What does Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and the Upper Mississippi River Valley have in common? They all represent wine-growing regions (American Viticultural Areas, AVA) distinguishable by geographic features and designated by the Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
On July 22, 2009 the United States government designated the worlds largest wine-growing region - the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA with 29,914 square miles covering four Midwestern states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa). The new AVA follows the Mississippi River and is bounded on each side by approximately 60 miles in what is known as the "Driftless Area", an area unaltered by the last ice age.
So what does this mean to an aspiring wine producing region to receive an AVA designation? I have been asked this question several times in recent days and have given some thought to it. Although the majority of wineries and growers, in Iowa, produce outside the new AVA, it seems to me to be a good thing.
Here is why: An established wine-growing region allows an area to receive attention, a spot-light whose beam will help illuminate the entire Iowa wine industry. An AVA designation says to the world, "hey, something special and unique is happening here" bringing with it wine tourists eager to try something new and interesting. And finally, I believe this AVA will ultimately mean better wine! Under the close watch and scrutiny of a discerning wine-drinking public, winemakers will ultimately become better at making locally grown grapes into exquisite and regionally recognizable wines.
In closing, stealing and altering a line from Field of Dreams, where Terrance Manning strongly urged Ray to build the field (vineyard and winery):
"People will come WINEMAKERS. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your VINEYARD not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your WINERY as innocent as children, longing for SOMETHING INTERESTING. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per BOTTLE. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and GOOD WINE they lack.
Forgive my enthusiasm and apologies to "Field of Dreams"!
Sources: Wines and Vines online
Field of Dreams - quotes: IMBD.com
Image: (Limestone Bluffs: Resource Conservation and Development) in Maquoketa, Iowa