American Viticultural Areas (AVA) 101
Whether you’re a wine aficionado or someone who simply enjoys an occasional once-a-week glass with your dinner, you’ve probably come across wine varieties labeled as AVA. Some people assume this is a particular variety of grape, but this isn’t the case. Understanding AVA and the unique characteristics of each region will allow you to make smarter decisions when it comes to purchasing wine. Don’t worry if you’re still scratching your head trying to make sense of AVA, as we’re going to break down this system and what it means.
AVA, short for American Viticultural Areas, is a wine region classification system governed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). If a vineyard or winery wants to label their wine as “AVA,” they must file a petition with the TTB, including all of the pertinent information and documents.
While the number of AVAs varies from year to year, there are currently around 206 scattered through the the U.S. Before this system was in place, the origin of U.S. wine was based simply on state and/or country lines. This helped to inform consumers where their wine was coming from, but unfortunately it wasn’t a foil-proof solution. Some of the larger counties throughout the U.S. have several different types of geographical features and climates, resulting in a mixed variety of wine qualities and characteristics; therefore, labeling a wine based on county boundaries wasn’t an accurate way to gauge their qualities.
The TTB has a certain list of prerequisites wineries and vineyards must meet if they want to achieve the AVA label. For starters, the AVA label name must refer to a known geographical feature of the area, such as Leelanau Peninsula for instance. Unfortunately, wineries aren’t given the freedom to choose any name for their AVA; the name must refer to either a locally or nationally known geographic feature.
Another AVA requirement set forth by the TTB is evidence showing terrior of the region is unique. Terrior, as some of you may already know, is the set of climate, soil and other regional characteristics that contributes to wine production. In order for a winery to have their region designated as AVA, it must show the TTB that terrior in the region is unique and not found in other AVAs.
After establishing a new AVA, the winery must produce at least 85% of the grapes labeled on the bottle in the region. This is a unique condition that’s not found in Europe’s AOC system of classifying winemaking regions.
So, what are some of the top AVAs? If you asked ten different wine critics, you’d probably get ten different answers. Don’t get caught up on the regions, or date, when the wine was produced. Instead, focus on the actual characteristics of the wine (flavor, aroma and texture) to determine whether it’s suited to your liking. With that said, California’s Napa Valley AVA and Sonoma Valley AVA are two of of the most notable AVAs in the country.
Amy is a content writer for Wine Refrigerator Now. She thoroughly enjoys writing about interesting wine facts as well as drinking wine.