What is an AVA and How Does it Impact Wine?

by Jul 19, 2020Wine 101

The official definition of an (AVA) or American Viticultural Area, is a designated appellation for vineyards in the United States distinguishable by geographic, geologic, and climatic features and approved by U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

If you ask a winemaker, they will simply answer that an AVA is all about the terroir.

AVA and Terroir

If you ask a winemaker, they will simply answer that an AVA is all about the terroir. Terroir is the idea that wine has unique qualities depending on where the grapes are grown. The soil, climate, altitude, exposure and terrain all affect the taste of a wine

Terroir is the French concept of “place reflected in the glass”.

These designated grape growing regions, AVAs, allow vintners and wine enthusiasts to attribute unique characteristics, climatic features, quality, reputation, or other attributes of a wine made from grapes grown to its specific AVA geographic region.

Some AVAs are said to have more ‘terroir’ than others. This concept always prompts a passionate and contested discussion.

The smaller the AVA, the more unique the terroir. As of 2019, there are 246 recognized AVAs in 33 states—several AVAs are located in two or more states. The movement to establish more AVAs is especially strong in California which currently has over 139 AVA’s.

It is beneficial for a winery to be a part of a prestigious or well-known AVA which garners more positive views on their vineyard’s grapes and finished wines. This allows the vintner to better market their wines and exact higher revenue.

There are other vineyards that believe their region is unique enough to create a new AVA and benefit from the exceptionality of it’s terroir.

To obtain approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to establish a new AVA, there must be significant evidence that the microclimate within the designated geographic area is unique and consistent.

What is Appellation of Origin?

An Appellation is used to convey a wine’s place of origin and is based solely on geographical boundaries. An appellation may consist of a state, a sizable region that crosses one or several state lines, a county, or a designated AVA

AVA and Wine Labels

The AVA designation on wine labels more accurately describes the origin of the vintner’s wines and helps consumers understand the wine’s characteristics before they purchase.

For a Vintner to include an AVA on their wine label, or even reference a specific state, they must meet certain established requirements.

Wine labels may identify several levels of grape origins.

  •       State/County label listings under Federal Law: The listing of the State or County on wine labels is allowed under federal law if at least 75% of the grapes come from that named state or county. The remaining 25% can come from outside the named state or county.
  •       State label listings under State Law: In California and some other states, if the wine label lists a state, then 100% of the grapes must come from the listed state. This is more restrictive than federal requirements.

·       American Viticultural Area (AVA): For the AVA to be named on the wine label, 85% of the grapes must come from the named AVA. The remaining 15% of the grapes used in the wine can come from outside of the listed AVA but must come from the same state as the listed AVA.

Below is a complete list of U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recognized AVAs referenced by State as of 2019 with links to detail information on each specific AVA:                                                                                                                                                                                           

Arizona

Arkansas

California

General locations of California’s wine regions.

Cascade Foothills

These AVAs are located in far northern California, east of Redding.

Central Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains

All of these AVAs are included in the geographic boundaries of the Central Coast AVA with the exceptions of Ben Lomond Mountain AVA and Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which are surrounded by, but are specifically excluded from, the larger regional AVA.

Central Valley

Unlike other regions of California, there is no large regional AVA designation that includes the entire Central Valley wine growing region.

Klamath Mountains

These AVAs are located in the southern Klamath Mountains of far northwestern California.

North Coast

All of these AVAs are included within the geographic boundaries of the six-county North Coast AVA.

Sierra Foothills

All of these AVAs are contained entirely within the geographic boundaries of the Sierra Foothills AVA.

South Coast

All of these AVAs are contained entirely within the geographic boundaries of the South Coast AVA.

Colorado

Connecticut

 

Georgia

 

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Oregon map featuring 19 AVAs as of January 2019 courtesy of the Oregon Wine Board

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Tennessee

Texas

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

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