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02.28.2007  
 

Paso Westside Proposal Is Stirring Controversy

Comment period on new subappellation is open until Mar. 26

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
 
Washington, D.C. - The proposal to establish a new, 179,622-acre Paso Robles Westside subappellation on California's Central Coast has drawn protests from some area grapegrowers and vintners. As is its practice, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) solicited public comments when it posted Notice. No. 71. As of today, five comments have been posted on the TTB's website, ttb.gov/wine/wine_rulemaking.shtml, all but one highly critical of the proposal. The fifth, signed by officers of the Paso Robles AVA Committee, requests a 30-day extension of the comment period, due to scheduling conflicts among the committee and its legal experts.

The situation in Paso Robles is complex: for a detailed report, see "East Side-West Side" by Kathy Marcks Hardesty in Wines & Vines December 2006 issue. In his comment to TTB, grower Richard Sauret notes, "The Paso Robles appellation has proposed 11 American Viticulture Areas." He contends that boundaries between two of the districts overlap, and writes, "Until this boundary line can be brought to its proper location, I am opposed to any subappellation called Paso Robles Westside."

Stating his opposition, Terry Brady of Clautiere winery (on Paso Robles' East Side) comments, "It does not appear to be based on any scientific data, and includes such a wide diversity of land, climate, geology and soils as to be a completely arbitrary division." The proposal, he contends, ignores "any reasonable division of the whole appellation based on scientific and legal requirements." His conclusion? "This division is being requested on the basis of marketing decisions."

Blair Zajac, of Ma Vigne au Soleil, agrees. "The proposed viticulture area appears to be determined by marketing considerations, rather than viticulture considerations. My vineyard is located to the east of Templeton, and is further west than many portions of the proposed area."

Zajac notes that his soil is similar to those in the proposed Westside area, and that the climate in the Templeton Gap, where his vineyard is located, is measurably cooler. "From a wine sales consideration, implementing the proposed new boundary will have a negative impact on East Side wine sales of quality fully equal to that of the West Side."

Dennis Collins, general manager of Treana Winery, says that the application is also incorrect because, in its Impact on Current Wine Labels section, it states that establishing the subappellation will have no effect on approved Paso Robles wine labels.

"We have been producing and nationally marketing a brand, Westside, from our winery in Paso Robles for the past three years," he writes. He believes that the new subappellation would be confusing and misleading to his customers. Further, he says, it is possible that, "If the Paso Robles Westside AVA is approved…TTB would not allow us to produce a California appellation wine in our Westside brand."

Not all AVA proposals draw such adverse commentary. A proposed expansion of the San Francisco Bay AVA to include the Vallejo area adjacent to Napa County received only two brief and approving notes prior to closure of the comment period in February. However, TTB spokesman Art Resnick told Wines & Vines that a single, substantive objection could be enough to delay an application while the bureau sought more information, or even cause an application to be denied altogether. "There is no magic number," he said. "We consider all comments."

To view all the comments, or to register your opinion on Paso Robles Westside, visit the TTB website before Mar. 26.
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