Passport magazine: Russian lifestyle
Home Archive March 2012

About Us

From the Publisher

Contact Us

Current IssueArchive
Restaurant GuideRestaurant ReviewsInternational Food BlogsWine TastingsTravelMoscow EmbassiesAirlines to RussiaMoscow AirportsCustoms and VisasResidence permitMoscow Phone DirectoryMuseums and GalleriesWi-Fi Hot Spots in MoscowClubs!Community ListingsMoscow Downtown MapMoscow Metro MapRussian LinksInternational Links
Advertise with Us
Our Readers - a profileAdvertising RatesDistribution List
Click for Moscow, Russia Forecast
Our Partners
Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


What’s an AVA?
By Kenneth Friedenreich
Never apologize for what you enjoy from the abundant vineyards of our ferocious little planet. Rather consider it a continuing education in a global classroom where drink is permitted—indeed encouraged

ere I celebrate Oregon’s wine growing places, Willamette Valley and beyond: It’s part of the worldwide wine curriculum we ought to know. Beyond eccentricities of its grapes and those who tend them, I ask readers to consider the spirit of the place.

I am writing about a journey worth taking for its own sake. In the spirit of the place, I locate a little of my past, when about twenty five years ago, I made similar discoveries in Napa and Sonoma.

Vineyards first were planted in California before July 4th became the Fourth of July. Vineyards were introduced in Oregon territory before Lincoln was elected president. The first commercial winery in Willamette Valley opened in 1933—not coincidentally when the most disastrous social experiment in our history—Prohibition—was repealed. It took over a half century before Willamette received its AVA designation. This helps to explain why the California wine scene is considerably more established. Many more wineries went back to work again as the ban on booze lifted.

“We are making Oregon wine from vines similar to those in Burgundy soil. They have about a 1400 year head start.”

Willamette Valley produced apples, cherries, Christmas trees (fir), figs, filberts, grass seeds, plums and other familiar table items. But grapes for wine, though not impossible, didn’t look like a cash crop. It took some persuasion.

Jim Maresh (pronounced Marsh) proprietor and namesake of Maresh Red Barn winery in the Dundee Hills tells the story that David Adelsheim, Dick Erath and David Lett (late of Eyrie Vineyards) approached him as early as 1959 to stop growing cherries and start producing wine grapes. Maresh, a Navy veteran and Wisconsin native, starts every day on his tractor about 6 am. He has become wealthy having sold off acreage over many years to other growers and vintners with his son-in-law and grandson starting their own wineries. “They came at me three times,” the 86 year old Maresh recalls, “before I gave in. Like everyone else at the time we could not imagine planting wine grapes here.” It certainly agrees with him. He looks about twenty years younger than the date on his driver’s license.

The principal winners of the Oregon Trail were a mix of shrewd business people and adroit farmers. The industry’s godfathers include the aforementioned as well as the Ponzi family and Maresh. Maresh soon took stock of the particular qualities of those places he grew grapes, indeed, at first, for other vintners. The Dundee Hills vines are the family’s locus amoenus. Rising about 500-600 feet above sea level, the hills form a layer cake of growing possibilities.

The jory soil is a mix of volcanic ash and red clay. Its top layer runs deep and drains well. Both qualities favor grapes in a climate often wet through mid-spring and typically dry and warm in summers. Dundee, by virtue of its highly notable wineries—Archery Summit, Argyle, Daedalus, Domains Drouhin and Serene, Vista Hills, Winderlea to name some of Maresh’s better-known neighbors—is still more a farm town running along Oregon SR 99 than a rich and famous party animal, as Napa Valley appears today.

The predominant grape was once Riesling, but at the time Maresh began taking out the cherries and putting in the vines, the desired grape was the delicate and temperamental mother lode of Burgundy, the Pinot Noir varietal. Over time, in pursuit of more expensive wines to market, Pinot supplanted Riesling production. Wine, after all is also business. Only in recent years have winemakers turned once more to their more unsung German varietals, adding it to their production of Pinot Gris (grey) and Pinot Blanc. Still Pinot Noir rules.

“We are not making French wine here,” says Dean Fisher, the burly, generous member of the original group of area vintners. “We are making Oregon wine from vines similar to those in Burgundy soil. They have about a 1400 year head start.”

“We are not making French wine here,” says Dean Fisher, the burly, generous member of the original group of area vintners. “We are making Oregon wine from vines similar to those in Burgundy soil. They have about a 1400 year head start.”

In Napa Valley, for example, on the valley floor grapes appear to grow as if regimental soldiers in parade dress. All is well tended. The soil, though also volcanic, runs less deep and a Napa summer can feel Saharan. One must irrigate. In Oregon, expect to see instead of water supplies, dandelions and mustard seed dancing insouciantly among rows of vines. Their material benefit to the health of vines strikes the “organic” note sounding throughout the smaller vineyards. Regimental rows, yes, but a very different army. Winemakers anywhere must adjust their swing to what Mother Nature pitches. It is more various in Willamette because these rolling hills contain so many microclimates and related variables. And they have benefited from what California producers might have learned the hard way over many more years of commercial production.

What continues to impress me about the Oregon wine industry is its collegiality. It has fewer conglomerate ownerships. JC Lint, the Falstaffian owner of Plum Hill Winery, notes this common occurrence. “I have a problem here with some stock. One of my neighbor vineyard guys comes over saying, ‘Hey, do this; it worked for me’. The other growers are glad to help.”

Another manifestation of this interchange was told to me by Monty Pitt, owner of Patton Valley Vineyard nearby, producing very good Pinot Noir since 1999, “We here may soon apply for our own AVA designation. I don’t yet know how and where to begin this process, but together we’ll figure it out.”

From a few families who thought the place could produce world class wines to over four hundred wineries now doing business, Willamette and beyond retain their human scale. I consider such proportion a requirement for producing superior wine, whether one keeps production under 300 cases or sail past 35,000 or more.

The Six Sub-districts AVA’s within Willamette Valley Chehalem Mountains AVA (instituted 2008)

Dundee Hills AVA is largest district in terms of acreage planted and cases produced.

Eola-Amity Hills AVA—Yes, Eola is a tribute to the windy conditions in the area, and is derived from Aeolus, the Greek god of wind.

McMinnville AVA (est. 2005)

Ribbon Ridge AVA, located between Newberg and Gaston

The Yamhill-Carlton District AVA, established in 2005, lies close to the coastal range; designation requires, this appellation to be from grapes grown at altitudes of 200-1000 feet

What’s an AVA?

Once upon a time wine production in the US was defined by county or state boundaries. The producers lobbied for a system that, typical of our national penchant for ingenuity, combined European systems already in place, abetted by the federal tax collectors. Our system is called the “American Viticultural Area” designation or “AVA for short.

At present Oregon has four bon fide AVA’s in the federal registry.

AVA is to some extent like an appellation in France. In reality an AVA is more like the Indicazione Geografica Tipica of Italy, where even the tiniest village produces its own wine. There are nearly 200 AVA’s in the USA and most of them, right down to 62 acres (in Mendocino County), exist inside California.

California is the Godzilla of domestic production. Oregon seems by contrast no larger than a smelt, but even so, over 400 wineries presently operate there. Today Oregon boasts four AVA’s—these include Willamette Valley, the largest, Southern Oregon, Umpqua and the dashing-western-novel sounding, Rogue Valley. What does this mean to a consumer? If you drink a Napa Valley designated merlot, it means at 85% of the juice that made the wine comes from within the Napa Valley. A Willamette Valley designated Pinot Noir, similarly, has 85% of its sourced grapes from vineyards located in the valley. A wine from a producer called “Merlot” without place designation contains 75% merlot juice but is sources from various places. Likewise a wine called “Pinot Noir” without stipulating an AVA origination will contain at least 75% Pinot Noir juice sources from several places, but some outside the particular AVA. It’s easy to follow if you read the label.

 Copyright 2004-2012 +7 (495) 640 0508,,
website development – Telemark
OnLine M&A Russia Deal Book
Follow Us