Ramona Valley: New American Viticultural Area

Vineyard owner Bill Schweitzer, of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association, discusses Ramona Valley's official designation as an American Viticultural Area. That designation went into effect Friday. Schweitzer talks about what it will mean for vineyard and winery owners in California's Ramona Valley.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Wine-tasting tours of California may soon be expanding their roots. Ramona Valley in San Diego County is now officially an American viticultural area. That designation is issued by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It gives Ramona Valley its own wine appellation, meaning wine produced in the area can carry its own label. There are now 166 places in the US with that distinction. Bill Schweitzer is owner of Pachelo Vineyard(ph) in the town of Ramona. He organized the group that petitioned for the designation.

Mr. BILL SCHWEITZER (Owner, Pachelo Vineyard): Today is the first day that we can officially use it on labels, which is what appellations are all about.

BLOCK: So this is a huge day in the history of the Ramona Valley wine industry, I guess.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: It is exactly. This is the first day that we are recognized by the government as an official, you know, wine-growing region.

BLOCK: Well, what's involved in that? What did you have to prove to be able to say `This is Ramona Valley wine and it does have its own appellation.'

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, we had to prove that it was both unique in terms of climate and topology, that there was a history of being called the Ramona Valley and that there were grapes growing here, not necessarily that there was any wine industry so much as that it was possible to grow grapes in the Ramona Valley.

BLOCK: Well, give me your pitch then. What is it about the climate and the conditions where you are there in the Ramona Valley that are so distinctive, so unique.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, the Ramona Valley is a intermediate area in the back country of San Diego that is almost exactly 20 miles away from the ocean and 20 miles away from the desert. So we get a nice touch of cooling ocean influence during the evenings and early--very early mornings but we have the advantage of having a lot of sunshine and a lot of warm weather in the mid part of the day. So we get nice ripening but then we cool off very quickly, which allows the grapes to have--to maintain their high acidic content longer as they're ripening. So you get a nice brighter wine as a result of that production.

BLOCK: Hmm. Is there a particular kind of grape that does really well where you are?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, we have noticed already that we are seeing good success with Syrah, with Cabernet Sauvignon, with Sangiovese and we think that Zinfandel will be very good here and a few of the more warm-weather whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Deanya(ph) are also having a bit of success.

BLOCK: You know, if I think of California wine, which I sometimes do, I certainly think of Napa Valley. I think of Sonoma Valley. Couldn't tell you that I've ever thought about Ramona Valley or could even find it on the map.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Or even San Diego County, for that matter.

BLOCK: I probably could find that on a map.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Yes, you probably could. We think of ourselves as kind of where Napa was 50 years ago, just as they were starting in the '60s and starting to have a little bit of quality wine growing and starting to have people think `I could invest in land there and go and make grapes.' We're just getting started.

BLOCK: Well, Bill Schweitzer, congratulations and thanks for talking to us.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, thank you very much.

BLOCK: Bill Schweitzer is owner of Pachelo Vineyard in Ramona, California. Today two other wine-producing areas received their own appellations: the Wahluke Slope viticultural area in Grant County, Washington, and the Texoma viticultural area in north central Texas. Cheers to all.

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