Wine Geek Speak: American Viticultural Area (AVA)

Hello Friends,

This week’s wine geek speak is American Viticultural Area (AVA). An AVA is a geographic wine-growing region within a US state that is registered and recognized by the federal government. An AVA is defined by its wine-growing attributes (e.g. soil, climate, elevation), generally resulting in distinct wines of a certain style and type. The system, first implemented in 1978, is the United States answer to the French appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC). However, an AVA only defines a “geographic location”, whereas an AOC defines which grapes can be grown, where they can be grown, maximum yields per hectare (2.4 acres), and other defined requirements that regulate and enforce quality control in wines designated as AOC on the label. In the United States, if a producer wants to put the AVA on the label of his / her wine, then 85% of the fruit must come from that AVA. Additionally, you can have an AVA within an AVA to draw greater distinction to a sub-appellation’s unique climate, soil, elevation, etc. Examples of this would be the Chehalem Mountains AVA located within the greater Willamette Valley AVA and the Stag’s Leap District AVA located within the greater Napa Valley AVA.

Monticello AVA (Virginia)

In Virginia, there are currently six AVA’s. These AVA’s are the Eastern Shore AVA, Monticello AVA, North Fork of Roanoke AVA, Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace AVA, Rocky Knob AVA, and Shenandoah Valley AVA. Of the six, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello AVA is probably the most well-known. I’m sure Mr. Jefferson has something do with that, combined with the high-quality wines coming out of this AVA. One of Virginia’s fastest growing (in terms of tasting rooms being opened) and most popular wine-growing areas, Loudoun County, does not yet have an AVA designation. If you start winery-hopping in north Virginia and work your way south, specifically southwest Virginia, there are differences in soil, climate, harvest time, wine styles, wine types, and even price. As the Virginia wine industry matures I’m sure you will see more AVA’s established to define geographic attributes of distinct wine-growing areas. Did you know? The first AVA established in the United States was the Augusta AVA (Missouri) in 1980. The Augusta AVA has something in common with Virginia in that it shares a love for the Norton grape variety. So much so that Norton was named the Missouri State grape in 2003. Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned friends ...More to come!

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