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AMERICAN VITICULTURAL AREA (AVA) is the system of designating and controlling the geography of grapes grown for wines produced in the United States. According to regulations, only wines that derive 85% or more of their content from within the boundaries of a designated AVA may use that AVA name to label the wine. The wine must also have been made to "conform to the laws and regulations of the named appellation area governing the composition, method of manufacture, and designation of wines made in such place." This clause protects and defers to the authority of each State to regulate methods of wine production.

The AVA system was begun in 1979, and is still in relative infancy. The very first AVA, approved in 1980 was Augusta, Missouri. An AVA can be quite large and encompass portions of several states, such as the largest 26,000-square-mile, 16.5 million-acre Ohio River Valley AVA that includes parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. The smallest is the Cole Ranch AVA, which occupies a mere 150 acres and less than a quarter square mile of Mendocino County, California.

New AVAs are being applied for and approved each year. The agency that oversees the creation and adjustment of the AVA system is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the US Treasury Department. The minimum cost to establish an AVA is about $15,000. Applicants must provide proof of climatic, geologic, geographic and nonmenclature significance, historical precedent for wine production, and also suggest and clearly map the boundaries. An AVA is not a grade of quality, it merely allows the producers and consumers to differentiate and authenticate the growing areas. There are more than 227 approved AVAs, as of November 15, 2014.

The Wine Institute offers some online pages to answer "what, where, how and why" questions and provide much more detail and complexity about American Viticultural Areas and their effect on wine labeling regulations and restrictions.

Complete descriptions of the geographic and topographic characteristics, the climatic influences and predominant grape varieties planted for most of these AVAs can be found on the Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine site.

Vestra offers a wide selection of detailed, full color, glossy, unframed maps of West Coast AVAs.

Page created January 29, 2001; updated November 18, 2014
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