Appellation America of my Eye


A terrific new site has emerged called Appellation America, which while ambitiously furthering the notion of transforming the way we think about wine in this country, also takes on current issues generally and promises to be a rewarding stop for oeno-surfing.

In the same vein as the mixed compliments I offered Jon Nossiter's Mondovino, I applaud Appellation America’s efforts to focus consumer attention on new regions, and generally to impart more openness and curiosity to the wine drinking experience. We winemakers get tired of the demand to push that same oaky butterbomb chardonnay button all the time, and consider it more rewarding to offer something that speaks distinctively and unexpectedly of a specific place.

That place might be in Missouri, which makes stunning Nortons and Vignoles which are in fact often victorious pitted in competitions against California’s best. One can find occasionally find wines in Idaho, Ohio, Long Island, New Mexico, the Finger Lakes, and even Baha Mexico with which California can’t compete. Seeking out these gems makes wine appreciation a lot more fun, and we are really living in a golden age of exploration in these areas.

That terroir expression includes a human cultural element -- after all, it ain’t Roquefort if it ain’t blue. So Mendocino is one of the most distinctive Californian regions partly because of its reds’ distinctive fruitiness, but partly because the organic principles its growers and winemakers practice tend to give more soul and funk than we expect elsewhere.

My main concern about appellation-craziness is the notion that a wine needs to be from a famous appellation to be any good. Appellations are no guide to overall quality, and to the extent they are used this way, they are the enemy of value. Not only do celebrated regions with correspondingly inflated real estate pass these costs along, they also take fewer chances.

A real appellation system in the U.S. is centuries away. Try finding an American winemaker in favor of any law against any varietal planting or winemaking practice. That’s the core of the French or Italian system. We’ll all be long dead when that happens here, and that’s probably a good thing.