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Crystal Springs of Napa Valley aims for appellation status

California could have a new hillside American Viticultural Area (AVA) for wine drinkers to explore in northern Napa Valley if proposals being considered by US officials are approved.

A petition to make ‘Crystal Springs of Napa Valley’ an official AVA is being considered by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), which has opened the proposal to public comments until 1 May.

If approved, it would be the first new AVA within Napa Valley for more than 10 years.

Napa Valley itself got AVA status more than 40 years ago, in 1981, and today it encompasses 16 official sub-zones, or ‘nested’ AVAs, according to Napa Valley Vintners. Coombsville is the newest of these, created in 2011.

‘The recognition of our sites with a formal AVA would make us proud and satisfied,’ said Steven Burgess, who submitted the application for Crystal Springs of Napa Valley to the TTB.

‘Our choices to be hillside vintners where expenses are higher, [and] yields are lower would be recognised,’ he told Decanter.

Topography is the key distinguishing feature of the proposed Crystal Springs of Napa Valley AVA, according to details filed with the TTB.

A northern boundary would run primarily along a 1,400-foot elevation contour, dividing the area from the higher ground of the Howell Mountain AVA, while a southern border sits at 400 feet above sea level, separating the area from the lower slopes of the valley floor and the St. Helena AVA.

‘This is a science-based AVA and would be Napa County’s only all-hillside AVA,’ said Burgess, who is planting a small vineyard in the area. He was previously president of his family’s winery, Burgess Cellars, prior to its sale in 2020, and his work on the AVA proposal stretches back several years.

He described the area as ‘frost free’, due to its location. ‘The upper bounds are at 1400 [feet], where the inversion layer usually happens. The lower bounds are at 400 [feet], where frost becomes a problem at the valley floor.’

He added, ‘The generally south-west exposure guarantees plenty of sunshine for maturity. And, being below the inversion layer, we get the famous diurnal temperature range that grapes love.’

These factors produce smaller berries and longer hang-time, aiding complexity, while wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon – the main grape variety — display classic dark fruit flavours, such as black cherry, blackcurrant and cassis.

Cabernet wines here are generally ‘darker’ than on the valley floor, with tannins that are ‘prominent but richer’ than on the mountain top, Burgess said. ‘If not picked too late, the wines can be made quite ageable too.’

The region also benefits from cooling breezes from the Calistoga Gap directly to the west, he said.

Possible confusion with other ‘Crystal Springs’ locations across the US prompted the addition of ‘Napa Valley’ to the formal AVA proposal, said the TTB. There is also a Crystal Springs Vineyard within the planned AVA, the TTB noted.

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