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Feb 22, 201711:29 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Pride, Myth and Lies

Andre, Getty Images, 2007

Pretty dramatic beginning, what? To clarify, wine hubris has always struck me as far more over the top than regular, run-of-the-mill hubris. I often use the phrase, “It’s only wine,” when, in reality, I don’t mean to denigrate, I merely want to tone down the rhetoric.

Yet, passion is to be admired when it is well placed. When it is just a device to self-aggrandize, then someone should set a tone of humility. I may be the least of all the candidates to set such a tone but if not me, then whom else? Okay, you are correct, of course. It could be you. Still this is my space to let off steam every Wednesday, so I cast my vote for me. 

What I am going on about are the sacred cows, American Viticultural Areas. And not just any AVA, but rather one in particular, Sonoma Coast.

Let me start at the beginning, and pay no attention to the fact that I am already at paragraph four. American Viticultural Areas are defining pieces of real estate, recognized by the Federal Government, which are supposed to assist the consumer in making an intelligent purchasing decision. These areas are constructed by winemakers, residents, farmers, and others who have vested interests in the region and who want to better “set” their location as a place that can turn out quality fruit.

The process and the definitions are used all over the world in just about every country that grows crops and processes agricultural outcomes. Kalamata olives from Greece, Valencia oranges from Spain, Key limes from Florida, and Creole tomatoes from Louisiana are each recognized for their unique qualities when compared to other, more ordinary products of their ilk. Consumers seek out these expressions of high quality and are willing to pay more because the superiority of such products is universally acknowledged.

In that vein, wine grape growers desire to set aside some of their bounty that expresses higher quality than similar products, which are good but not measurably at top of the line. The easiest way to define that special quality is to define the region of origin, associate that with a product that comes from the area, and let that speak for itself.

It’s the responsibility of the growers and the winemakers to make a case with the federal government seeking such geographic recognition. Many have done so.  It is the responsibility of the Department of the Treasury and within that august and respected bureaucracy, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau, to officially investigate requests for such designations and then rule on whether the request is based on sound facts, historic footings, and common practices. There are over 230 such designated areas, AVA’s, in the United States.

Many factors enter the legal framework of such designation requests like soil types, rainfall, sun days, temperature histories, height above sea level, even historic incidents that bind an area together. The process to become an AVA is tortuous, expensive, and time-consuming. The application process usually takes years from start to finish in order to arrive at an acceptable result, or be rejected (not an acceptable result).

But overall, to the people of the region, these AVA designations are important. Usually there is a significant benefit, both in prestige and economics, when an area is awarded the right to note it is part of and within an AVA.

Sometimes the process is straightforward, without detractors. Even logical. At other times, politics rears its ugly head and before you know it, nonsensical compromise and geographic bastardization sets in and the outcome, going either thumbs-up or thumbs-down, causes the whole process to come into question.

Such is the case of one AVA in California, Sonoma Coast. This is the largest AVA in America, encompassing more than 500,000 acres across an area more than 750 square miles in size, and running from just south of Mendocino in the north all the way down to just north of San Francisco in Marin, all along the coast, including several places inland as much as 40 miles.

There are well over 110 wineries in this area and more than 730 vineyards.

The Sonoma Coast AVA is like a crosstown bus that moves through multiple neighborhoods, picking up whomever wants to hop on, with no commonalities except to adjoin the next neighborhood. While that approach may be just fine for public transportation, it makes no sense when defining all the forces that affect an agricultural product.

Some of the members of this AVA have seen the error of the Sonoma Coast designation’s size and diversity of geography and have petitioned the TTB for sub-classifications. Fort Ross – Seaview has already taken the step to be separately recognized. More such breakaway movements are on the way.  

None of this is to suggest a lessening of quality of the wines that call this region their home. The whole matter is about providing a consumer with information needed to make an intelligent purchase, and for that consumer to have a reasonably proximate idea of what is being purchased.

The many wineries and vineyards that operate within the Sonoma Coast AVA are doing good work. It just should not be done all under the same banner.

 

-30-

 

Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored, at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/

 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

about

In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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