E&J Gallo’s proposed boundaries for an expanded Russian River Valley AVA violate federal regulations, according to a Wine Industry Insight investigation based on TTB documents, on-site topological examinations, Google Street Views, U.S. Geological Survey maps and numerous other documents and sources.
Regulations issued by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) require petitioners for new or expanded American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to describe, specifically the features that make it distinctive and, “in what way these features affect viticulture and how they are distinguished viticulturally from features associated with adjacent areas outside the proposed AVA boundary.” [Emphasis added.]
The TTB regulations note several factors that petitioners must specifically address in noting differences to justify a given boundary, among them: climate, geology, soils and physical features like topography and watersheds.
Southern Boundary Is Arbitrary, Violates TTB Regulations
As Wine Industry Insight noted on December 16, the TTB’s current method of describing a proposed boundary is confusing, counter-intuitive and lacks sufficient information to properly interpret the boundary and its rationale.
Without an on-site inspection, the jagged, sawtooth of Gallo’s proposed boundary could appear legitimate to a TTB examiner in Washington, D.C. The fact that the easternmost boundary coincides with Gallo’s Two-Rock Ranch Vineyard might simply appear to mark a distinctive change in the physical characteristics of the land as required by TTB regulations.
However, the first photo at the top of this article shows that this easternmost boundary is arbitrary, the land outside is indistinguishable from that inside except for the fact that it is not owned by E&J Gallo.
Arbitrary And Improper Boundary Lines Abound
On-site inspections, especially of the southern boundary of the proposed expansion, proves that much of the southern boundary does not conform to TTB regulations requiring differences between land inside the boundary and that outside. Innumerable cases exist like the one in the photo below:
“Ridgeline Rationale” Flawed, Inaccurate
Part of Gallo’s rational (page 4 of this document) in their petition, states that “the new boundary, instead continues generally to follow the ridge that defines the Russian River Watershed on its southern flank.”
However, an examination of the topo map shows that the ridgeline has not been followed consistently. Following the ridge by going from peak to peak (orange line on map) that defines the Russian River watershed could result in the boundary running through the Two Rock Ranch Vineyard.
In fact, a map from the North Coast Integrated Water Management Plan indicates an even northerly line (yellow line on map) through Gallo’s Two Rock Ranch vineyard.
TTB Procedures, Resources Limit Scrutiny
TTB documents state that its responsibilities in the AVA rulemaking process include the requirement to “Review the petition for completeness, accuracy, relevance and appropriateness with regulatory requirements….”
However, this oversight is limited by TTB resources and the lack of in-house experts in such areas as viticulture, geology, climatology, topography and related fields. For data relating to these issues, the TTB relies primarily on the accuracy of information submitted by petitioners.
TTB spokesman Art Resnick added that, “One of the reasons for soliciting comments is to hear from any parties that might have information different from or contrary to what may be contained in the original petition.”
As pertains to this article, Resnick said by email, “Because the Russian River Valley AVA expansion is currently in rulemaking it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time. You may be assured that we will consider your comments as part of the record in reaching our final determination.”
Comments on information contained in this article have also been solicited from E&J Gallo and will be added when received.