The Rocky Road a Winery Took to Creating an AVA

It would be understandable if smaller wineries in remote, unique regions of a large American Viticultural Area felt underrepresented.

That’s where Rocky Pond Winery in Chelan, Washington was a few years ago when it began its successful push to create the Rocky Reach AVA, where it’s currently the only winery that is a member.

“We were originally part of the Columbia AVA which is the largest in the state, and creating our own smaller AVA helped us highlight the unique attributes of our AVA,” said David Dufenhorst, who owns Rocky Pond Winery with his wife, Michelle Dufenhorst. 

Located between Chelan and Wenatchee, Rocky Reach straddles the Columbia River and is wholly contained within the larger Columbia Valley. The AVA covers 32,333 total acres, though the Columbia River and Rocky Reach Reservoir make up approximately a quarter of the area. There are currently eight commercial vineyards covering 117 acres.

Rocky Reach AVA was named the 20th AVA in Washington State just a couple of weeks ago, a process that Dufenhorst said took some time.

“It took over four years to get approved,” he said. “Working with the federal government is never easy or fast.”

The process to become an AVA involves an application with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. 

To become an AVA, a region must prove that it has unique qualities, like microclimate or topography. For Napa appellations like Rocky Reach, that means citing distinct soil differences compared to neighbors, and drawing those boundaries clearly.

Once the AVA is approved, wineries located in the region submit a Certificate of Label Approval request to the TTB.

To get across the finish line, Dufenhorst and one other grower near him worked with geology professor Kevin Pogue of Whitman College, who has successfully drafted numerous AVA petitions.

Pogue pointed out that Rocky Reach was different from the Columbia Valley due to its unique bedrock it shares with Lake Chelan, rockier soil, its location in a deep canyon and its resulting relatively low elevation. 

“He was crucial to this process,” Dufenhorst said.

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