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New California AVA: world’s smallest?

The United States is soon to have the distinction of hosting the worlds largest and smallest appellations.

California’s Happy Canyon is the latest American Viticultural Area (AVA) to be recognised by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

And its 225ha of vines distributed amongst eight vineyards, only six of which produce wine in commercial quantities, makes it one of the smallest appellations in the world.

More vineyards have been planted within the new AVA, which is located within Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and the vast Central Coast AVA, but because of local building restrictions there are no bonded wineries or tasting rooms.

In a process free of the controversy that has dogged the creation of many American AVA’s, the TTB decided Happy Valley showed enough differentiation of soil and microclimate to warrant attention.

While Santa Barbara County is better known for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays which thrive in the more westerly Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, Happy Canyon’s deep canyons and rollling hills are more suited to Bordeaux varietals.

Kurt Amman of Star Lane vineyard, which is one of the largest vineyards in the AVA, planted to Bordeaux varietals, said most people did not realise how diverse the climate and terroirs were in Santa Barbara.

In Happy Canyon, he said, ‘the fog pulls out earlier, we get sun and heat earlier in the day, and it doesn’t cool down as quickly on the ridge tops.’

Happy Canyon is also distinguished by its predominantly southwestern drainage and erosion patterns, and green serpentine soils rich in magnesium.

And its wines have achieved wider recognition: Vogelsang Vineyards’ wines are poured at the French Laundry in Napa, and its Sauvignon Blanc 2008, from vineyards primarily in the new AVA, was given 94 points by Wine Spectator.

The largest appellation in the world is the 4m hectare Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA, which came into being in July this year.

Covering 48,142km sq (4.8m ha or 29,914 square miles) over four states, the AVA averages 193km (120 miles) from east to west, 362km (225 miles) from north to south.

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Written by David Furer

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