Surely you know your franc from your blanc. You know what's crisp, what's flabby, what's brut, and what's tart. But can you tell an Applegate from a Fair Play?
These freshly decanted wine appellations come courtesy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. This multitasking federal agency not only fights crime and collects taxes, but also greenlights new American Viticultural Areas. Such official boundaries help wine fans sound smart when expounding on the Willamette Valley's cool-weather fruit or the warm-weather intensity of Napa. They also provide intriguing destinations for tasting trips.
Earning the federal stamp requires winemakers to submit stacks of paperwork documenting locally significant geography and climate and growing conditions. "It's an easy thing to do if you don't mind wasting three years," says Barnard E. Smith, vintner at Academy Wines, who soldiered through the process to create the new Applegate appellation in Oregon's Rogue Valley.
Located south of Grants Pass, Applegate includes just a half-dozen wineries in a relatively warm climate that nourishes merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and zinfandel. It's really a subregion of the larger Rogue Valley appellation, not far from historic Jacksonville and the theatrical attractions of Ashland. If you're looking to stay close to the grapes, the scenic Applegate River Lodge offers local dining and B&B accommodations.
The Fair Play appellation, in California's Sierra foothills 20 miles south of Placerville, has 11 wineries in a four-mile radius, three bed-and-breakfasts, and lovely rolling hills. "From one winery, you can see the breathtaking Sierra range on a clear day," says John Smith, owner of Oakstone Winery and president of the Fair Play Winery Association. "From another you can see the Coast Mountains." Distinguished by relatively high altitude and granite soils, the area produces a wide range of varietals, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon.
Neither new appellation offers world-class dining, sophisticated shops, or crowded streets. In fact, if you don't keep your eyes open, you'll miss the central towns. "Applegate has a general store, a little museum, a restaurant, and a church," says Barnard Smith. "I think there's even a lawn mower repair service."
But small isn't bad, the locals insist, especially for wine lovers looking to discover distinct flavors dependent on geographically limited growing conditions. "We're what an appellation should be about," says Fair Play's Smith. "With just 500 acres planted over 33 square miles, people will be able to enjoy what makes Fair Play its own region."
Photography by Greg Vaughn
This article was first published in November 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.