Pinot Noir-focused Petaluma Gap AVA approved in Northern California

by Fred Swan - Guest Blogger

California has a new AVA. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved the Petaluma Gap AVA on December 7, 2017. The process took nearly three years, in part due to directives from the White House early this year which prohibited new rulings and impeded hiring at the TTB, among other agencies.

The Petaluma Gap AVA is located within California’s larger North Coast AVA and straddles the Sonoma-Marin County border. Much of the newly designated region also overlaps the southwestern portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA.

map of sonoma county avas

The primary, distinguishing feature of the Petaluma Gap AVA is its climate, which differs from nearby areas due to fog and cold wind which sweep in from the coast through a gap of 15 miles in the coastal range of mountains. The result is lower daytime temperatures and a longer growing season. The wines, therefore, have the potential for excellent phenolic ripeness with generous acidity and moderate alcohol. It is the first AVA to cite a particular wind pattern as its primary point of difference.

The Petaluma Gap AVA comprises more than 200,000 acres in total, but just 4,000 acres are under vine. Pinot Noir is, by far, the most planted grape at 75%. The only other varieties comprising more than 1% of vineyard land are Chardonnay (13%) and Syrah (12%).

There are currently 9 wineries in the Petaluma Gap AVA, and upward of 80 winegrowers and 9 wineries. The cool-climate fruit, much of it coming from very well-known vineyards and growers, is in high-demand among wineries outside of the AVA. More than 50 producers make wine from the Petaluma Gap. Among the best-known vineyards in the area are Gap’s Crown, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Griffin’s Lair, McEvoy Ranch and Sangiacomo Family’s Roberts Road, Lakeville and Fedrick vineyards. You can see a complete list of growers at the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance site.

petaluma gap ava vineyard map

Viticulture in the area date backs to the 1860s. However, the combination of phylloxera, Prohibition, world wars and changing tastes left the area with very few commercial vines for most of the 20th century. The area’s resurgence began about 30 years ago. That has accelerated as appreciation for both Pinot Noir and cool-climate wine styles has surged.

More information can be found at the Petaluma Winegrowers Alliance official site.

If you're interested in trying wines from the Petaluma Gap, JJ Buckley always has some available. Here are some of those currently in-stock.

2013 Lutum Gap's Crown Vineyard

2014 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard

2013 Zepaltas Wines Pinot Noir Suacci Vineyard

2013 Ramey Rodgers Creek Vineyard Syrah

2012 Skylark Skylark Rogers Creek Syrah

JJ Buckley guest blogger Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator, and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing has appeared in The Tasting Panel and SOMM Journal. Online, he writes for his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine), PlanetGrape, and GuildSomm. He teaches at the San Francisco Wine School. Fred’s certifications include WSET Diploma, Certified Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, Napa Valley Wine Educator and Level 3 WSET Educator. In 2009, he was awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. In that same year, he was inducted into the Eschansonnerie des Papes, the honorary society of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC.

Maps courtesy of Petaluma Winegrowers Alliance