Arts & Entertainment

Dowd On Drinks: Midwest Gets Nation’s Largest AVA

You may not know the wine appellation “Upper Mississippi River Valley” now, but watch for it on wine labels at your favorite purveyor in the coming months.

It is the newest federally-approved American Viticulture Area (AVA) – and the nation’s largest, cutting through 29,914 square miles of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. The largest AVA had been the 26,000-square-mile Ohio River Valley.

The new designation comes as a response to wine and agriculture officials from the four states who petitioned the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau, which designates AVAs, such as Napa and Finger Lakes.

The new region works as a specific geographic area, a necessary criterion, because, unlike much of the flat plains of the Midwest, the Upper Mississippi River Valley is covered with steep slopes and well-drained soil required to grow premium grapes, usually various hybrids since the harsh winters wreak havoc on less hardy grapes as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
In other wine-related news:

Celebrity endorsements of wines and spirits are one thing, but do people really want to sip something endorsed by a horse? This isn’t just any old horse, of course, of course. It’s the famous three-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra. Kendall-Jackson Winery has announced that a limited edition of wines honoring the horse will be ready for the holiday season. K-J plans to produce and bottle 300 cases of the wines. Each bottle will bear the horse’s image. Actually, we should have seen this sort of marketing gimmick coming. Kendall-Jackson co-owners Jess Jackson and wife Barbara Banke bought the filly in in May after she won the Kentucky Oaks by 20-1/4 lengths.

For people who like both wine and beer in equal measure, Mansfield, Ohio, has the perfect recycling project to brag about. Cypress Hill Winery has opened in a former brewery. Gary and Janice Jones and Rick and Carol Taylor are the owners and operators of the new enterprise, located at the rear of 37 East Fourth Street in the former Wooden Pony brewery. They have been making wine informally for more than a dozen years, but as they got serious and began competing in Cleveland area amateur winemaking contests their skills expanded. Last year their 2006 zinfandel won best-in-show honors. They now are licensed to sell their wines, once made in the Taylors’ wine cellar, thus the need for expanded facilities. They are offering four different wines – syrah, barbara, zinfandel (seen above) and cabernet sauvignon. All are made from 2007 California grapes and are barrel matured for at least one year.

The beleaguered French wine industry didn’t find much to be buoyed by in the latest report from the Federation of French Exporters of Wines and Spirits. Wine exports plummeted 25 percent in the first half of this year. The group, which represents 85 percent of France’s wines and spirits exporters, said exports of such high-end items as Cognac and Champagne fell 27 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

(William M. Dowd covers the adult beverage world online at