Leona Valley AVA Application Considered

Antelope Valley association hopes five appellations will be approved

by Jane Firstenfeld
Leona Valley AVA application considered
Lancaster, Calif. -- On Nov. 26, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a proposal to establish the Leona Valley viticultural area in the northeast part of Los Angeles County. The application, Notice No. 76, is the first of five that will be submitted in coming weeks under the auspices of the newly formed Antelope Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA).

Lancaster is the commercial center of the Antelope Valley, located about 50 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles; the area is considered "high desert," influenced more by the continental air mass than the Pacific Ocean; with annual precipitation from 9-16 inches, 210-300 frost-free, sunny days, and an average of 4,060 growing degree-days.

Grapegrowing in the proposed Leona Valley designation started in the early 1900s, according to the petition, and the 13.4-square-mile Leona Valley floor now has about 20 acres of commercial winegrape vineyards at the Leona Valley Winery and an acre of Pinot Noir grapes owned by Donato Vineyards; Donato is developing another 10 acres of winegrapes, and plans to start producing wine this year.

The current petition encompasses only the Leona Valley floor, which lies above the San Andreas Fault; plentiful groundwater is available for drip irrigation, and the diverse soils are deep and moderately drained.

According to AVWA press contact Allen Quinton, who is also assistant winemaker and handles marketing for Antelope Valley Winery, the new association is working together to secure AVAs for Antelope Valley High Desert, Agua Dulce and Juniper Hills, all in Los Angeles County; and Tehachapi-Cummings Valley in neighboring Kern County, in addition to the pending Leona Valley application.

Leona Valley AVA application considered
Leona Valley Winery wines
Quinton is quick to acknowledge the assistance AVWA (avwinegrowers.org) has received from nurseryman Ralph Carter, who had successfully prepared applications for the Covelo and Dos Rios AVAs in Mendocino County, and who submitted the Leona Valley proposal on behalf of the stakeholders. "He is passionate about this process, and held our hands from the start," Quinton says. Originally, the association had planned to request a single AVA for Antelope Valley, but Carter made a compelling case that the area's diversity warrants more specific divisions.

Since the entire area currently houses only five commercial wineries (with two more in the works) and about 33 vineyards, it was vital that everyone was on the same page for the process of defining individual areas and preparing the various applications. A co-op winery is also envisioned.

Aware of local squabbles that have hindered applications from better known viticultural areas, "We wanted to head this off at the pass. We have limited resources," Quinton acknowledges. "We wanted to make sure we are helping instead of hurting each other. We see each other once a month. Communication is going on, and we are all doing this together, right out of the box."

Leona Valley AVA Application Considered
Antelope Valley Winery and Cameo Winery, each producing about 5,000 cases per year, have been established in the area for 18 years, although both were started in Los Angeles decades earlier. Agua Dulce Vineyards, founded in 1999, produces an estimated 70,000 cases annually.

Quinton says that there have been no sightings of glassy-winged sharpshooters or symptoms of Pierce's disease. "The climate is bone dry," he says. "We could not have any rot if we wanted to." Smog from the L.A. basin blows pollution in only rarely, and the frequent Southern California wildfires have not threatened the area in recent years. Its proximity to the huge Southern California consumer base, and its still-rural atmosphere, make Antelope Valley a natural for agri-tourism. "You can see Joshua trees next to grapevines," Quinton comments, an intriguing juxtaposition by any standard.

To read the Leona Valley proposal, visit ttb.gov/wine/. Written comments will be accepted until Jan. 22.
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