Appellation Series LogoWith the launch of our first ever Appellation Series event this Thursday, I ran across this blog post (reprinted below), from Ann Reynolds of Wine Compliance Alliance, that seemed highly apropos to our theme.

I asked Ann a little bit about the Sonoma AVA history, and here’s what she had to say. Enjoy the post.

Q: What was the first AVA to be created in Sonoma County?

A: Sonoma Valley in 1982. It also happens to be the smallest AVA in Sonoma Co at 4,000 acres. The last (most recent) Sonoma Co. AVA to be created is Bennett Valley in 2003. Sonoma County currently has a total of 13 AVAs within its borders.

How An AVA Is Born

by Ann Reynolds

I just read a really good article on a new AVA that has been submitted for the Coombsville area in Napa. If approved it would become the 16th sub-AVA within Napa Valley. Coombsville Get an AVA%3F

AVAs have grown in numbers rapidly in the last 5 years. The process that happens behind the scenes to create them may look simple, but involves detailed research.

Wine Compliance AllianceThere are currently 197 AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas in the US. An AVA is a specifically defined grape growing region that can be used on a wine’s label to offer further background about the wine’s “blood lines” so to speak. The approval of an AVA comes from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. (TTB) The major step before that approval comes from the submission of a petition from members of the wine industry who desire to see an area they hold dear become the next name on the TTB’s official list. Just what are the required items for this petition that gets submitted to the TTB? A brief list of 4 items.

Item # 1, Name Evidence. It must be clearly associated with an area in which viticulture exists. (Uh, Duh) The name and evidence which supports its use must come from sources independent of the petitioner. Where might that evidence come from? Maps, books, magazines, or road names just to list a few. Petitioners are required to submit copies of the name evidence examples to back it up.

Item # 2, Boundary Evidence. This is an explanation of how the boundaries were decided upon for the parameters of the proposed AVA. This evidence needs to list commonalities within the proposed area as well as how those common characteristics make it different from areas immediately outside of it.

Item # 3, Distinguishing Features. These are the specific details which must be submitted in narrative form that are common to the proposed area which make it unique in the following categories: climate, geology, soils, physical features and elevation. Each of these categories must be described as to how they make an impact related to viticulture and once again how they specifically differ from sorounding areas outside of the proposed boundaries

Item # 4, Maps and Boundary Description. The petitioner needs to submit actual USGS maps clearly marking the boundaries of the proposed AVA. Along with this marked map they must also provide a detailed narrative of those boundaries, designating a starting point and describing the entire boundary in a clockwise direction from that point and leading back to it. This narrative description must refer to easily recognized reference points on the USGS map.

This is not the complete breakdown of the AVA petition and approval process but gives you a basic overview of what they are looking for. Over the last 15 years in the industry I’ve watched as AVA after AVA has been approved. I’m a believer in their role as a guide to the consumer about useful background for wine shopping and appreciation purposes. Wine is a product very much about the “where” of it, so AVAs play (for US wines) a hugely significant role in that.

For more info here is a link to the TTB’s AVA page:

Ann Reynolds is a wine compliance educator and trainer with over 20 years in the Napa wine industry. She instructs courses focused on the nuts and bolts of winery compliance systems and through her business, Wine Compliance Alliance, provides guidance to wineries with on site compliance training and system development. Ann is also the author of The Inside Story of a Wine Label: For Those Who Like To Think While They Drink, available as an ebook and in soft cover.