Chuck McCoy readily admits he doesn’t operate a destination winery.
It takes a drive up a twisty, bumpy and narrow dirt road that can easily get flooded to reach his 45-acre vineyard, located on the hillsides off Calistoga Road. At most, a smattering of customers have stopped by to visit, by appointment only, since he started bottling in 1989.
The views are spectacular 1,700 feet above sea level. On a clear day a visitor can see San Francisco to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west, amid the green hilly rows of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and other red grapes.
In the competitive wine marketplace, McCoy, 80, notes it is hard for his three small labels — Volante, Brookwood and Diamond Vista — to stand out despite winning some competitions. But he and his neighbors received a boost last week as their wine region, the Fountaingrove District, was officially recognized, making it the 17th appellation in Sonoma County.
“I hate to say this, but I think you can definitely charge more. It will be an easier wine to sell on the Internet because Fountaingrove is a very good name,” McCoy said. “It’s a very prestigious name. People from New York City love Fountaingrove.”
The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau last week approved the new American Viticultural Area, or AVA. Overall, it encompasses 38,000 acres in a section of eastern Sonoma County that borders Napa County and isn’t covered by any other AVA.
In reality, the grape-growing region is comprised of 500 hillside acres that are owned by small growers. Home to five wineries and at least 35 vineyards, the new AVA is noted for its Bordeaux varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc as well as syrah and zinfandel.
The area is surrounded by Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley to the south, Knights Valley and Chalk Hill to the north, and the Russian River Valley to the west.
The most remarkable feature of the new district is its elevation, up to more than 2,000 feet in some places, as well as a marine influence because of a gap in the Sonoma Mountains in Santa Rosa, resulting in a cooler climate than nearby areas.
“You’re always getting wind,” said McCoy, who bought the winery with his late wife after retiring from a career with Dow Chemical Co. “It never stops.”
The Fountaingrove appellation is the latest effort by growers seeking to differentiate themselves from rivals in other parts of California, home to 136 appellations and 90 percent of the wine produced in America.
On Monday, Petaluma area growers launched an initiative to have their vineyards recognized by the federal government, arguing their area, too, could be defined by its distinct combination of temperatures, soil and geography.
The Petaluma Gap would cover 200,000 acres in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County, and would be essentially a sub-region of the massive Sonoma Coast AVA. The area has more than 80 vineyards and 4,000 acres of vines, mostly pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah. Growers decided to move forward on their petition after the bureau starting informing wineries last year to refrain from using “Petaluma Gap” on their labels, warning them that the appellation must be officially recognized before they could begin promoting it.