Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench AVAs Approved

Terry Dereniuk • Contributing Writer

Kelseyville, CA – David Weiss, Chairman of the Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench Growers Committee, announced the recent publication of the final rule establishing two new American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Lake County by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  Weiss noted that the process to finally getting these new AVAs approved was a lengthy one.  “The addition of these two new AVAs helps to further define the distinct characteristics of Lake County as a wine region,” Weiss said.  “The committee knew that both of these areas were unique growing regions that needed to be formally recognized with the creation of these AVAs.”

Members of the Grower Committee included Weiss, Don Eutenier, Vincent Price, Walt Lyon, Buz Dereniuk, and Steve Tylicki.  Rick Gunier, CPI Marketing, was hired by the Committee to work with them on making this vision a reality.  Gunier noted, “Big Valley was one of the first areas to plant winegrapes after Prohibition in Lake County.  Kendall-Jackson got its start in this area.  I am pleased to see both the Big Valley and Kelsey Bench finally getting the recognition for their unique characteristics that these areas have long deserved.”  Terry Dereniuk, author of both petitions, said, “This was really a team effort.  I could not have completed the project without the help of our local growers who shared the history and data that supported establishment of both AVAs”.

Myron Holdenried, owner of Holdenried Vineyards and one of the first to plant winegrapes in this area in the 1960’s, commented on the approval of the new AVAs.  “We have always felt the Kelsey Bench produced very unique grapes and wines and deserved special recognition.

“We are excited to see the establishment of officially recognized AVAs for these two long-time viticultural areas,” said Debra Sommerfield, President of the Lake County Winegrape Commission. “This recognition underscores the distinct qualities that make Lake County a uniquely diverse and fascinating high-elevation winegrowing region – a region formed by volcanic and tectonic forces and carved by the flows of an ancient lake.”  Nick Buttita, Chair of the Lake County Winery Association Board of Directors shared Sommerfield’s enthusiasm.  He said “The establishment of these AVAs gives wineries another tool to tell the story of their wine to consumers.  Including the name of the AVA on the wine label identifies the location where the grapes were grown and our distinctiveness.”

The Big Valley District – Lake County AVA covers approximately 11,000 acres of land with six bonded wineries, 43 vineyards, and roughly 1,800 acres planted.  Once part of the ancient lakebed of Clear Lake, this area is covered in prime agricultural soils.  It was the first settlement in Lake County and has a long history of agricultural activity.   The boundaries of this region include Clear Lake to the north, Mount Konocti and the Red Hills – Lake County AVA to the east, Merritt Road and Bell Hill Road to the south, and Highland Springs Road to the west.  Sauvignon Blanc is the most widely planted varietal in this area.

The Kelsey Bench – Lake County AVA includes about 9,100 acres with one bonded winery and 27 vineyards.  Vineyard acreage totals about 900 acres with many acres planted to red varietals.  The term “bench” was selected to reflect the topography of the area with higher elevations and hills.  Rich soils cover a large portion of the Kelsey Bench with good drainage favorable to growing grapes.    The boundaries of the Kelsey Bench AVA are the Big Valley District to the north, the 1,600-foot elevation line that runs east of Kelsey Creek to the east, Kelsey Creek Drive to the south, and Adobe Creek Drive to Highland Springs Road to the west.

TTB published the final rule establishing the Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench AVAs in the Federal Register on October 2, 2013.  The rule will become final 30 days from the date of publication.   A complete description of the boundary lines for the new AVAs can be viewed in the Federal Register for October 2, 2013, available online at:


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