A New Certification Course in American Wine

by Jonathan Cristaldi

Christian Oggenfuss, Founder, The Napa Valley Wine Academy

Christian Oggenfuss, Founder, The Napa Valley Wine Academy

For the American wine industry, 1981 was a big year. According to the Wine Institute, the first four American Viticultural Areas (AVA) were officially established that year: Guenoc Valley (Lake County), Napa Valley, San Pasqual Valley (San Diego County), Santa Maria Valley (San Louis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County).

In 1982, another 14 more AVAs were approved, and in 1983 another 24 came into being—on and on. And as of last year, 2014, the TTB approved another 24 new AVAs. Today, there are 217 approved AVAs across the U.S. by the TTB (see the full list here).

And here’s a little snapshot into the past, from a federal register published on January 28, 1982:

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) feels that the establishment of the Napa Valley viticultural area and the subsequent use of its name as an appellation of origin in wine labeling and advertising will help consumers of wine to better identify wines from Napa Valley.”

The NVWA is located at 2501 Oak Street in Napa, CA. 

The NVWA is located at 2501 Oak Street in Napa, CA. 

Well: it seems safe to say that it worked. And today, every state in the U.S. is producing wine. New labels are hitting shelves faster than the industry can sell them. Wine bars  with local and imported accents are springing up around the country, and urban wineries are the latest trend in major cities’ downtown areas. From the winegrowing and production perspective, there is an overwhelming diversity of microclimates, soils, plantings and approaches to winemaking right here in the U.S.—so much so that Christian Oggenfuss, former Director of Marketing for The Plumpjack Group and Founder of The Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) decided it was time to develop a program geared toward American Wine. With the publication of Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s book, “American Wine,” he seized the chance to set such a course in motion (full disclosure: I am a WSET certified instructor teaching on behalf of the NVWA). 

The first set of certified American Wine Studies “Experts” will participate in the inaugural course in March of 2015, and according to the course description, “Those who pass with a minimum mark of 75%” will be awarded the American Wine Studies (AWS) “Credential and certificate.”

Christian spoke with me about the program this past January, and why he believes it was time to develop a certification in American wine:

Jonathan:  What will students gain by going through the American Wine Studies program? 

Christian: Students will gain a deeper understanding of the American Wine industry, its complex and intriguing history, critical wine regions and wines. Here are some stats that highlight the size and economic importance of the American grape and wine industry:

  • Grapes are the highest value fruit crop in the U.S., and the sixth largest overall, valued at nearly $5 billion annually.
  • All 50 states have wineries, 7,839 and counting, with more than 900,000,000 gallons of wine produced, accounting for 8 percent of the world's wine production.
  • California produces 90 percent of U.S. wines, with Washington State coming in second and New York state third (but fourth in number of wineries, after Oregon).

And last year, U.S. wine exports reached $1.5 billion in revenues, which was up 16 percent from the prior year. So, with stats like this, it’s clear that the time is right to start educating folks on American wine.

Q: You have a new brick and mortar in downtown Napa, CA, but will the course be offered online for students who can’t get to the Napa Valley?

Absolutely. We hope to offer the online AWS starting in May of 2015. We’ll have notable guest lecturers and experts in their field at both our brick and mortar in downtown Napa, CA as well as online.

Q: While putting this course together, what did you learn about the American Wine Industry that really caught your attention? 

I am a big history buff, so the historic aspect was so fascinating to research and to realize that so much of what happened during Prohibition really has shaped the industry as we know it today. It would be the bookmark that marks a major turning point in a novel about the American wine industry. It was also great to be reminded of how diverse the beverage industry is here in the United States.  

Q: How is Linda Murphy involved in the development of the American Wine Studies program?

Linda will be a guest lecturer for the course—she was not directly involved with the development of the course work, but has supported us along the way. And we of course are using "American Wine," the book she co-authored with Jancis Robinson as the one of the resources that we require students to read in preparation for taking the course.

More information about the Napa Valley Wine Academy and the American Wine Studies program is available via their website: napavalleywineacademy.com.

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