What Is a wine AVA?

An American Viticulture Area (AVA) is a region designated for the growth of winegrapes in the United States. For a wine to be labeled with an AVA, at least 85% of its grapes must have been grown in the AVA and the wine must have been finished in the same state as the AVA. 

There are currently 242 AVAs across the United States. How much do you know about AVAs in the U.S.?

AVA facts

  • The first AVA (the Augusta AVA in Augusta, Missouri) was established in June of 1980. Sonoma Valley was second, in 1981. 
  • AVAs are created by the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). 
  • Prior to the creation of the AVA system, U.S. wine appellations were determined by current state or county lines. Some of these remain to this day (for example, Sonoma County). 
  • Some AVAs can exist within others. For example, the Sonoma County AVA actually contains 17 AVAs.
  • The TTB takes into consideration the opinions of winemakers and petitioners when determining designations. (If you want to get really into the TTB’s requirements, check out the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27, Part 9.12.) 
  • The largest AVA is the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA, which is more than 19 million acres and spans Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. 
  • The smallest is the Cole Ranch AVA, which is just 60 acres in Mendocino County, California. 

The benefits of an AVA

Those in favor of AVAs state that an AVA is beneficial for both winemakers and consumers. An AVA provides a name (called a designation) for wine regions. This “branding” creates an association between AVAs and specific flavor profiles. Consumers have the benefit of purchasing wine with grapes from a specific region; the wine should presumably express that terroir’s characteristics.

In 2018, the U.S.’s 115th Congress unanimously passed the Blunt-Merkley Resolution, which recognized the contribution of American Viticultural Areas to the economy. The Blunt-Merkley Resolution allowed winemakers to more accurately describe their wine’s origin in order to create or enhance the reputation and value of the area’s wines. This resolution illustrates the importance of AVAs to U.S. winemaking. 

Similar wine designations around the world

Many other countries use similar systems to designate their winegrowing regions. Since 1927, France has used its Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée/Protégée (AOC/AOP) to identify the geographic origin of wines. In 1963, Italy implemented its Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) systems. Spain uses the Denominación de Origen (DO) or Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) systems to designate its wines.