American Viticultural Area
An American Viticultural Area is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), United States Department of the Treasury.
The TTB defines AVAs at the request of wineries and other petitioners. There were 206 AVAs as of October 2012. Prior to the installation of the AVA system, wine appellations of origin in the United States were designated based on state or county boundaries. All of these appellations were grandfathered into federal law and may appear on wine labels as designated places of origin, but these appellations are distinct from AVAs.
American Viticultural Areas range in size from the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA at 29,900 square miles (77,000 km2) across four states, to the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, California, at only 62 acres (25 ha). The Augusta AVA near the town of Augusta, Missouri, was the first recognized AVA, gaining the status on June 20, 1980.
Unlike most European wine appellations of origin, an AVA specifies only a geographical location from which at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must have been grown. AVAs are more similar to the Italian Indicazione Geografica Tipica than other European appellation of origin systems. American Viticultural Area designations do not limit the type of grapes grown, the method of vinification, or the crop yield. Some of those factors may, however, be used by the petitioner to justify uniqueness of place when proposing a new AVA.
Current regulations impose the following additional requirements on an AVA:
- Evidence that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to the area;
- Historical or current evidence that the boundaries are legitimate;
- Evidence that growing conditions such as climate, soil, elevation, and physical features are distinctive;
Petitioners are required to provide such information when applying for a new AVA, and are also required to use USGS maps to both describe (using terms from the map) and depict the boundaries.
Once an AVA is established, at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the specified area if an AVA is referenced on its label.
State or county boundaries — such as for Oregon or Sonoma County — are not AVAs, even though they are used to identify the source of a wine. AVAs are reserved for situations where a geographically defined area has been using the name and it has come to be identified with that area.
A vineyard may be in more than one AVA. For example, the Santa Clara Valley AVA and Livermore Valley AVAs are located within the territory of the San Francisco Bay AVA, which is itself located within the Central Coast AVA.