TTB Approves Petaluma Gap AVA

Backers celebrate victory for Sonoma County growing area

by Kate Lavin
wine  grapevine petaluma gap ava sonoma marin
The boundaries of the new Petaluma Gap AVA (shown in red) cross the Sonoma-Marin county line.

San Rafael, Calif.—Members of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance will have an extra reason to celebrate tonight at their annual holiday party: This morning the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau published its final rule on the region in the Federal Register, making Petaluma Gap the country’s newest American Viticultural Area (AVA).

The move marks the culmination of several years’ worth of promotion and work on the part of grapegrowers and winemakers in the region, most of whom previously labeled their wines as products of the Sonoma Coast AVA or Marin County. But according to Ana Keller, estate director for Keller Estate in Petaluma, Calif., “This is the beginning, not the destination.”

Keller Estate farms 90 acres of vineyard and produces about 5,000 cases of wine per year, making it one of the largest wineries in the new region. According to Keller, wineries are the first group that will benefit from the AVA’s establishment. About 2,000 acres of vineyard are farmed in the boundaries of the new Petaluma Gap AVA, and wineries looking for Sonoma Coast fruit will now have a better idea what they can expect from Petaluma Gap vineyards, which have a growing reputation for outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Evan Pontoriero, owner of Fogline Vineyards in Fulton, Calif., told Wines & Vines that the Sonoma Coast appellation could refer to the Russian River sub-appellation or even west Sonoma County, and having an established Petaluma Gap AVA gives consumers the opportunity to identify what they like about a wine from the region and find it again.

Making it official
Members of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance began taking steps toward AVA designation in 2014 and submitted their application to the TTB in February 2015. Winemaker Doug Cover had been involved in writing environmental impact studies and created the proposal.

The application was well on its way to being approved early this year, when the new presidential administration was sworn in, and the U.S. president instituted an order to curtail new government regulations. U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman sent letters to treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to get the process back on track.

History and the future
Pontoriero believes the Petaluma Gap name connects the region's growers and winemakers to the heritage of Petaluma, which grew ample grapes prior to Prohibition, often meeting up with supply from the Central Valley for blending at the mouth of the Petaluma River.

Known for its eggs and dairy products today, Petaluma is still a multi-agricultural area that Keller hopes will draw more attention for its wine as a result of the new designation. Currently most of the grapes grown inside the Petaluma Gap go to wineries outside its boundaries, but Keller is optimistic that winery tasting rooms could start populating downtown Petaluma as word spreads about the region’s wines.

Unlike other wine industry trade associations whose members are limited to wineries and vineyards, the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Association includes members of the public who have supported the group’s campaign to be recognized. Tonight between 80 and 90 members will join winemakers and grapegrowers in celebrating their victory and toasting the new AVA.


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