How many AVAs are too many? Take the Napa test

Today, I was chatting with someone about Naches Heights, Washington’s newest American Viticultural Area.

"When does Washington have enough appellations?" my friend asked. "Twelve seems like a lot."

While 12 might seem like quite a few for just one state, consider this: Napa Valley - an area that is about three miles wide and 27 miles long - has 16 AVAs. That’s right. An area much more compact than the Yakima Valley has more appellations than the entire state of Washington.

They are:

  • Los Carneros
  • Howell Mountain
  • Wild Horse Valley
  • Stags Leap District
  • Mt. Veeder
  • Atlas Peak
  • Spring Mountain District
  • Oakville
  • Rutherford
  • St. Helena
  • Chiles Valley
  • Yountville
  • Diamond Mountain District
  • Oak Knoll District
  • Calistoga
  • Napa Valley

Other comparisons between tiny Napa Valley and the entire state of Washingto

  • Napa Valley has 43,000 acres of wine grapes, while Washington has a bit more than 40,000 acres.
  • Napa Valley has about 300 wineries, while Washington has more than 750.

Return of Inglenook - and why we should care

I’m 46 years old. By the time I came along, Inglenook was known as a cheap box wine. My ignorance of Inglenook’s great history in American wine - and its subsequent downfall and banishment to the jug wine section of supermarkets - lasted well into the ’90s.

I’ve read a number of books that lament the demise of Inglenook, and I suggest you consider them for your bookshelf, including “Napa: The Story of an American Eden” by James Conaway and “American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine” by Paul Lukacs.

Here’s the quick version:

  1. In the late 1800s, Gustave Niebaum founded Inglenook in the Napa Valley town of Rutherford.
  2. His great-nephew John Daniel took over the winery in the late 1930s (it shut during Prohibition). This was Inglenook’s glory days, when its wines were considered among the best in the world.
  3. In 1964 (the year I was born), Daniel sold Inglenook, and the label soon became best known for its cheap jug and box wines.
  4. "Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola purchased the vineyards and winery in the 1970s, but the name "Inglenook" was owned by a large company (and changed hands multiple times).
  5. Coppola, understanding the history of the property he owned, named the winery Niebaum-Coppola to honor Gustave Niebaum. He also vowed to reclaim the name Inglenook.
  6. This week, Coppola purchased the trademark and is reuniting the winery name with the property.

This is all fine and dandy, but why should we care? Imagine this: What if Quilceda Creek was purchased by Fred Franzia, who then exploited the winery’s name by creating a line of inexpensive wines? What if an entire generation of wine lovers grew up associating Quilceda Creek with a Cabernet Blush instead of great Cabernet Sauvignon? Would that not be a tragedy of epic proportions?

Indeed it would.

We love wine because it is romantic. We love wine because it speaks of a time and a place. It’s more than just a beverage. Wine captures the moment a grape is plucked from the vine. It recalls the passion of a winemaker who nurtures it through fermentation, then lovingly ages it to maturation and finally hands it over for our enjoyment.

Francis Ford Coppola deserves our thanks for reuniting Inglenook’s name and winery, for recapturing its glory and for preserving it for mankind.

This is why we should care.

Sad thoughts on Cosentino Winery

For at least a couple of years, Cosentino Winery in Yountville, Calif., has been battling financial problems. Last week, the high-end winery on the main highway going through the Napa Valley laid off its staff and locked its doors. A sad end to a winery with a lengthy history of quality.

For a number of years, I’ve known Mitch Cosentino, who started making wine in 1980 in Modesto (and was in the Napa Valley by the end of that decade). We met while judging wine in Southern California and have become something more than acquaintances, to the point I would try to stop at the winery to see him whenever I happened to be in Napa. Mitch is a talented winemaker, winning more than his fair share of medals throughout the years at top wine competitions.

The only California winery whose wine club I’ve joined has been Cosentino, and one of the finest wines I’ve ever enjoyed was a Cosentino CE2V Chardonnay, Napa Valley (yes, a California Chardonnay!), which has the gorgeous properties of a top Chablis.

It has been years since Mitch owned the winery that bears his name - he sold to investors - but he still oversaw winemaking at the operation. I suspect the winery’s demise has hurt him deeply, since he had built it into such a success.

But Mitch isn’t looking back at all. He’s just recently announced the launch of PureCru, a Napa Valley winery with Fred Couples, golfing great and a favorite Seattle son.

Mitch is far from done in the wine game, even if his namesake winery is now done.