The Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance (PGWA) has announced that a petition has been submitted to the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) asking for official recognition of the unique character and high quality of the grapes being grown in the region known as the Petaluma Gap.
The proposed AVA (American Viticultural Area) would cover some 200,000 acres in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County. The Sonoma County portion would be considered a sub-region of the current Sonoma Coast AVA. Grapes have been farmed in the Petaluma Gap area for over 150 years and there are presently 80+ vineyards comprising more than 4,000 acres of vines. Primary varietals grown in the proposed AVA are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.
“We began this process two years ago” says Ana Keller, president of the Alliance. “We felt that the Sonoma Coast AVA was too broad and that a separate Petaluma Gap AVA would help consumers recognize the special character of this area. Over the past two years we began assembling information outlining why this area is so special. In addition to the cool climate and morning fog, the daily afternoon wind roaring into the area through the Petaluma Gap is really what defines us. We documented the data and have now sent our petition on to the TTB for consideration.”
Former Alliance president from 2010 to 2012, Paul Clary, of Clary Ranch Wines, adds “The years of groundwork that made this moment possible involved a great many hours of effort by our team of directors and community volunteers, with the overall goal of increasing awareness and respect for the region.”
The Petaluma Gap AVA petition was put together by the Alliance’s AVA Committee, chaired by Alliance vice president, Doug Cover. A longtime resident and vineyard owner in Petaluma, Doug said, “The petition addresses topography, geology, soils, watershed/groundwater, and climate. While all of these contribute to the distinctiveness of the Gap, topography is a key factor since that is what creates the "wind tunnel" effect. It is the regularity and intensity of the afternoon wind during the winegrape growing season that makes the Gap unique to surrounding areas from a viticultural perspective.”
The petition will be put under review and comments will be accepted by the TTB regarding the request. “We’re hoping for a quick and favorable answer from the TTB” says Ana. “We don’t overlap any other AVAs, our constituency is mainly growers, rather than wineries, and there’s really no reason for any opposition. Our Board of Directors and the general membership are of the same mind as to how important being granted this AVA designation will be to the area. To be able to see labels with “Petaluma Gap AVA” printed will be a great moment.
Paul Clary (top) and Evan Pontoriero (Fogline Vineyards), enlightened a packed-to-the-rafters Petaluma Woman's Club February 19th 'No Whining' dinner and multi-flight tasting event at its historic B Street clubhouse, with an in-depth presentation on the hot topic of what a government sanctioned American Viticultural Area will mean for our micro-region.
Though grapes have been grown on and off in and around Petaluma since General Vallejo planted his first vineyard in the 1830s (prohibition and the devastating Phylloxera grape pest later wiped out most all of the area's vines in the 1920s and 30s), a resurgence of new pioneers started reestablishing the area's viticultural heritage in the more recent 1990s.
Former President of the winegrowers alliance and high profile board director, Paul, talked about how long it has taken to change the mindset of people in the Petaluma area to acknowledge their region as a part of wine country. "It has taken a while to earn recognition for our vineyards," he said. A Petaluma Gap AVA will clarify the region even more so if the imminent $25,000 bid for permission to label wines made with fruit from area growers is successful.
2010 Saltonstall Estate Fizzy White Pinot Noir, a wonderful sparkling wine grown and produced on Spring Hill Road just outside of Petaluma, was introduced and poured by proprietor, Marina Saltonstall and paired with appetizers of fig and rosemary focaccia with Pecorino grapes, cheese, fruit and spiced nuts.
2013 Fogline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay — Zephyr Block (Estate) and a 2011 Keller Estate La Cruz Chardonnay were poured by Evan Pontoriero and Sue Straight, respectively. These beautiful Petaluma Gap whites were paired with Valley Ford cheese, pasta, pizzettes and spicy lemon shrimp.
2007 Clary Ranch Pinot Noir and a 2012 Fogline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Sun Chase Vineyard) were poured by Paul and Evan and served with fingerling potato skins with sour cream and chives, caramelized bacon and chicken skewers.
Petaluma Gap 2008 Azari Vineyards Shiraz and a 2006 Clary Ranch Syrah were poured by a very charming Cyrus Azari and Paul, respectively and paired with polpette (meatballs from Nonna's recipe in the pages of Fog Valley Crush) in marinara sauce on polenta with mushroom and leek bread pudding.
Suzanne Bordner from Sonoma Portworks completed the pouring for the evening with a 2007 Aris Petite Sirah Port, paired with a scrumptious slice of flourless chocolate cake.
I was invited to attend and to talk a little bit about my book, Fog Valley Crush, in which I wrote about winemaking and the history of the region's farm to table culture, including its grape growing heritage.
This was the first time I have attended one of the Woman's Club events, though I have long since admired the clubhouse itself, designed by celebrated architect Brainerd Jones (1869-1945) and home to Petaluma's women movers and shakers since 1913.