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Appellation or AVA? What are these?

When you go to your local wine shop, such as The Bottle Room, you may find wines with references to places like Bordeaux , Alexander Valley, Mosel, Rioja, NAPA Valley on the labels. Where are these places and why are they on the label? Well in the OLD WORLD ,or what is considered mostly Europe, wines with distinctive reputations come from areas known as appellations. These areas such as Burgundy, France or Barolo, Italy have over hundreds of years developed styles of wines from specific grapes. Because of their reputations the governments of these countries decided to protect the wine growing regions. They  created boundaries identifying the regions and then forged laws stating what kind of grapes must be used, how much of the grapes have to be in a wine, aging requirements, wine making techniques and so forth.  Wineries meeting these requirements were given approval to label the wines as stylistic representatives of the appellations.  The laws created had a tiered system which went from less strict to more strict. If you have seen things like IGT(less strict) or DOCG (more strict)on a wine label, these are the amount of requirements  that a winery had to meet in order to be considered more true to the appellations style.  In essence these laws were created to protect the regions from fraud. Which can still be an issue to this day.

What about AVA? Well in the United States instead of Appellations we have distinctive wine regions known as American Viticultural Areas (AVA).  These are areas that have unique unifying wine growing characteristics. They can cross between political boundaries and can be very large or even as small as a quarter of a square mile. Unlike the appellation system in Europe there are no laws stating what grapes must be grown, winemaking techniques, aging requirements or crop yields. Instead in order to say a wine is from a specific AVA it must have a content of 85% of its grapes grown in that defined AVA. Over time these AVA’s have become known for specific grapes as winemakers figure out which grapes grow best where. Such as NAPA Cabernet Sauvignon or Carneros Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. But winemakers are not required to only grow these grapes there. They have a little more liberty to experiment.

So in a nutshell AVA and Appellations help us as the consumer pin point where a specific wine came from. What grapes may be in it, in the case of appellation, or how much of a specific grape is used. The latter would qualify for both AVA and Appellation.

Feel free to ask other questions in relation to this subject.


Justin Rutchik  –  Making wine more approachable



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