• Theresa Downs

Just What Are AVA’s And WhyThey Matter

This is part 1 of a 2 part series on American Viticultural Area (AVA’s) Part one will delve into Sonoma AVA’s.


Just what are American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are and what purpose do they serve? Since Sonoma County contains some pretty amazing AVA’s, it’s important that visitors at least have some idea of where AVAs are geographically, and more importantly, how the AVAs land or terroir influences what types of grapes (wine) will thrive there.


Image Sonoma AVA via www.sonomawine.com/avas

The definition of an American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region. Federal law requires that at least 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine should be grown within the boundary of the appellation and the wine should be fully finished within the state in which the appellation is located, Some states have more stringent rules. For example, California determines that 100% of the grapes used to make wine have to come from California.


AVAs are somewhat similar to that of French AOCs, (appellation d'origine controlee) although France and Europe, in general, have more rules and regulations regarding grapes from AOC regions.


Now, some of us are quick to dismiss the whole idea of AVAs as just a marketing ploy to increase prices of wine from certain areas. While that may be true in some cases, AVAs serve a purpose as to helping consumers understand how the characteristics of a particular AVA will influence what grapes are grown and how the ultimate product, wine, will taste. For example, Russian River Pinot Noir wine tastes much different than Pinot Noir wine from the Willamette Valley (Oregon AVA). Yes, both grapes are Pinot Noir, but the temperature and soil are much different in those two AVAs. All in all, AVAs help the consumer make educated choices when selecting what wine to purchase and drink.

The following contains a table listing all of the AVAs in Sonoma County. Don’t confuse wineries with vineyards though. You’ll note that some AVAs don’t have any wineries, they do have plenty of grape-producing vineyards to furnish the wineries.



Sonoma AVA's