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Petaluma Gap becomes new Sonoma County wine appellation

Keller Estate Winery and a view of the Petaluma River basin off Lakeville Highway in Petaluma. (KENT PORTER/ PD FILE, 2014)

BILL SWINDELL,

The federal government on Thursday recognized the Petaluma Gap as the newest American Viticultural Area (AVA), giving Sonoma County its 18th such wine appellation and providing another reminder of its vast diversity of grape growing throughout the region.

The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s ruling allows wineries that use grapes from the area to put the “Petaluma Gap” designation on their bottle labels in an effort to differentiate themselves in the competitive $34 billion marketplace for California wines.

The area covers 4,000 acres of vineyards in an overall 200,000-acre region in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County. About 75 percent of the acreage is planted to pinot noir, which is the most expensive wine grape in the county. The rest is mostly composed of chardonnay and syrah.

Much of the area is already covered under the enormous Sonoma Coast AVA, but Petaluma Gap proponents noted their area was different because of the afternoon wind and fog that come from Bodega Bay and pass through the hilly areas and into San Pablo Bay, cooling the fruit and allowing a longer hang time to give it more flavor.

“It (the wind) helps cool down the grape and slow down the ripening,” said Rickey Trombetta, owner of Trombetta Family Wines in Forestville, which sources grapes from the area. “When the wine is part of a meal, it doesn’t overshadow and it doesn’t disappear,” she added.

The region already has some advantages, especially with its own organization, the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, which was founded in 2005 to help promote the area. In addition, notable vintners, such as David Ramey and Ana Keller, use grapes from the region and Bill Price’s Gap’s Crown vineyard has received tremendous accolades for the pinot noir grapes it produces for such wineries as Sebastopol’s Kosta Browne and Sonoma’s Walt Wines.

“We are seeing more and more inquiries from people looking at property in the Petaluma Gap,” Trombetta said. She also is chair of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance.

Blue Rock Vineyard of Cloverdale, for example, earlier this year planted a 30-acre vineyard right next to Crown’s Gap. Owner Kenny Kahn said he was bullish on the property given the high quality of grapes coming from the region.

Vintners also believe that the designation can attract more wine tourists to Petaluma given that Petaluma Gap is now the shortest drive to an AVA region from San Francisco. Adobe Road Winery has a popular tasting room located in downtown Petaluma, which is also a short walk from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station for those who want to take public transportation.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.