The quick answer is, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) is an federally designated wine region in the United States.
The more depth explanation is that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) defines and approves AVAs in the United States based on specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish the area from the surrounding regions which affect how grapes are grown.
In other words, the TTB designates official wine regions based on geography and climate and their effects on grapes produced in the area. Unlike Europe, AVAs are not based on political geographical boundaries and do not have regulations as to what grapes can be produced and aging requirements.
Because AVAs are defined by grape growing conditions rather than political borders, they are not necessarily confined to a single state or county. More than a 15 AVAs cross borders.
As of August 2022, there were 267 established AVAs in the United States. California has the most AVAs, with 147.
Why Should You Care?
For a wine to be labeled with an AVA name, at least 85 percent of the wine must come from grapes grown within the AVA. This ensures that YOU, the wine drinker, are sipping wine that represents the area it says it’s from. There is no bait and switch here…
I’ve been to countless wineries where I would get super excited about how this winery – in an unknown region – was producing wines equivalent to Napa. BUUUUT I would then learn that’s where they were buying their grapes. (Total let down. Not to mention time to leave the tasting for me.) So, having the AVA label on a wine is extremely helpful in knowing where you’re sipping.
It’s also a great way to help you identify wines to purchase. If you know and like a specific wine region and the bottle has the AVA listed, chances are pretty high you’ll be pleased with your purchase.
Some states require a higher percentage of the grapes from the state and/or region to in the wine to be officially labeled. For instance, any wine that is labeled with an Oregon place-name (state, county, AVA) must use 100 percent Oregon grapes. In addition, at least 95% of the grapes must come from the named place.
If a wine label says Willamette Valley AVA on the label, then you know at least 95 percent of the fruit is from Willamette Valley and the rest is from somewhere else in Oregon.
To stay up to date on the number of AVAs and where they are, the TTB has a great little map that we use all the time for our research… If there’s a region we haven’t covered you’re interested in learning more about, let us know.
Missouri is Home to the First AVA
On June 20, 1980 the United States designated the country’s first American Viticultural Area – AVA. It wasn’t Napa Valley or Sonoma but rather Augusta, Missouri. Why was Augusta Chosen as the First AVA?
Elaine N. Schoch
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.