Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What's an AVA

An AVA is an American viticultural area. That means it has been recognized and defined by Federal regulators to include a specific geographical area as a wine-growing region.AVA’s were first established by law in 1973, the regulations governing them were finalized in 1978 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the regulations became mandatory in 1983.

What does all that mean to wineries and wine-drinkers?

The idea of the AVA was to establish standards to protect consumers and producers alike. The regulations control what a winery needs to do if it wants to label wine as being from an AVA.

The idea of the AVA was to establish standards to protect consumers and producers alike. The regulations control what a winery needs to do if it wants to label wine as being from an AVA. For example, if a wine is described as “Napa Valley” on the label, 85% of the fruit must be grown in that AVA. Further regulations control the use of the names of states (75% within), and counties (75%), multiples (like Napa-Sonoma) and a host of other conditions. To label a wine as “Estate Bottled”, the winery must own or control vineyards in a common AVA from which the grapes come, and must handle the entire process of making and bottling the wine on their own premises.

To label a wine as “Estate Bottled”, the winery must own or control vineyards in a common AVA from which the grapes come, and must handle the entire process of making and bottling the wine on their own premises.

The AVA is not necessarily an indication of quality. The regulations do not allow for the government to test and grade the quality of wine the way they do eggs or meat. It is an indication of where the grapes came from, and generally indicates areas that have historically grown grapes for wine and have a particular defining characteristic. As long as the interested parties in an area can provide the data to persuade the regulators to approve their petition, almost anything can be a designated. The process is long and expensive – you need work from historians, soil experts, meteorologists, lawyers and others to detail the AVA and shepherd your petition through the system. The costs of that add up quickly, but well over 100 AVAs have been designated since the regulations went into effect.

Wine-drinkers benefit by that protection as well. The AVA regulations allow the consumer to buy with confidence, knowing that wine that says Napa Valley, actually came from the Napa AVA. No need to wonder where the grapes were actually grown.

The AVA will also allow you to make certain broad characterizations. If you like a particular wine from an AVA and know of several similar ones you have tasted, you might place more confidence in purchasing a similar but unknown wine from that same AVA. Nothing can guarantee satisfaction here, but you may be able to form some general rules for what you find appealing.
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