What is an AVA and why is it important?

An AVA is an American Viticultural Area. It is a designated region for wine growing defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In order to be designated as an AVA, an area must show that it has evidence relating to it's historical boundaries, it's unique growing conditions, and that the area is known either locally or nationally. Any wines labeled as being from the designated AVA must be made with at least 85% grapes grown in that AVA. In some cases, a vineyard can actually be in more than one AVA at once, depending on the AVA boundary lines. Currently there are 242 recognized AVAs, with 139 of them in California. The majority of the California AVAs are organized under several broader regional AVA names, for example North Coast AVA actually contains many smaller AVAs including Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. Those regions also have smaller AVAs within them as well, such as the ones pictured below. There are some AVAs which lie only within one state, while others actually cross over two or more states. So you might wonder why AVAs are important. In a nutshell, they can help you understand what types of qualities you can expect to find in wines from that region. Have you noticed that you have liked a few different Zinfandels from Paso Robles but not from some other areas? Maybe you have had several different Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley area, but from different AVAs within the Napa region, and noticed that they had different characteristics. As you explore and experience more wines, pay attention to those characteristics and what you enjoy and don't enjoy. This will help guide you in your wine tasting and wine buying. Keep a small notebook or make notes in your smart phone of the wines you like, as well as those you don't like, and you will gradually expand your palate and increase your wine knowledge. *(information regarding AVAs was obtained from TTB.gov)