Clarksburg Wine Growers Seek Larger AVA

Proposal submitted to TTB would add newer acreage on two Delta islands

by Ted Rieger
Grand Island Vineyards winery and adjacent vineyards owned by Salman Farms would be included in the Clarksburg AVA under an AVA expansion proposal recently submitted to TTB. Credit: Ted Rieger.

Clarksburg, Calif.—The Clarksburg Wine Growers & Vintners Association (CWGVA) is supporting an effort to expand the Clarksburg AVA southward to include additional acreage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region adjacent to the current AVA boundary. The proposal would add two Delta islands to the AVA, Grand Island in Sacramento County and Ryer Island in Solano County.

CWGVA board member Jamie Reamer of Reamer Farms, Inc., based in Clarksburg, coordinated the expansion proposal project and filed the petition with the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Vineyard management consultant Stan Grant of Progressive Viticulture, based in Turlock, Calif., assisted with research and writing for the petition documents. The petition was “accepted as perfected” by TTB on April 10, meaning the document meets the requirements established in the Code of Federal Regulations and contains sufficient information for TTB to decide whether to proceed with rulemaking.

Reamer said based on indications from TTB, the rulemaking and final approval could take some time, perhaps 18 months or more, given that a number of petitions for AVA approvals and expansions are on the TTB’s list ahead of Clarksburg.

The original Clarksburg AVA petition was drafted and submitted in July 1982 by grape grower John Baranek of The Herzog Company on behalf of Clarksburg growers and vintners. A final rule establishing the Clarksburg AVA was issued Feb. 22, 1984 covering a total of 64,640 acres over parts of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties, with approximately 2,300 acres of wine grapes planted at that time. Language in the original petition stated that Grand Island was not considered for inclusion because there was no commercial planting of grapes on the island at that time. Other nearby areas were not included because it was believed they had environmental and viticultural characteristics somewhat different from the main Clarksburg area, although vineyards existed on Ryer Island at the time.

Adding Grand and Ryer Islands to the AVA would expand its total land area by about 40%. Exact figures for actual vineyard acreage within the AVA and the proposed expansion area are not readily available. However, based on figures in the 2016 California Grape Acreage Report, 22,087 planted acres were in California Crush District 17 that roughly encompasses the current and proposed AVA area.

Vineyard planting increasing southward
Vineyard planting has increased south of the current AVA boundary where land has been more affordable and available for development. The CWGVA, formed in 1987, has been considering the AVA expansion for several years. “The effort was driven because more acreage was being planted, and because we noticed those two islands had similar soils and characteristics to the original AVA,” Reamer said. “The consensus was that it made sense to include Grand and Ryer Islands, and we look at this as a more of a correction than an expansion of the original AVA boundaries.”

A number of long-time Clarksburg area growers now own, or manage, vineyards in both the proposed expansion area as well as the original AVA. Reamer Farms began planting vineyards on Grand Island in 2006 and now farms about 500 acres there with varieties that include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. More recently, E. & J. Gallo Winery planted vineyards on Grand Island totaling in the hundreds of acres.

The Clarksburg AVA and the proposed expansion area is marked by the red dotted line.

Joe Salman of Salman Farms and Grand Island Vineyards winery said his family was one of the first to plant vineyards on Grand Island, beginning around 1996. The Salmans own about 120 acres of vineyards on Grand Island adjacent to their winery, which opened in 2016, and lease and manage another 100 acres of vineyards on Grand Island.

Potential long-term benefits
The Salmans also own and manage more than 200 acres of vineyards on Sutter Island within the current Clarksburg AVA. Adding Grand Island to the AVA will give the Salmans more options for producing and labelling Clarksburg appellation wines under their own winery labels. Salman supports the expansion and said there are potential benefits over the long-term.

“An expanded AVA probably won’t help us immediately, since most of our grapes sold under contract go into California appellation wines and the wineries probably wouldn’t pay more for our Grand Island grapes just because they have a Clarksburg appellation,” he said. “However, I think the expansion will potentially provide long-term benefits if Clarksburg becomes more well-known and there is higher demand from winery buyers who want Clarksburg AVA grapes.”

Wine grapes have been grown on Ryer Island since at least the 1980s, and varieties planted there include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Symphony. Growers on Ryer Island include Clarksburg-based Heringer Estates Family Vineyards and Winery, and Lodi-based Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards.

Salman, a past CWGVA Board member, noted that membership in the CWGVA is voluntary, but an expanded AVA could bring in more members and more resources to promote Clarksburg grapes and wines. “If the AVA gets bigger, the association should also get bigger and have more dollars to work with, so it will be interesting to see what’s next for the association in terms of marketing and promotion,” he said.

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