Abbreviation for "American Viticultural Area" (in some sources also "Approved Viticultural Area"), the appellation system commonly used in the USA. It was actually introduced at the insistence of Californian grape growers in particular. This was because the classification system based on climate zones developed in California in the 1940s had not proved to be effective. From 1970 onwards, all US states were examined with regard to their geographical characteristics by the then BATF (today TTB = Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) in accordance with a commission from the US federal government. This was, for example, the suitability of certain regions for a certain grape variety. In 1978, some geographical areas were then classified for the first time, thus creating the conditions for a system of origin according to the French Appellation d'Origine Protégée. The first systems, which were still very heterogeneous, were based on political state or county boundaries.
The first area classified as AVA was Augusta, Missouri, in 1980. A regulation valid for all states was then put into force in 1983. New AVA areas must be applied for and approved by the TTB authority. Today, the areas are defined according to climatic and geographical boundaries. For the approval of a new AVA area a relatively high bureaucratic expenditure is necessary. However, the economic benefit is rather small. For this reason, the AVA system has not yet managed to gain broad acceptance in the USA. Unfortunately, the term AVA does not even appear on the label.
By European standards there are quite simple or very few specifications. There are usually no regulations concerning grape varieties, training methods, maximum yields or cellar techniques. But of course the quality-conscious producers pay attention to reduced yields and other quality criteria for their top products. When a grape variety is mentioned, the wine designated as Varietal must consist of at least 75% of this variety. At least 85% of the grapes must come from the AVA area mentioned on the label. California is an exception to this rule, where it must even be 100%. When a site (vineyard) is named, at least 95% of the grapes must come from there. If a vintage year is stated, at least 95% must come from that year. Enriching with sugar to increase the alcohol content and acidification are generally permitted. The latter is often used in warmer regions.
The AVA hierarchy is arranged in a box system, which in extreme cases can consist of up to eight levels. At the top is the state (e.g. California), followed by the regions (e.g. North Coast and Central Valley) and then the counties (e.g. North Coast Napa and Sonoma). The counties are usually divided into several AVA areas, many of which extend across county boundaries. An AVA area can in turn be divided into sub-areas and these in turn can also be subdivided. All 50 US states and their counties (districts) are recognized by law as regions of origin. The all-encompassing AVA "American States" or "United States" is a blended or varietal wine made from grapes or wines from the entire United States, including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The multi-state AVA's extend over two or more states. For example, the three states of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania share AVA Lake Erie and the four states of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia share the AVA Ohio River Valley, which is huge at 64,000 square kilometres. The smallest AVA is Cole Ranch in Mendocino County, California, with only 25 hectares. At the beginning of 2007, there were about 190 AVA areas, more than half of which, 107 in California. There is at least one AVA area in about 30 states.