An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is a specific US wine-growing region that is legally designated by the TTB, short for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The idea is based on similar laws in other countries, like France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Appellation of Controlled Origin (DOC). In 1980, the first US appellation was granted to the grape growing area around Augusta, Missouri. California’s Napa Valley quickly followed as the second AVA in the United States. Currently, the US has 257 established AVAs in 33 states, with another 16 pending and several others proposed.
AVAs offer wine drinkers an important way to better understand the wines grown in America. Before the TTB legally approves a new AVA, the submitted petition must prove evidence and a convincing argument of the unique geographical, geological, and climatic characteristics that influence the grapes grown in the proposed area. Together, these factors must produce distinct wines unlike those found elsewhere in the country. It’s just like the real estate manta– all about location, location, location!
Once the TTB has approved the new appellation, vintners who use at least 85% of fruit grown within the AVA boundaries in their wine are legally allowed to list it on their wine labels. This base percentage is stipulated by the TTB, however, states have the legal authority to require even higher amounts. Currently, Oregon and Washington require 95%, Idaho follows the TTB’s mandatory 85%, and California requires 100% of any designated AVA wine to be made solely from fruit grown within the appellation’s borders.
As wine regions mature, smaller, nested, sub-AVAs have been created within larger ones. These smaller, “child” appellations have even more unique features and characteristics than those found in the “parent” AVA. All nested/child/sub-AVAs lay wholly within the larger, parental boundaries. For example, Oregon’s Willamette Valley contains 9 nested AVAs and California’s Napa Valley is home to 16 nested AVAs.
Because American Viticultural Areas are based, in part, on geological features, they can straddle state lines. Both Oregon and Washington share the smaller Walla Walla Valley AVA, which is nested wholly within the greater Columbia Valley appellation. And neighboring states Idaho and Oregon share the Snake River Valley AVA.
As a wine consumer, knowing where the wine grapes in a particular bottle were grown can provide valuable insights as to how the wine might taste. I always include the AVA information in all my wine tasting notes. Here’s an example:
For some background, I began my wine studies in earnest while living in Santa Barbara’s wine country. My home was just to the west of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, located within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and my daily commute took me past many of its vineyards. I started spending a lot of time wine tasting and chatting with vintners in those hills. My desire to better understand the wines grown there ignited my passion and launched the start of the wine journey I continue to explore today!
From one wine lover to another, I encourage you to taste wines grown within the same appellation, wherever it may be. Doing so will help you get a better, more comprehensive understanding of place, just like I first did in the Sta. Rita Hills.
It’s also fun to taste wines made with the same grape varietal, but grown in different AVAs!
Stay tuned as we highlight Washington’s new Candy Mountain AVA and Oregon’s new Van Duzer Corridor AVA in the coming months!
Oregon wine AVAs
(21 as of 7/20/21) Applegate Valley Chehalem Mountains Columbia Gorge Columbia Valley Dundee Hills Elkton Oregon Eola-Amity Hills Laurelwood District McMinnville Red Hill Douglas County Ribbon Ridge The Rocks District Tualatin Hills Rogue Valley Snake River Valley Southern Oregon Umpqua Valley Van Duzer Corridor Walla Walla Valley Willamette Valley Yamhill-Carlton
Washington wine AVAs
(19 as of 7/20/21) Ancient Lakes Candy Mountain Columbia Gorge Columbia Valley Goose Gap Horse Heaven Hills Lake Chelan Lewis-Clark Valley Naches Heights Puget Sound Rattlesnake Hills Red Mountain Royal Slope Snipes Mountain The Burn of Columbia Valley Yakima Valley Wahluke Slope Walla Walla Valley White Bluffs
Idaho wine AVAs
(3 as of 7/20/21) Eagle Foothills Lewis-Clark Valley Snake River Valley
California wine AVAs
(142 as of 7/20/21) Adelaida District Alexander Valley Alta Mesa Anderson Valley Alisos Canyon Antelope Valley of the California High Desert Arroyo Grande Valley Arroyo Seco Atlas Peak Ballard Canyon Ben Lomond Mountain Benmore Valley Bennett Valley Big Valley District–Lake County Borden Ranch California Shenandoah Valley Calistoga Capay Valley Carmel Valley Central Coast Chalk Hill Chalone Chiles Valley Cienega Valley Clarksburg Clear Lake Clements Hills Cole Ranch Coombsville Cosumnes River Covelo Creston District Cucamonga Valley Diablo Grande Diamond Mountain District Dos Rios Dry Creek Valley Dunnigan Hills Eagle Peak Mendocino County Edna Valley El Dorado El Pomar District Fair Play Fiddletown Fort Ross-Seaview Fountaingrove District Green Valley of Russian River Valley Guenoc Valley Hames Valley Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara High Valley Howell Mountain Inwood Valley Jahant Kelsey Bench–Lake County Knights Valley Lamorinda Leona Valley Lime Kiln Valley Livermore Valley Lodi Los Carneros Los Olivos District Madera Malibu Coast Malibu-Newton Canyon Manton Valley Mendocino Mendocino Ridge Merritt Island McDowell Valley Mokelumne River Monterey Moon Mountain District Sonoma County Mt. Harlan Mt. Veeder Napa Valley North Coast North Yuba Northern Sonoma Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Oakville Pacheco Pass Paicines Palos Verdes Peninsula Paso Robles Paso Robles Estrella District Paso Robles Geneseo District Paso Robles Highlands District Paso Robles Willow Creek District Petaluma Gap Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Potter Valley Ramona Valley Red Hills Lake County Redwood Valley River Junction Rockpile Russian River Valley Rutherford Saddle Rock-Malibu Salado Creek San Antonio Valley San Benito San Bernabe San Francisco Bay San Juan Creek San Lucas San Miguel District San Pasqual Valley San Ysidro District Santa Clara Valley Santa Cruz Mountains Santa Lucia Highlands Santa Margarita Ranch Santa Maria Valley Santa Ynez Valley Seiad Valley Sierra Foothills Sierra Pelona Valley Sloughhouse Solano County Green Valley Sonoma Coast Sonoma Mountain Sonoma Valley South Coast Spring Mountain District Squaw Valley–Miramonte St. Helena Sta. Rita Hills Stags Leap District Suisun Valley Tehachapi Mountains Temecula Valley Templeton Gap District Tracy Hills Trinity Lakes Wild Horse Valley Willow Creek York Mountain Yorkville Highlands Yountville
If you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment! Do you have a favorite wine AVA? If so, we’d love to hear why!
Michele Francisco, a founder and regular contributor to Winerabble, a blog primarily about Pacific Northwest wines, is living the dream in Portland, Oregon. Her passion leads some to believe she's got wine running through her veins. Contact Michele at email@example.com & be sure to visit her online portfolio at www.michelefrancisco.com.