Last Post for Sta Rita Hills Expansion. My letter of opposition to the TTB.

Berserkers: Here’s my last post on the expansion of the SRH AVA. The Board of the SRHWA stands in unanimous opposition. Public comment closes Friday at midnight EST. If you would like to post a comment, pro or con, here’s the URL to do so:!submitComment;D=TTB-2014-0007-0001

My letter:

2 December 2014
Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines
Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance (SRHWGA)
4777 East Highway 246
Lompoc, CA 93436

Re: Comments on Proposed Expansion to Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the east (in opposition to expansion), TTB Notice 145

Dear TTB:

I write today to OPPOSE the Proposed Expansion to the Sta Rita Hills AVA, TTB Notice 145. As the original petitioner and researcher of the AVA, I will demonstrate clearly and scientifically that the expansion does not meet the regulatory necessity of Name Evidence, Distinguishing features, and/or Boundary evidence. The Proposed Expansion petition clearly and demonstrably fails regulatory muster for changing an AVA by the TTB’s own rules.

The TTB is required to give deference to the opinion of growers and vintners of an existing viticultural area to be affected by rulemaking. Please note that the Board of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers has voted unanimously to oppose the expansion, and there has not been a single public comment supporting the Proposed Expansion filed by a member of the SRHWA, including those who have or currently vinify fruit from the expansion petitioner’s vineyard(s). Those that have built the borders and the reputation of this special winegrowing area are unified and bound by this singular belief: expanding the border of the Sta Rita Hills AVA into the Buell(ton) Flats will indelibly alter the nature of the Sta Rita Hills AVA and cause consumer confusion, reducing any confidence that the public has in the integrity of the entire AVA system.

Name Evidence: The Buell(ton) Flat is not the Santa Rita Hills.

Plainly stated, all local historic narratives from farmers in the area with more than a decade of agricultural expertise (Comments 2,15,16, 24, 26, 31, 37, 38, 42, 44, 45,48, 53, 54, 59) within and outside of the current Sta. Rita Hills AVA boundary agree: the current proposed expansion boundary of the Sta. Rita Hills seeks to push the AVA into the Buell(ton) Flats. No public comment from a farmer exists in the Register that denies this fact, and more than 500 years of local farming expertise speaks clearly: the proposed expansion is disqualified immediately by the most basic tenet of AVA definition: the area in question is NOT known locally or nationally as the ‘Santa Rita Hills’.

Bob Campbell’s family has been growing fruit and vegetables in the Sta Rita Hills and in the proposed expansion area (Buell Flat) for 85 years. No other farming family has the kind of history and expertise in the Sta Rita Hills AVA except for perhaps Jose’ Baer, whose family has been farming here for 142 years spread over 5 generations. Both families, a full 8 generations, agree that the AVA expanding into the Buell Flat would not properly represent the area known locally and nationally as the ‘Santa Rita Hills’ and that local farmers have known for generations that there is a noticeable difference in climate within and without the northeastern boundary of the Santa Rita Hills… This type of historic agricultural consensus should disqualify the expansion by virtue of lack of Name Evidence. Bob Campbell writes: “…[T]he climate of the area east of the current SRH AVA line is very different due to warmer temperatures and less ocean influence” and “there is a significant difference in the crops we plant” (Comment 53) on either side of the AVA line.

After reading the combined expert opinions of multiple PhD’s (Dr. Veronica Morris, Dr. Deborah Elliott-Fisk, among others), their expert opinion is clear: the Proposed Expansion Petition is fraught with poor science, cherry-picked data, and lacks any type of meaningful, independent, local support. As Dr. Elliott-Fisk describes the Expansion Petition: “In fact, this is the most confusing and largest set of unsubstantiated information I have reviewed for any TTB notice.” (Comments on Proposed Expansion, Dr. Elliott-Fisk, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis.)

History of Original Petitioner:

Sixteen years ago I researched and wrote the Petition to Establish the Santa Rita Hills American Viticulture Area with the help of Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Bryan Babcock, Greg Brewer, the Melville Family and a number of other pioneers of this amazing and singular viticultural appellation.

Since that time I have worked in good faith with the ATF and the TTB on another two AVA petitions that have been submitted, perfected and approved: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (2011) and Ballard Canyon (2013). I prepared all three of these AVA petitions with one overarching goal in mind: that in 100 years wine writers and winemakers would look back and consider the lines we researched and carefully drew on USGS maps to be perfect at best, prescient at worst. I believe my teams (geologists, botanists, soil scientists, winegrowers) have done an admirable job preparing and perfecting documents that amount to a roadmap for the future of Santa Barbara County winegrowing.

Most germane to this opposition is language of the original Petition to Establish the Santa Rita Hills AVA in the section entitled “Historical or Current Evidence that the Boundaries of the Proposed American Viticultural Area Are as Specified in the Petition”.

“As evidenced by the USGS Quadrangle Maps (Exhibit Seven) submitted for approval, the Santa Rita Hills are the dominant, central feature of the proposed AVA: a transverse (east-west) maritime throat stretching from Lompoc to a few miles west of the Buellton Flats.” (emphasis mine). (Petition to Establish Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area, 1998: Wes Hagen Petitioner)

Clearly, the Proposed Expansion does not fit even the most fundamental definition as set forth in the original Petition to Establish:

  1. The Proposed Expansion (TTB Notice 145) is not enclosed in the east-west maritime throat described in the Petition’s definition of the SRH AVA.
  2. The Proposed Expansion (TTB Notice 145) is not West of the Buellton Flats, but demonstrably within the area locally and historically known as the Buell(ton) Flats.
  3. Using the original definition of the ‘dominant, central feature’ of the AVA, the Expansion Proposal (TTB Notice 145) is twice disqualified.

Referring back to the original 1998 ATF Petition is critical. It shows:

  1. that the Petitioners originally considered the Buell(ton) Flats for inclusion and rejected the area for being fundamentally inconsistent with the Santa Rita Hills AVA, and
  2. that the area east of the Santa Rita Hills boundaries, as originally perfected and approved, was already being called the Buell(ton) Flats at and before the time of the original petition.

To sum up the scientifically proven disqualifications of the Expansion Proposal for the Sta. Rita Hills AVA:

  1. “The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is not distinguishable as a result of its elevation or consistently sloped vineyards. The expansion area is not a part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA because it deviates from the orientation of the existing AVA into the unique Santa Rita Hills and its surrounding valleys. “ “ SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.2

  2. The petitioner has failed to present the required evidence because the expansion area (1) is known by a name other than the Santa Rita Hills; (2) does not share the same geographical, geomorphologic, soil, climate and vegetative features of the existing AVA; and (3) is not distinguishable from the area immediately outside of the boundaries. “ SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.3

  3. “The USGS Geographic Names Information System, which provides a link to a copy of the 1906 Decision Card, also provides that following information concerning the Santa Rita Hills, and when mapped, these coordinates place the most eastern point of the Santa Rita Hills just west of Mail Road and approximately 2.5 miles west of Pence Ranch” SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.5

  4. “The fact that the expansion area is located on the eastern facing slope outside of the Sta. Rita Hills and oriented away from the AVA’s interior valleys does distinguish the expansion area from the existing AVA.” SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.9

And the powerful, independent expertise echoed over and over in Public Comment:

  1. Greg Walter, Senior Editor for Wine Spectator Magazine and current owner/editor of the Pinot Report opposes this controversial and poorly researched expansion.
  2. Steven Spurrier, world-renowned wine writer and mastermind of the tasting known as the ‘Judgment of Paris’ (1976) opposes this expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA into the Buell(ton) Flats.
  3. Mike Potashnik, Owner/Writer/Editor of the International Wine Review, opposes the northeast expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA.
  4. Christine Graham and Ron Brown, with 70 years combined in professional wine journalism, oppose this expansion.
  5. Dewayne Holmdahl: local politician, wine judge and local resident of 60+ years in the Lompoc Valley clearly defines the ‘Expansion Proposal Area’ as the Buell(ton) Flats.
  6. Dr. Veronica Morris, a PhD specializing in lupine flowers, distinguishes the two areas by blooming delays of local lupine flowers between the perfected, historic boundary of the Sta Rita Hills AVA and the Proposed Expansion.

Lastly, experts with unimpeachable educational qualifications have shown that the science and data reproduced in the Proposed Expansion to the Sta Rita Hills AVA (TTB Notice 145) is sketchy at best.

  1. Expansion Petitioners provide ZERO climate data for the area surrounding the proposed expansion. As a petitioner with nearly twenty years of experience writing AVA Petitions, I know personally that this lack of surrounding, distinguishing climate data has caused petitions to be disqualified, and we expect the same criteria to be applied.

  2. Reliance on two years of questionable climate data that Dr. Elliott-Fisk accurately points out are calculated incorrectly and “in some manner other than which [Shabram] states in petitioners Exhibit B. page 13.” And further, “Mr. Shabram’s entire discussion of what he did [in calculating degree days] is nearly impossible to figure out.” (Quotes from Dr. Elliott-Fisk’s Comments)

  3. With the climate data clearly exposed as faulty, the Expansion Petitioners’ last evidence is a 107 year-old note card which references another ‘Work Card’ that apparently doesn’t exist. The actual USGS Names Information System that references this card gives actual GPS coordinates that clearly indicate that the Expansion Petition Boundary is excluded from the area known locally and nationally as the ‘Santa Rita Hills’.

Conclusion: If the local winegrowers/stakeholders/original petitioners are to be given any deference in this Expansion Petition opposition, please defer to the proven and referenced fact that the Expansion Petition Boundary was initially and purposefully excluded from the AVA in the original petition language. Add to this the expert opinions included in the Opposition that the Expansion Petition contains incorrect and unsubstantiated claims of climate, and even erroneous claims concerning oak trees that have been proven false by local expert botanists.

I strongly believe the facts, science, local expertise, history and public sentiment in this case require this Expansion Petition, (TTB Notice 145) to be denied and disqualified for further review.

If I could only provide one sentence to argue for the denial of this expansion, I would choose the summation of the Expansion Petition (TTB Notice 145) penned by perhaps the most celebrated AVA expert in the United States, Dr. Deborah Elliott-Fisk: “In fact, this is the most confusing and largest set of unsubstantiated information I have reviewed for any TTB notice.” (Comments on Proposed Expansion, Dr. Elliott-Fisk, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis.)


Wes Hagen

Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines
Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance (SRHWGA)
4777 East Highway 246
Lompoc, CA 93436

So what is the impetus for the expansion? My assumption as a lay person is $$.

Glenn, that is always the reason.

One particular winery on the East side of the border wants to be included.

To be accurate: Pence Ranch is .85 MILES east by northeast of the current legal, historic and perfected boundary of the Sta Rita Hills AVA.

To understand .85 miles in the wine world, that’s the distance between Romanee-Conti and Chambolle-Musigny, or between Romanee-Conti and plain old Vosne Villages.

This area of expansion is known locally as the Buell(ton) Flats and is a totally separate land mass and climate.

If you haven’t seen this video it explains our position with lots of pretty pictures and HD video:

Great video. Awesome cause. I wish you well. Pence might have some pull with those in power? The problem is always with bureaucrats who get involved in things they should well stay away from. Again, good luck. Your analogy of DRC seems appropriate enough to expand on it with a 6 foot diagram. If all else fails, tell them King Cab said NO to the expansion. That will quake their boots… [basic-smile.gif]
Please be sure to update us here. Again, good luck.

Pulling for you…but never count on bureaucrats to make the right decision [scratch.gif]

Mike, may I humbly suggest you tell the TTB what King Cab thinks yourself?

Make em quake! Link ofr public comment is in my post. Thanks!

I watched the video. Can I ask who Pence Ranch is? Are they nice folks enjoyed by their neighbors to the near west?

By all accounts Blair Pence is a good guy, we have nothing personal against him. We hope he makes great wine in the Buell Flat and elevates all of SBC wine.

But we sure wished he would have asked the SRHWA for counsel and guidance before hiring geologists and trying to expand the borders of the SRHWA.

Many are upset with what we see as arrogance of going through this process secretively and surprising all of us in the AVA with an expansion petition.

Fortunately, the science and data are faulty, and should never make regulatory muster.

When the most accomplished AVA consultant in the world says this: “In fact, this is the most confusing and largest set of unsubstantiated information I have reviewed for any TTB notice.” (Comments on Proposed Expansion, Dr. Elliott-Fisk, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis.), you can imagine that we are sleeping a little better knowing we’re probably all good.

So your expectation is victory and maintenance of current AVA boundaries? Good luck, this seems entirely correct to me based upon the water drainage alone.

But what do I know?

There’s a chance that Shabram, their hired gun, will realize he was given faulty data from the petitioner and will disavow himself of the document he produced.

Shabram doesn’t seem the kind of guy that would publish such a hodgepodge of unprovable and shoddy science. Our guess is he accepted the data from the petitioner without vetting it.