Wine Words: AVA

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AVA is a wine word, and it means American Viticultural Area. An AVA is an official ‘federally’ recognized, demarcated grape growing region in the United States. Today there are over 200 AVAs (and growing), located in every state from Alaska to Wyoming.

AVAs are granted by the TTB, which is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and part of the United States Department of the Treasury.

The Application Process
AVA applications are crafted by the wineries in a particular area that believe that there is something significantly unique about an area to justify an official demarcation. Any individual or group may petition the TTB to designate a grape growing area as an American Viticultural Area. In theory the basis for granting AVAs is based on geographical and climatic boundaries. But you can be sure politics is involved as well!

The Rules and Regulations
Unlike European AOC, DOC and DO appellation systems, which impose lots of viticultural and winemaking regulations, American AVAs are relatively free of restrictions. The only regulation is that 85% of the grapes must come from the AVA designated on the bottle. There are no restrictions on grape varieties planted, yields or even style of wine produced.

Size – From the largest to the smallest
AVAs vary greatly in size, from over 1.6 million acres to just 150 acres. Many AVAs cover entire or multiple counties. A few huge AVAs cover multiple states such as the Ohio River Valley AVA, which straddles four different states (IN, KY ,OH, WV) and at more than 1.6 million acres is the largest AVA is the United States. At the other extreme, some AVAs can be very small. Cole Ranch AVA in California’s Mendocino County is but 150 acres!

AVAs within AVAs
Many AVAs sit within other AVA’s. For example, let us look at one of the better-known California AVAs – the Napa Valley. Within the Napa Valley AVA distinct sub-regions have been identified as sufficiently different to merit their own AVAs. Today the Napa Valley has 16 sub-appellations (AVAs). They are Atlas Peak, Calistoga, Chiles Valley District, Coombsville, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mount Veeder, Oak Knoll District, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville and Wild Horse Valley.

For lots more information on the many and different AVAs within the United States check out the following websites: The Wine Institute or the TTB.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L’Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne

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