|I can't wait for the Russian River Valley versions of these fine Gallo wines|
Gallo won another legal victory over fellow Sonoma County grapegrowers and consumers last week, expanding the Russian River Valley appellation away from the Russian River itself -- but conveniently toward its 350-acre vineyard.
I was one of many people who made a public comment for the TTB, the federal bureau in charge of the appellation process, opposing the move. I don't have a monetary stake in the issue; I'm just a wine lover, and specifically a Russian River Valley wine lover.
But the TTB deferred to Gallo and made a formerly great Sonoma County appellation less meaningful.
It isn't the first time.
Some of my favorite wines from the entire American continent come from the extreme western part of Sonoma County. And there's an appellation called "Sonoma Coast." However, the TTB, in an effort to include big company vineyards far from the coast, gerrymandered the Sonoma Coast appellation map so ridiculously that the name on a wine label is meaningless. In fact, I'd seriously like to see a subappellation petition for the Coastal Sonoma Coast, although no doubt Gallo would find a way to get its inland vineyards included in that one too.
I will point out that Gallo makes some very good wines, usually at very good prices. I don't expect Gallo to start making utter crap and selling it with a Russian River Valley label: not under the Gallo of Sonoma label, nor under its other brands like MacMurray Ranch, Frei Brothers, Rancho Zabaco or Night Train Express. That's not the point.
The point is, Gallo's RRV wines, good as they might be, will not have the same terroir as true RRV wines. It's just like with the Sonoma Coast: Starting with the 2012 vintage, you'll have to ask if the wine comes from the river valley part of the Russian River Valley.
And not just for Gallo-made wines: there's no reason for the neighbors not to buy cheaper grapes from plantings in the expanded area. Fortunately the RRV subappellation Green Valley hasn't expanded, although if Gallo buys vineyards right around it, I wouldn't bet against it.
Gallo has always had a complicated relationship with the American wine-drinking public. Ernest Gallo, aggressive marketer, and Julio Gallo, quality-driven mass producer, helped build a market for wine in the 1940s and '50s, but Ernest also did everything he could to undermine rivals. And Gallo's lab has long been a place of innovation which has been mostly a force for good, in that Gallo has helped make spoiled wines a thing of the past.
However, those same lab scientists have never respected the idea that a wine should taste like it comes from a particular place -- why would champagne need to come from Champagne? Gallo has been so influential in this country that it deserves much if not most of the blame for America's continuing resistance to the concept of terroir.
I like grape grower Nick Leras' quote in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat: "When something like this happens, we just have to accept it." That's the consequence of living next to a wealthy, aggressive boor.