by Tere Williams

AVA is an acronym for American Viticultural Area. Legally speaking, it is a designated wine grape growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the United States Department of the Treasury. The TTB defines AVA’s at the request of wineries and other petitioners. Petitioners must establish that the name of the proposed AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to the area, that the boundaries are legitimate, and that growing conditions such as climate, soil, elevation, and physical features are distinctive.

I attended a tasting a few months ago at which I was lucky enough to meet Mike Beatty, owner of Howell Mountain Vineyards. We had dinner one evening and of course, several glasses of wine during and after. Mike told many stories that were fascinating. I remember one in which he told of having a meeting at his house to establish an AVA. Owners from neighboring vineyards were there to put in their two cents. A topography map was placed on a table with a wine bottle on each corner holding the map down. After much discussion and several glasses of wine, the group decided on the elevation and boundaries of the proposed AVA. The paperwork was completed and a new AVA was born, Howell Mountain AVA. Mike had the duty of telling a neighbor down the hill that he had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that they had established the Howell Mountain AVA and the bad news was that the neighbor wasn’t in it. The neighbor couldn’t quite understand why he wasn’t in the AVA when he WAS on Howell Mountain. The reason was because he was below the established elevation. I guess the moral of the story is to not miss the meetings!

Here are some interesting facts about AVA’s: The longest AVA name – Antelope Valley of the California High Desert. Shortest AVA name: Lodi. Smallest AVA: Cole Ranch AVA 189 acres in Mendocino County. Oldest AVA: Augusta AVA established in 1980 around the city of Augusta Missouri. Newest AVA: Malibu Coast AVA and Hiwassee Highlands AVA established on July 18, 2014. Southern most AVA: Texas Hill Country AVA. Easternmost AVA: Martha’s Vineyard AVA. Northern most AVA: Puget Sound AVA. There are currently something like 230 AVA’s in the US with about 130 of those residing in California.