a sub-appellation within the Walla Walla Valley AVA. And, on the west side of the state, Willamette Valley growers plan to resubmit a petition for the creation of an AVA in the Perrydale area.

An initial petition was submitted in May, but Dave Masciorini of Namaste Vineyards in Dallas, Ore., told Wines & Vines the petition was returned with a request for more scientific data and greater evidence for the name being sought for the AVA.

Masciorini expects the committee backing the proposal to resubmit its petition after harvest this fall, meaning the TTB could be considering the application by the new year.

While several sub indications have been proposed for the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, growers there have yet to make formal application for the recognition of highly regarded regions such as the Naramata Bench near Penticton, the Black Sage Bench opposite Oliver or the Golden Mile between Oliver and Osoyoos.

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