When a Winegrowing Area Is Controversial

islandAmong the more controversial American Viticultural Areas is Stags Leap in California’s Napa Valley.

The controversy centered on an apostrophe. Ultimately, it was decided that the AVA’s name would not include an apostrophe, while Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, which was founded in 1970, would keep its apostrophe.

Another controversial AVA is situated all the way across the country in Massachusetts. In fact, Martha’s Vineyard is America’s easternmost AVA, the island being about four miles off the coast.

What was the source of the controversy surrounding Martha’s Vineyard when the AVA was proposed in the early 1980s? A vineyard, ironically enough, in the Napa Valley. That Martha’s Vineyard is farmed by the Heitz winery, and is known for producing one of America’s most acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

Ultimately, the AVA for Massachusetts was approved because the island’s name can be traced back to 1602.

The Martha’s Vineyard AVA is part of the much larger Southeastern New England AVA. It includes Chappaquiddick Island, but does not include Nantucket Island — even though Nantucket is home to the famous Nantucket Wine Festival.

Although much effort was put into achieving AVA status for Martha’s Vineyard, not many grapes are grown and not much wine is made on the island. That’s too bad, because the climate is well sited for winegrape growing. It’s a maritime climate tbat’s heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream current, the sandy soils drain well (important for stressing the vines), and the growing season can be up to three weeks longer than in California, enabling grapes to ripen fully.

Early plantings on Martha’s Vineyard were native American varieties, but vinifera varieties were introduced in 1971 with the goal of kick-starting commercial production.

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For further information on the Nantucket Wine Festival, which in 2015 will be held May 13-17, visit www.nantucketwinefestival.com.

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