Thanks to Kevin Byrd of Youngberg Hill Vineyards, McMinnville is now its own American Viticultural Area. The AVA itself actually lies just west of the city of McMinnville, which has an established history as an important center of the Yamhill County wine industry.
In his petition, Mr. Byrd proposed the viticultural area should be restricted to those areas between 200 and 800 feet elevation. The petitioner cited the fertile nature of the region’s silt-based soils and a greater depth of soil in the lower lying areas, (at elevations less than 200 feet), as contributing to a delayed ripening of grapes in those areas. He also argued that the low lying areas are more prone to frost. Mr. Byrd further contended that at elevations higher than 800 feet, degree days are fewer than within the 200-800 foot contours.
The former BATF (now TTB) specifically asked for commentary related to what they perceived at that time as an unusual request to delineate based on elevation. In fact, precedent for the approval of AVAs with elevation restrictions, had already been set by regions such as the Mendocino Ridges. Similarly, the large Sierra Foothill AVA in Central California has elevation restrictions (1000-3000 feet).There are other cases where elevation restrictions are implied, if not contained within the final boundaries, such as the North Folk of Roanoke AVA in Virginia.
In his petition, Mr. Byrd cites many other climatic and topographic features which distinguish the proposed McMinnville region from surrounding areas. The most distinctive feature is a 2000 foot thick bedrock formation extending west from the city of McMinnville. This formation is rich in marine sandstone and mudstone with the intrusion of marine basalts. This is significantly different from surrounding regions, and, due to the marine basalts, ground water in the region contains greater amounts of decomposed sodium, potassium and boron than are found east of the proposed region. Mr. Byrd argues that these minerials contribute unique characteristics to the grapes and hence the wine of the region. No doubt, Pinophiles will line up to buy McMinnville AVA wines, just for the pleasure of comparing them with Pinot Noir based wines from the Willamette Valley’s other super sub-appellations.
In the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia vineyards are small and few, yet the establishment of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands could bring much more.
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