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NorCal Wine Blog
Spotlight on the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
- General Interest
- Written by Fred Swan
- Friday, 30 December 2011 18:03
The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA became effective on November 28, 2011. It is a 4,570-acre region, roughly two-thirds of which is in southern Mendocino County. The rest of the AVA is in northern Sonoma County. 1,536 acres of that overlaps both the Alexander Valley AVA and Northern Sonoma AVA. There are approximately 400 acres currently under vine or undergoing vineyard development in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA. For the full TTB approval document, see this PDF (download).
Naming Controversy Regarding Pine Mountain-Mayacmas
The AVA petition, submitted on behalf of the area’s vintners and growers, requested that the new region be designated Pine Mountain-Mayacmas [sic] AVA. There are many “Pine Mountains” in the United States, and more than one in California. The Pine Mountain within this AVA is on the western side of the Mayacamas Mountains [also written “Mayacmas, ” “Maacama” and “Mayacama”] The petition suggested a “Mayacmas” suffix would distinguish this Pine Mountain from others. It also posited that, since Mayacmas and its variants was also a name already associated with wine from the general vicinity, it would be well understood by consumers. Many from outside of the proposed AVA disagreed.
The Mayacamas Mountain range is large and stretches through four counties; not only Sonoma and Mendocino but also Napa County and Lake County. Three pre-existing AVAs are within the Mayacamas Mountains: Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain. None of them carry a Mayacamas suffix. In addition, there been a winery named Mayacamas Vineyards in the Mt. Veeder AVA, far from Pine Mountain, for 70 years. Vintners, growers and wine associations from areas of the Mayacamas outside of the newly proposed AVA argued that a Mayacmas suffix would be confusing to consumers.
Some commenters suggested Cloverdale or Cloverdale Peak would be more appropriate. It refers to a smaller area and also fell within the proposed AVA. There were no commenters in dissent with that suggestion. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which governs AVAs, agreed with both the potential confusion of a Mayacmas suffix and the value of using Cloverdale Peak instead. The TTB also ruled that neither Pine Mountain nor Pine Mountain-Cloverdale are adequately specific and are thus unacceptable for labeling purposes.
Why Create a Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA?
Why create this AVA to begin with? What makes it unique? There was a particular desire to give the vineyards in this new AVA an identity distinct from that portion of the Alexander Valley AVA which it does not overlap. The Alexander Valley AVA is expansive (76,034 acres) and many of its vineyards are on the valley floor, certainly below 600-ft in elevation. The vineyards of Alexander Valley tend to be large and their alluvial soils relatively deep. They are also prone to both fog and extremes in temperature, highs averaging 84° during the growing season and lows 49°.
The area of the Alexander Valley AVA included within the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA was not part of the original Alexander Valley AVA grant in 1984. Rather, it was included in a 1986 expansion that was adopted despite its petition making a better case for the differences between the two areas than their similarity.
Topography of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA is, as suggested by the name, a mountainous area. Another “island in the sky” AVA, it’s lowest elevation is 1,600 feet. It rises to 3,000 feet at its highest point at the peak of Pine Mountain. The steep, undulating terrain makes large, contiguous vineyards impossible. Most plots are between 5 an 20 acres and located in the odd areas where the slopes are most gentle. The AVA petition contrasts this with both the low, flat ground on the Alexander Valley floor which allows contiguous vineyards in excess of 100 acres. It also differs from areas just outside the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA to the south and west that are so consistently steep that even small vineyards are impractical.
Soils of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
As is typical of mountain vineyards, soils in Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak tend to be shallow and very well-drained. The petition claims that more than half of the soils are less than 12 inches deep, though there are areas of moderate depth. The good, sometimes excessive, drainage is a factor not just of that shallowness, but also steep slopes and appreciable sand and gravel content within the soil.
Climate of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
The unique climate of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA is a function of both its altitude and its exposure to sun. The high altitude brings cooler temperatures on average throughout the year. This delays the start of its growing season by two weeks in most years. However, at upwards of 1,600 feet the vineyards are above the fog line and thus get more morning and late afternoon sun than many of those on the valley floor. As a result, grapes achieve picking ripeness on roughly the same dates as the valley floor fruit despite their later start.
The average diurnal temperature range of 14° is less than half that of the valley floor. While a big diurnal swing is typically seen as favorable for vineyards with high daytime temperatures, that isn’t needed on Pine Mountain where highs during the growing season average just 74°. Facing is important though. The AVA's boundaries were deliberately set so as to exclude land to the north and east that doesn’t get enough direct sun to achieve such ripeness.
The vineyards up on Pine Mountain see more rain than those on the valley floor, up to 60% more. That is beneficial because of the shallow, well-drained soils. The hillside vineyards also experience a lot more wind. That is said to keep the grapes dry and, despite the rain, makes mildew less common in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA than on the valley floor with its fog and relatively still air.
History of Wine Growing in the Pine Mountain Area
It is not known when the first wine grapes were planted on Pine Mountain. Tara Sharp, co-manager of Tin Cross Vineyards, told Wines & Vines that she has a land grant from 1856 indicating that a vineyard had been planted the year before. The “Thompson Historical Atlas Map of Sonoma County,” created in 1877, is said to show “several” active vineyards. The Preston Ranch, established in 1869 by Hartwell and Emily Preston, eventually included not just a vineyard but also a cooperage and winery. [That ranch covered roughly 1,500 acres and stretched from lowland near the Russian River to the slopes of Pine Mountain. The Preston Ranch Vineyard now belonging to deLorimier Winery was likely part of the historic property. It is within the Alexander Valley AVA but is too close to the river and too low in altitude to be within the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA.]
Primary Wine Grape Varietals of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
The most popular varietals in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA now are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Other grapes with significant presence are Zinfandel, some of it old vine, and Chardonnay. Some Syrah is also grown.
Wineries in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
At present, there is just one bonded winery within the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA. BobDog Winery is the winemaking side of Sky Pine Vineyards. The winery claims to be the highest in Sonoma County (2,000 feet). The 15-acre vineyard grows Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot on slopes of up to 30 degrees.
While BobDog Winery, which also makes wine under the Sky Pine label, is the only winery physically located in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA, there are important wineries which have used fruit from the AVA. They include Benziger Family Winery which has its own vineyards there and Francis Ford Coppola, Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak and Jordan which source from 3rd party vineyards.
Vineyards in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA
Tin Cross Vineyards (Capture Wines)
Reichel Vineyard (Respite Wines)
Pine Mountain Vineyards
Sky Pine Vineyards (BobDog Winery)
Benziger Family Winery
Jackson Family (280 unplanted acres, purchased from Seghesio in January, 2013)
Wild Creek Ranch
Oak Ridge Ranch and Vineyards
Black Oak Basin Vineyards
T & P Vineyard
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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Pine Mountain banner courtesy of Sky Pine Vineyard. All rights reserved.