Wine Words Demystified: AVA

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus – Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is AVA

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 The acronym for American Viticultural Area.  An AVA is defined as “a delineated grape-growing region distinguished by geographical features, the boundaries of which have been recognized and defined”  On United States wine labels such place names as Napa Valley, Sonoma, Columbia Valley, and so on are all AVAs

A federal agency named the  Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), regulates designation of a geographic region as an AVA.  In order to become an AVA,  a region must have a distinctive topography, soil type, climate, elevation and, to some extent, a historical foundation.  It’s not unusual for a large AVA to have several sub-AVAs.  For example, within Napa Valley, there are currently 16 AVAs (Coombsville east of the city of Napa is the most recent.  It was designated an AVA in December 2011)

Napa_Valley_CA_Photo_D_Ramey_Logan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

AVAs enable us, as consumers, to know where the grapes used to make our wines are grown.  To carry a specific AVA designation on its label, 85% of the grapes used in a wine must be grown within the geographic boundaries of the AVA.  For example, if you’re really into Cabernet Sauvignon, you may look for a bottle of wine that includes “Napa Valley”,  or one of its sub-AVAs, on the label rather than a wine that one that has “California” on the label.  I wouldn’t recommend the AVA designation on a bottle of wine be the sole factor in deciding on which bottle of wine to buy, but it could be helpful.


  1. Remembering the wines you like and the AVA region they are from will help when you go to select wine from the wine shop or a wine list… This is important stuff most budding wine drinkers overlook.

    Nice piece Martin!

    1. Thanks Eileen! So right you are!

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