Rock Solid AVA
Oregon’s newest wine region Etsablished by TTB
By OWP Staff
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) established The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater as the newest American Viticultural Area (AVA) on Feb. 9.
The AVA sits on an alluvial fan of the Walla Walla River, where the river exits the foothills of the Blue Mountains and enters the Walla Walla Valley. Located entirely within the state of Oregon, it includes part of the town of Milton-Freewater. The area contained within the Rocks District is within the Walla Walla Valley AVA, which, in turn, is entirely inside the larger Columbia Valley AVA.
The distinguishing feature of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater is its soil, which consists primarily of well-drained dark-colored basalt cobblestones, which encourages the vines to root deeply. Due to their coarse texture, the soils are not easily eroded, requiring no cover crops, and the cobblestones can be left exposed where they absorb solar radiation. Heat from the sun-warmed stones promotes growth early in the season and assists ripening during the late summer and early fall.
Nineteen wine producers own vineyards within the boundaries of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, which contains approximately 3,770 acres and currently has approximately 250 acres of commercially producing vineyards. The AVA application effort was organized and managed by Steve Robertson of Delmas/SJR Vineyard along with seven other winegrowers and producers. Dr. Kevin R. Pogue, professor of geology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, submitted the petition to the TTB.
Dr. Pogue is pleased the growers shared his idea that the AVA be highly uniform with regard to the physical environment.
“The concept behind AVAs is to recognize regions that have truly unique growing conditions that are expressed in the wines. I believe we have remained true to that spirit, creating an AVA with the most uniform terroir in the United States,” he said. “The Rocks District lies on one landform, with very uniform topography and climate, and 96-percent of the soils belong to the Freewater soil series.”
The Walla Walla Valley AVA as a whole spans northeastern Oregon to southeastern Washington and has a lengthy agricultural history. Numerous crops have been cultivated in The Rocks District since the late 1800s. In addition to winegrapes, the area still produces commercially grown apples, cherries, prunes and plums. Wines produced from vineyards planted in The Rocks District in the mid-1990s were recognized immediately by wine critics as among the finest in the country.
“Wines from The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater have been earning accolades for years,” said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. “The Walla Walla Valley has a proud tradition of growing world-class winegrapes, and this designation will help winegrowers better tell the story of the unique terroir on which their grapes are grown.”
“The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater marks Oregon’s 18th AVA, another important step in designating the distinctive and high-quality winegrowing regions within our state,” said Ellen Brittan, chairwoman of the Oregon Wine Board. “By gaining AVA status, producers who grow or source fruit from these vineyards can better differentiate the unique characteristics of their wines.”
“Washington State Wine is excited to collaborate with our partners in the Walla Walla Valley AVA and in Oregon to share the story of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater,” said Steve Warner, president of Washington State Wine, which promotes awareness of wineries and growers in Washington and its cross-border AVAs. “This isn’t about state borders. It’s about the Pacific Northwest and our growing reputation as home to world-class wines. We feel this new AVA designation further recognizes the unparalleled terroir of this area.”