When beginning to learn wine culture, all studies start with France. Its AOC system – or “Appellation d’Origine Côntrolée,” begun in the early 1900s – assigned départmentes and villages with specific wines that they could produce, dependent on historical success with a certain varietal. Bordeaux was assigned with cultivation of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, plus all other grapes necessary to its most renowned wines, for example. Likewise, Burgundy was instructed by law to make wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with certain allocations permitted to make wines with native Aligoté and Gamay, too.
American winemakers found themselves in a similar situation decades later. Starting in 1980, many grew curious to evolve from a labeling system that named only state and county to one that mirrored the French AOC. Working with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (ATTB) and the Department of the Treasury, the visionaries created standards that all areas of wine production needed to follow. The qualifications to be considered an AVA – or American Viticultural Area – included:
(1) Evidence that the area’s chosen name was known within the community,
(2) Proof that the boundaries were legitimate, and
(3) Evidence that soil content, elevation, and physical features were distinctive.
Napa Valley, for example, was eventually divided into sixteen different AVAs. The newest is Calistoga to the north, with renowned AVAs Oakville (Made famous by Robert Mondavi), Mount Veeder, Rutherford, Atlas Peak, and the Stag’s Leap District leading the way. Other AVAs are preferred for the quality wines produced in them, too.
Consider the Trefethen Winery in the Oak Knoll AVA, sandwiched between Yountville and Los Carneros. The quality of its work has set it apart since the mid-70s, when Trefethen Chardonnay was named the “Best Wine in the World” by the Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. The tradition continues with Trefethen Oak Knoll Chardonnay and the Double T Red, a red blend falling under Trefethen’s Dragon’s Tooth imprint. The white wine is aged in a combination of French and Hungarian Oak for nine months before bottling. Because only 25% of the wood is unused, it does have a more easygoing character than other oaked chardonnays. Its citrusy nose subtly suggests vanilla, which is confirmed by flavor, and its acidity is crisp without being overly noticeable. The Double T Red, on the other hand, is equally unsubtle. It offers an abundance of black cherry jam, black raspberry, and vanilla on the nose and follows through with a tasty punch and is described by many red wine drinkers as a wine that they cannot get enough of. They are right – this is a big red wine that drinks very well alone, but that makes a worthy companion to cuts of steak, from filet to porterhouse.