Lake County Growers' Efforts Proceed

Two proposed California AVAs pass first review; inaugural class of Master Vigneron Academy in session

by Paul Franson
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Master Vigneron Academy participants visit a vineyard with the program, which covers topics related to vineyard management and maintenance for 10 experienced foremen and crew leaders.
Kelseyville, Calif.—Two winegrowing districts are headed toward recognition as American Viticultural Areas in California’s Lake County, where an innovative program for vineyard workers has taken shape.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently informed the Lake County Winegrape Commission that its initial review is complete for the Kelsey Bench-Lake County and Big Valley District-Lake County AVA petitions. According to Gerald Isenberg, director of the TTB Regulations and Rulings Division, the petitions meet necessary regulatory requirements for “the TTB to proceed with rulemaking for the proposed AVAs.”

Shannon Gunier, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, said that members of the organization led by consultants Terry Dereniuk and Rick Gunier have been working toward this goal for more than two years.

“Many consumers want to know where their food—and that includes wine—comes from,” Dereniuk said. There are more than 50 winegrape growers in the Big Valley area, and Dereniuk said having an AVA could help them to define their story and “tie it to the land.” Citing the AVA where grapes are sourced is another way for wineries to distinguish themselves, Dereniuk said, and a distinct AVA could provide more visibility for wineries.

Rick Gunier added, “The Big Valley region has fertile soil from the old lake bed, and the Kelsey Bench region features rich volcanic soil resulting from some of the most recent flow from Mount Konocti.”

The attributes are detailed in one of the Talking Points brochures created by the commission: “Big Valley’s mix of gravel, clay and loam, bright sunlight from the 1,400 feet elevation and cool nights produce remarkable Sauvignon Blancs, establishing Lake County as one of the premier California regions for the varietal.”

“Volcanic Kelsey Bench and the gravel seams in Big Valley produce intense and balanced Zinfandels and Cabernet Francs.”

There are almost 9,000 acres of vineyard in Lake County, which currently has four appellations: Red Hills Lake County, High Valley, Guenoc and Lake County/Clear Lake.

California’s projected winegrape shortage is good news for the county, too. Large tracks of Lake County Cabernet came to market just before the state encountered an oversupply of winegrapes in the 2000s. Faced with low prices, growers increased sales in eastern markets, where wineries often use out-of-state fruit, and made the rest into bulk wine.

Those times should be over. “It looks like our grapes will be sold this year,” notes Shannon Gunier.

Master Vigneron Academy sessions under way
To improve its grapegrowing, the Lake County Winegrape Commission is sponsoring a series of training sessions for a select group of foremen and crew leaders from Lake County vineyards.

The commission’s goal is to produce high-quality wine and develop superior vineyard workers, according to Shannon Gunier, who said the commission would reward individuals who successfully complete the academy with a Master Vigneron certificate.

The first group of Master Vigneron Academy participants will meet once a month through August, then break for the harvest before concluding one year of study in November.

Each session will cover one or more topics important to vineyard management and maintenance including pruning, canopy management, vineyard layout, planting stock, equipment, health and safety of workers, conflict resolution, harvesting, winegrape quality and wine tasting.

The concept for the yearlong program was developed by the commission’s Education Committee chair, Randy Krag of Beckstoffer Vineyards. The commission tapped education director Paul Zellman, who has 30 years of grapegrowing and winemaking experience, to coordinate the program.

Speaking about anticipated outcomes of the Master Vigneron Program, Zellman said, “Growers will see crews that are supervised by graduates of the MV Program performing tasks correctly and at lower costs. Ultimately, wineries and wine drinkers will recognize these efforts by the production of better wines.”

The first class of the Master Vigneron Program consists of 10 experienced Lake County vineyard workers. They are Amador Duran of Obsidian Ridge Vineyards, Jaime Rosas of Lyon Vineyard, Gabriel Martinez and Felix Aguilar of Bella Vista Farming Co., Jeronimo Rico of Dorn Vineyards, Antonio Batres and Alonso Raygoza of Beckstoffer Vineyards, Tarciscio “Tacho” Corona of Stokes Vineyards, Federico Gonzalez of L & L Vineyards and Gerardo Mendoza of Red Hills Vineyard.

The first class of the Master Vigneron Academy was introduced in November at the Winegrape Commission’s 10th annual Sustainable Winegrape Growing Seminar at Ceago Vinegarden.

The first “official” class meeting of the group followed in January, when the participants attended the 2012 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. One of the highlights of this year’s tradeshow was the Spanish language seminar sessions.

Master Vigneron students will visit Guillaume Nursery and the University of California, Davis, vineyards this month. In June they will take another trip to a Sonoma County winegrape grower’s operation in Healdsburg, Calif.

Established in 1991 by the winegrape growers of Lake County, the Lake County Winegrape Commission is a local marketing order. Its primary function is to provide marketing, education and research programs to Lake County winegrape growers.

For more information about Lake County winegrowing, visit lakecountywinegrape.org or call 707-995-3421. For information about the seminar or the Master Vigneron Program, email Zellman at paulz@lakecountywinegrape.org.

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