Petaluma Gap, a new-ish AVA on the Sonoma Coast

A quick look at six wines from California’s newest AVA

Do we need more wine appellations? Especially when some of them seem merely to represent political boundaries rather than terroir, the generation of these new designations almost seems to be a bit cynical. Many producers within a sub-region reckon that their wines will have more prestige and can sell for more money if they have their own AVA (the US term for appellations, which stands for American Viticultural Area).

The answer is, appellations make sense for everyone when there’s something specific about a place that can then be tasted in the final wines. And it seems that the Petaluma Gap, the newest AVA in California, makes sense in this regard. It’s part of a very large and somewhat controversial AVA called the Sonoma Coast, which covers a lot of different terroirs. Named after a small town some 25 miles north of San Francisco, Petaluma, this new AVA has a distinct climate, caused by a 15 mile gap in the coastal ranges. As a result, cold air from the Pacific heads inland and causes foggy starts to the day, followed by windy afternoons. This helps create a cooler climate with a large diurnal swing.

The Petaluma Gap became an AVA in December 2017. From January 2018 it has been allowed on labels, although there’s still a bit of confusion about the necessity for also having Sonoma Coast on the label along with it (this is called conjunctive labelling, and it protects the brand identity of the larger region). The Petaluma Gap covers an area of 200 000 acres, but there are 4000 acres of vines here. Around 80% of the vineyard area is planted with Pinot Noir, 17% is Chardonnay and the other varieties total 3%. Here I tried six wines from the gap, although some of them were produced and labelled before the AVA was awarded and so are just labelled Sonoma Coast.

Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast, CaliforniaLovely freshness here but also some rich, ripe melon and peach notes, with a hint of creaminess and subtle oak. Some richness here, with a sweet, spicy finish. 91/100

Thirty-Seven Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Sonoma Coast, CaliforniaTaut and focused with nice bright citrus notes and some pear, with a hint of savoury cedary oak on the finish. Stylish with nice weight. 93/100

Trombetta Chardonnay 2017 Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast, California
Very nice focus here. Good density with sweet pear and citrus fruit, some subtle toast notes and a hint of pineapple. Stylish and attractive, this is a serious wine. 94/100

Adobe Road Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast, CaliforniaFloral, with sweet cherry fruit aromatics. Bright and seductive, showing fresh red cherry and raspberry fruit. Lovely sweet fruit character dominates, and this is nicely focused and elegant despite the ripeness. 93/100

Ernest Vineyards The Grandfather Pinot Noir 2015 Sonoma Coast, CaliforniaFresh and supple with red cherry fruits and a hint of liquorice and herbs. Bright red cherries and plums on the palate. Stylish and sleek with sweet fruit and some savoury complexity. 93/100

Brulian Wines Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Sonoma Coast, California
Nicely dense and sweetly fruited with good texture to the sweet cherry and berry fruit. Shows some grippy structure, and a bit of damson on the finish. 92/100

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