It seems like yesterday, a bunch of us huddled around a map outside of Michael Larner’s barn to discuss boundary lines with Wes Hagen. Attendees Keith Sarloos, Jeff Newton, Steve Beckmen, Roger Harrison, John Falcone (Rusack), and Matt Dees (Jonata) had recently agreed to hire Wes to put together a petition for the Ballard Canyon AVA. I was so immersed in the map; I didn’t notice my dog, Baron, wander off until we heard the frantic squawking of chickens from down the hill. Taking a brief intermission from the meeting, I caught Baron mouthing a full-size hen, which he promptly let go with only a small chunk taken out of its rear end.
Baron had yet to be born back when we decided to pursue an American Viticultural Area for our beloved Ballard Canyon.
In early 2009, the Sommelier Journal contacted Sashi. The magazine was interested in taking a busload of the nation’s brightest Sommeliers to Ballard Canyon to see the terroir, meet the vintners and winemakers, and taste the wines. Sashi immediately envisioned a memorable event for these powerful wine buyers and he spurred all of the vintners of Ballard Canyon into action to capitalize on this amazing opportunity. We would host the Somms for an outdoor luncheon followed by a seminar-style tasting.
Planning and executing the event prompted the vintners of Ballard Canyon to join forces for the very first time. Coordination meetings and hours spent setting up gave us ample time to realize we had all thought of creating an AVA, but none of us had acted upon our mutual “great idea”.
That was about to change.
The feedback we received from the Sommeliers was overwhelmingly positive. Countless participants commented on the across-the-board quality of the wines, the combination of concentration and balance, and the beauty of the Canyon.
In the fuzzy after-glow of the event, Michael Larner harnessed our positive communal energy to take the casual discussions about an AVA to the next level. He contacted Wes Hagen, the architect of Santa Rita Hills AVA and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County AVA, and created a scheme of funding the petition process. Every Vintner in Ballard Canyon eagerly signed on to support the cause. Days of 4x4ing to scout ridge lines and scouring archives for Federal maps ensued.
After quite a few meetings, including only one chicken casualty and no real disagreements or debates; Wes sent a 3” thick binder of beautiful maps and spreadsheets to Washington, DC.
That was two years ago.
On January 18th, the TTB issued a Press Release announcing a public review period. As long as no controversy arises before March 18th, Ballard Canyon AVA will be official!
The only tangible effect will be the right to label “Ballard Canyon” as our region of origin. But I have hopes that one day Ballard Canyon will be synonymous with great Syrah throughout the world.
Most of all, I’m thrilled for my dad, Tom Stolpman, as he and Jeff Newton saw the true potential in Ballard Canyon back in 1987. My dad made the biggest risk of his life in buying and developing what is today the largest vineyard in Ballard Canyon. The fact that the Federal Government will now recognize Ballard Canyon as a singularly unique place to grow wine grapes is just one more piece of affirmation that Dad gambled right.