Monday, June 17, 2019

Which Grape Varietals grow best in your Location | Learning the AVA system

If you are starting your own vineyard in your backyard or in containers, and you want to make wine using your homegrown grapes, the quick and dirty method to knowing what varietals will grow best in your area is to see if there are any vineyards in your area and to plant the same grapes they are growing.
Now your local vineyard may not grow your favorite style of grape, but that shouldn't discourage you from attempting to grow that varietal. Let's look further in.

Many of the wine producing nations in the world divide their wine regions into more specific classifications for where the grapes and wine are grown and produced. In broad terms, this is known as an Appellation system. You may have seen the names of some of these written on wine bottles. For example, one of Italy's wine classification designations is a location based appellation system. The system breaks down the origin of all the grapes and wine into given regions and areas.
Take this bottle Sanigovese for example. It is labelled with the following wine region (Puglia) and the designation "Indicazione Geografica Tipica", which is one of classifications in the Italian Appellation system. Looking closer at the region the wine was produced in, Puglia, is this region of Italy, and if we do a little research, see that the red grape varietals of Primitivo (Zinfandel) and Negroamara are widely grown there. If you happened to live there, you could make the assumption that growing either varietal of grape would be a good idea.

Now let's move back to the States to see how they classify their wine regions. Officially, the TTB defines each of the wine grape producing regions as American Viticulture Areas, or AVA for short. I won't bore you with the literal specific geographic boundries how each AVA is defined, as that can get complicated. But the importance here is that these AVAs are separated not just based on location , but of the growing conditions of the given region too. Let's look at a quick example. California has the most AVAs of any state unsurprisingly, given it is the #1 producer of wine grapes in the United States. This is to the diversity of climate and elevations. In the Sacramento area, you see AVAs for the regions in the valley, but as you go eastward toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you enter different AVAs as the terrain rises in elevation and the soil composition changes.

In the valley areas, such as Lodi, defined by the Lodi AVA, they are known well for a distinct style of old vine Zinfandel. But if you head east an hour to the Sierra Foothills AVA, which encompasses Amador County, that same varietal takes on totally different flavors. This difference in terroir is why the AVA system exists in the United States.
Back to our original question, how do you figure out which grape varietals grow best in your area?

You can use the TTB's website to first find your AVA. Next, search for your AVA online to find what wineries are in your area. Browse through their website or give them a call and see what they are planting. Alternatively, many of the AVAs have dedicated websites for the wine grape growers of the area which may also provide insight onto what grows best.

Just remember, because that grape isn't grown in your area commercially, doesn't mean it won't do well. Some lesser planted commercial or noncommercial grape varietals can be the hidden gems in your vineyard.

Additionally, if you know how the climate of your area is, but not a lot of grapes are grown there, you can look at a different area in the world with a similar climate, terrain, and/or elevation that grows grapes to get an idea of what to plant.

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