American Viticultural Area (AVA)
Definition - What does American Viticultural Area (AVA) mean?
An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is the United States’s official designation of wine-growing regions. AVAs are delimited by geography; sections of wine growing regions with the same climate, soil, elevation and physical features are assigned an official AVA designation. As of October 2012, there were 206 AVAs in total. The first AVA was Augusta AVA, established on June 20, 1980. The largest, spanning four states with 29,900 square miles, is Upper Mississippi AVA; the smallest, with only 62 acres, is Cole Ranch AVA.
The AVA is used on wine labels to indicate region of origin. To be eligible to use a specific AVA designation, 85% of the grapes used in the wine must be grown in the AVA itself. Wines can possess several different designations, ranging from general (North Coast AVA) to specific (Napa Valley AVA).
WineFrog explains American Viticultural Area (AVA)
AVAs exist largely to establish consistency in product and help generate reputation based on that consistency. They are decided from geography rather than state line because within one state there can be many different types of climates and terroirs, each creating vastly different wines.
AVAs are useful for both the consumer and the producer. When the consumer sees an AVA on a wine label, they are told the geographic pedigree. If they like that wine, they know they can look for other wines from that AVA and receive similar characteristics. This is because the climate, soil and other geographic factors consistently influence the characteristics of a wine. Which means that the hint of spice that you loved in a Monterey County AVA Chardonnay will most likely be present in a Chardonnay from a different supplier in that same AVA.
For the winemaker, the benefit of providing an AVA on the label is twofold: one, it allows them to more accurately describe the origins of their wine - instead of just "California", they can get as specific as "Lodi AVA" (a region in the Central Valley AVA). They are also able to use the reputation of their area to market their wines. If a region builds up enough of a reputation, consumers will be more likely to purchase wines with that designation. This is also where having the option to choose the general AVA (Central Valley AVA) over the specific (Lodi AVA) would come in handy. If your local AVA hasn’t yet built up its reputation, you can stick with the generic. Also, you can use 85% grapes from Central Valley instead of being limited to just your local AVA.