The Importance of an AVA

I was planning to post a new wine rating & review this weekend, but noticed when I opened the cork something interesting: there was no AVA on the bottle. That’s troubling.

AVA stands for American Viticultural Area. It’s a designation given by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to wine producing regions. In the United States, it’s used interchangeably with “appellation”, and is placed on the front label of wine bottles. Essentially, the AVA is a guarantee that the vast majority (if not all) grapes used in the production of the wine you’re drinking came from a specific region.

Why is this important? In short, wine grapes are finicky. Growing the same clone (or version) of the same grape varietal will produce dramatically differently flavored fruit when grown in cool-climate limestone versus warm-climate decomposed granite. Case in point, grab two comparably priced Cabernets — one from Napa Valley and another from Paso Robles — and try them side by side. You’ll likely find that even though the two regions are separated by only a couple hundred miles, they taste vastly different.

That finickiness also makes each AVA’s wines incredibly special. In fact, it’s the very reason for this site! Wines produced in the Temecula Valley AVA, and even in the areas immediately surrounding it, are incredibly unique. And a significant contributor to that uniqueness is the conditions the grapes were grown in.

This is even more important because of the scarcity of Temecula Valley grapes. Only around 3,000 acres of the AVA are planted with grapevines. That makes each local wine produced rare and special. When grapes from other AVA’s are introduced, it devalues the region as a whole. And when the winemaker doesn’t include the AVA on the bottle, it’s very disappointing, if not outright misleading.

The next time you open a bottle of wine, if you don’t already, take a second a look for the AVA. If it’s absent, it’s worth a healthy dose of skepticism. Even if the AVA or appellation is simply “California” or “Burgundy”, it will help tell the story of what makes that wine worth enjoying.

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