Back in easy September, Washington gained its newest American Viticultural Area (AVA): Royal Slope in the Columbia Valley. It just so happens that Royal Slope is also the best appellation in the state. That’s according to Josh Lawrence of Gård Vintners, at least.
An AVA is a wine appellation, or legally defined grape growing zone, in the U.S. that has distinguishing geographic or climatic features.
Lawrence, co-founder and co-owner of Gård Vintners, an estate winery in the Royal Slope AVA with a tasting room in Woodinville, said what makes Royal Slope Washington's best AVA is its versatility.
“Royal Slope allows us to grow a very wide variety of reds and whites with superior quality,” he said.
The elevation of Royal Slope ranges from 610 to 1,756 feet, which effectively creates numerous microclimates that allow for the 20-plus varieties of grapes planted in the region to thrive. While the variability of Royal Slope makes it an exciting region for growing grapes, that can almost be too much of a good thing for vintners there.
“It does get us in trouble because … there’s no reason to stop trying new varieties,” Lawrence said. “I’m envious of Oregon, that they stick to Pinot and Chardonnay, more or less. That would be a lot easier, but, you know, we’re creative. We like to continue to create.”
Just over three weeks after Royal Slope became Washington’s 15th AVA, Candy Mountain (yes, that’s the actual name) came nipping at its heels to be named the 16th. Establishing an AVA is no small feat, so the emergence of two new AVAs within a month is significant. Getting approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to authorize a new AVA requires jumping through numerous hoops.
The establishment of Royal Slope AVA alone, which has been farmed and known as Royal Slope for decades, has been over five years in the making. While some people have questioned whether 16 AVAs is too many, Lawrence doesn’t see a downside to a growing AVA count.
“I think it’s a sign of a maturing vineyard industry and wine industry,” he said. “Look at how many sub-appellations (there are) in Napa Valley. There’s a ton and they’re all unique.”
An increasing number of AVAs also makes sense from an economic standpoint because, as Lawrence puts it, “It’s good for the consumer, it’s good for wineries, and it’s obviously good for the vineyard owners.”
An AVA listed on a bottle allows wineries and vineyard owners to distinguish themselves by communicating something about the characteristics, quality or reputation of their grapes. At the same time, an AVA on a label gives consumers a better idea of what a wine is going to taste like.
The story of Washington’s AVAs doesn’t end with Royal Slope and Candy Mountain. There are currently three proposed Washington AVAs on TTB’s docket and counting. Are there really too many AVAs in Washington? Start exploring wines from these regions and see for yourself.