Chronicles

Appellations and Terroir

July 27th, 2022

Bennett Valley, Sonoma County

Framed by Sonoma Mountain, Taylor Peak, and Bennett Mountain - Bennett Valley is geographically the smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Sonoma County. The rocky mix of soil, maritime climate, and coastal stratus create exciting conditions for farming prestigious Old World varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Composed of small, grower-operated estates, the 30+ vineyards in the AVA each average less than twenty acres.

What’s an AVA?

An American Viticultural Area (AVA, or appellation) is a nationally recognized grape-growing region with specific features that distinguish it from surrounding areas. There are AVAs in 34 states, but California is home to the vast majority, and Sonoma and Napa Counties account for almost a quarter of the state’s recognized appellations. Sonoma County stretches from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Mayacama Mountains in the east, with 60,000+ acres of vineyards across 19 appellations. Napa Valley was the first AVA recognized in California and the second in the nation. Within Napa Valley are 16 smaller, nested appellations, including Howell Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford, and Stags Leap.

An appellation is defined by a combination of specific geographic and climatic features such as elevation and altitude, topography, latitude and exposure, air currents, and more. And while there may be broadly swathed varietal similarities within an appellation, the greatest wines will reflect the unique terroir of their sourced vineyard.



Our Terroir: Graves Vineyard

The Graves Vineyard has a terroir unlike any other in California’s premier grape-growing appellations. Eighteen acres of low-yield vines are generatively farmed on the steep, sunny slopes of Bennett Mountain. Daytime temperatures are moderated by coastal stratus and onshore winds, but a nighttime temperature inversion warms the vineyard through the night and into the early morning. The craggy hillside of the Graves Vineyard is also a place where the distinction between rock and soil is unusually blurred. A mixture of varying sizes of fragmented basalt and andesite rock and volcanic sediment is uniquely sparse of the moisture and biological material that would otherwise deem it as soil.

Low-yielding vines produce grapes with unprecedented concentration and complexity (aroma, flavor, and texture) with well-draining volcanic soil and a cooler maritime climate. But concentration is not necessarily ripe flavors, rather, there is less juice relative to pulp and skins. These premium grapes have an unrivaled concentration of color, tannin, and acidity.

Acidity is the key structural element balancing tannin and alcohol. A high concentration of acidic compounds provides the backbone needed for long-term aging. The iron and potassium in this type of volcanic soil lend to an exciting tension, edginess, and savory quality in the wines they produce. The sensation is one of minerality. The abundance of stone, metal, and mineral nutrients in the soil is reflected in the wine. A purity of aromatics and fruit, without an imbalance of phenolic dryness, results in supple, mouthwatering wines.

The connection between an appellation and the character of the resulting wine from grapes farmed there is romantically anecdotal, but when we understand the finely tuned role of geology and climate, we can discern its influences and measure its worth in a wine. There is an intricate kinship between air, sun, soil, and grapes that can only be captured by a site’s terroir. The truth is, great wines come from great sites, not zip codes.