Willow Creek (AVA)
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Willow Creek is California’s northern most 'coastal' American Viticulture Area (AVA). This distinction is not well known outside the far north of the California coast, and only Seida Valley AVA in inland Siskiyou County is farther north. The region lies in a narrow valley formed by the Trinity River only 25 miles from the cold Pacific Ocean, yet it still enjoys an abundance of sunlight and heat due to the multiple mountain ranges in between. The AVA was established in 1983, from the petition efforts of two area school teachers with small vineyards located in the Willow Creek Valley, Ed Oliviera and Dean Williams. It spans elements of Humboldt and Trinity Counties.

The region is very rugged and mountainous with the cold crystal clear waters of the Trinity River rushing literally through the middle of the AVA. The valley floor rests 400 – 500 feet above sea level surrounded by 4000 foot mountains. The AVA runs from a few miles east of the town of Willow Creek following the Trinity River to a point a few miles southwest of town and is inclusive of the valley floor and surrounding slopes to an elevation of 1000 feet, which encompass about 6,000 acres. The Trinity connects to the Klamath River several miles downstream from the AVA where the Klamath continues to the ocean. This long corridor to the cold ocean waters eventually leads to evening temperature drops of as much as 50 degrees.

Soils are typically very rocky with little clay content. Rocks, sand and a loose loam cover most of the land. Parent rock is ocean shale piled up from the continuous action of the Pacific plate diving under the North American plate and pushing marine deposits in front of the subduction zone. These soils are well drained and vines must send their roots deep to avoid summer drought.

A short growing season tends to be hot and dry with daytime temperatures mainly in the 90’s reaching the 100’s for week long stretches. It is this daytime heat that differentiates Willow Creek from the surrounding Humboldt County appellation. Afternoon breezes running up these coastal river valleys reflect, ultimately, on the coastal nature of the appellation. When rainfall resumes during the late fall and winter months as much as 70 inches can be totaled in a year. Winter temperatures do fall below freezing.

Only 7 small commercial vineyards exist at this time in the AVA. Ranging in size from 2 acres to 20, a diverse variety of grapes are grown with varied success. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangeovese, and Zinfandel, all needing summer heat comprise the reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc are grown for white.

Currently just 3 small wineries exist in Willow Creek; Dogwood Estates, Sentinel, and Winnett Vineyards. Other wineries in cool to cold parts of Humboldt County rely on the heat of Willow Creek for warm climate red grapes.

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Correspondent

Barbara Trigg
is the Regional Correspondent for Willow Creek.

Recommendations

Humboldt County - Home of the world's tallest trees

About 200 miles north of San Francisco, Humboldt County on the Northern California Coast is a natural paradise. It boasts the world's tallest trees in Redwood National Park, the continental United States' longest stretch of wild beachfront along the Lost Coast, the state's second largest natural bay, as well as a variety of historic towns and seaports.

In addition to the giant redwoods, you'll find outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking, biking and scenic drives. Humboldt Bay, for example, easily accessible from Old Town Eureka, offers paddlers a chance to see harbor seals, thousands of coastal birds, and schools of flapping bat rays. And the Avenue of the Giants offers by far the most remarkable auto tour among the massive old growth redwoods.

Combine the natural beauty with the area's commitment to agricultural quality -- the county has some of the state's oldest organic vineyards and farmers markets -- and visitors here find some excellent culinary discoveries.

The eclectic dining choices range from Old West lumber camp-style diners to Wine Spectator award-winning white-tablecloth restaurants. And the seafood? Fresh crab, salmon and clam are amply available at local markets and restaurants, as well as to visiting anglers and beachcombers.

Moreover, Humboldt oysters rank as the most popular in the state. Seventy percent of all oysters consumed in California originate from Humboldt Bay. And its Cypress Grove goat cheeses are found in fine restaurants and markets across the country. As an extra touch, many local markets, wine shops and restaurants offer Humboldt wines, pairing their best with the best from Humboldt farmers and fishermen.

The Redwood Coast also offers a variety of lodging choices, many of them intimate B&Bs that showcase the region's heritage. Many are in Eureka, or the Victorian Seaport, which has a restored 19th Century Old Town business district on the waterfront; and in Ferndale, which has been called the state's best preserved Victorian village. Familiar national motel chains along with RV parks are easily accessible along Hwy 101, often overlooking redwoods, farmlands, and the rugged coast.

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Q: What are the most recognized grapes grown here?
Q: What wines are produced here?

The AppellationAmerica database identifies 19 wines labeled with the Willow Creek designation.

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Q: What wineries are based here ?
Q: What other wineries source fruit here ?
Q: What are the overlapping appellations ?

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Winery sponsors of Appellation America’s coverage of the Willow Creek appellation.