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A Grape Wine AVA is that a WHO or What? (American Viticultural Area)

What is a Wine Appellations or American Viticultural Area and what does that mean to the grape?

Any grape that will become a great wine must begin and end with the terroir.

A " terroir " is a group of vineyards (or even grape vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.

When you visit a set of wineries you will be in areas that have been designated official wine growing regions called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Here are some important ideas that will help you understand what the meaning is of these grape wine growing regions. Instead of Appellations, the United States uses the term American Viticultural Areas or AVA for short. AVAs are “official” grape growing regions that have been designated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

An American system implemented in 1978 to identify U.S. Grape Wines in a fashion similar to the French APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE SYSTEM. American viticulture areas (AVA’s) are grape wine growing areas approved by the Bureau, and are the American appellation of origin that most closely resembles European appellations of origin. In theory, they indicate a common soil and microclimate for grape growing.

In the United States, labeling and other aspects of the sale of wine are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). An AVA is defined strictly by a geographic area, whereas in France the parameters are much more precise. A French AOC identifies the grape varieties that may be grown in a geographic area, the maximum production per acre, the minimum level of alcohol required for wines produced in the area, and so forth. The only requirement for wine with an AVA designation on the label is that 85 percent of the grapes must be grown in that viticultural area. Growers must petition the Tax and Trade Bureau to obtain an AVA designation for a region. The Bureau's decision is based on such characteristics as an area's topography, soil type, climate, elevation, and, to some extent, historical precedent. AVAs range in size from several hundred acres to several million; some reside within other larger AVAs.

Requirements to be an AVA
Current regulations impose the following additional requirements on an AVA:
Evidence that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to the area; Historical or current evidence that the boundaries are legitimate;
Evidence that growing conditions such as climate, soil, elevation, and physical features are distinctive; Petitioners are required to provide such information when applying for a new AVA, and are also required to use USGS maps to both describe (using terms from the map) and depict the boundaries.

When an AVA is designated on the grape wine bottle’s label, 85% of that wine must come from the AVA. AVAs are geographic locations that have the same climate, soil, and elevation and similar properties that give the wine a certain characteristic. Viticultural areas are to appellations like grapes are to fruit. Viticultural areas are one kind of appellation. Not all appellations are viticultural areas. An appellation of origin can be the name of a country, the name of a state or states, the name of a county or counties within a state. Viticultural areas are a hybrid appellation. In size, they range from extremely small to extremely large (larger than a few states). In terms of plantings, a viticultural area may be filled with vineyards or could be almost sparse. In terms of quality, there is no guarantee that a wine labeled with a viticultural area is any better or worse than wines that don't bear such information

For the French, it is terroir that gives value to a particular locality, setting it off from every other place and implying that a unique quality exists in that specific spot that cannot be reproduced anywhere else. Terroir is, in effect, the taste of the place.
Though the term can be applied to any agricultural product of the soil, the concept of terroir is recognized outside of France mostly in terms of wine--and what's more, for its implication of quality.

In fact, the full meaning of terroir takes on considerably more than the soil of a specific place. In terms of wine vines, terroir encompasses nothing short of the vine's total environment--and the way in which all aspects of the environment are consistently reflected in the taste of the wine. A wine from this place should taste unlike a wine from that place and we should expect this distinctiveness to be evident year in and year out.

Shenandoah Valley AVA, chiefly in Virginia and the valley is about 150 miles long and 25 miles wide, extending southwest from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and lying between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. It is drained by the Shenandoah River. The route of the famous 19th-century Valley Turnpike (now an interstate highway) was used earlier by Native Americans and later became a main artery for westward expansion. The Shenandoah Valley was the scene of military operations throughout the American Civil War. Today its many parks, limestone caverns, and scenic drives are tourist attractions. In 2005 the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley opened in Winchester, Va.

Geologically, the Shenandoah Valley reaches as far as Roanoke; however, is not in the Shenandoah River basin, which reaches somewhat south of Staunton at the head waters of the James River. From north to south, the Shenandoah Valley encompasses two counties in West Virginia: Berkeley County and Jefferson County; and seven counties in Virginia: Frederick County, Clarke County, Warren County, Shenandoah County, Page County, Rockingham County, and Augusta County.

The Best Virginia wine and terrior has parallels to France’s Loire Valley
The Valley of the Loire, in the Centre West of France, is often considered as the most beautiful French wine region. The region is wide and follows the river, starting in the Auvergne and Massif Central and finishing in the Atlantic coast around Nantes city.
The Loire River is wide and deep. The landscape is quiet and undulated.
It is probably more accurate to say that the Loire Valley is made of several different regions which have one thing in common: the river. This is all very similar to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

Wine making in the Loire Valley
The wines reflect the mood of the landscape. They are soft, pleasant, charming and light. About three quart of the production is white wines. The main grapes are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon for white wine and Cabernet Franc for red wine.

Shenandoah Valley (VA) (AVA):
The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia startles the state borders of Virginia and West Virginia, with most of the appellation resting within Virginia. The AVA rests between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny ranges, which creates moderate summers and cold winters that see an abundance of snow, with many a grape vine suffering the icy fingers of death over amid January's state of drear. Wineries are still experimenting with grape varieties, and the long preferred Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc are meeting their match with native and hybrid varietals like Seyval Blanc and Chambourcin.

Virginia lays claim to most of the Shenandoah Valley AVA, although it crosses into the West Virginia panhandle. The region is defined by flanking mountain ranges, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as its eastern border and the Allegheny Mountains as its western boundary. Most of the wineries in the AVA lie in Virginia and produce a combination of vinifera varietals, French-American hybrids and a limited amount of the native Norton varietal. The growing season can be distinctly warm and is drier than neighboring regions, which don’t receive the same natural protection offered by the Appalachian Mountains.
Some of the wineries in the Shenandoah Valley AVA are: Veramar Vineyard - Berryville, VA , North Mountain Vineyard & Winery - Maurertown, VA Shenandoah Vineyards, Inc. - Edinburg, VA and Cave Ridge Vineyard - Coinicville, VA
The Shenandoah Wine Country (SWX) Trail from the north begins at Veramar Vineyard, and then meanders to North Mountain and Shenandoah Vineyards then to Cave Ridge most within a half hour of each other along interstate 81. En route, you'll pass by thoroughbred horse farms, dairies, orchards, woodlands, Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains and along the Shenandoah River that will transport you to an earlier, simpler time. In addition, there is Civil War Battlefields such as Berryville, Winchester, Cedar Creek, Cool Springs, New Market, as well as the fabled Shenandoah Caverns.

Cheers from Veramar Vineyard
Jim Bogaty
About the Author

James C. Bogaty is Founder, Owner/Operator of Veramar Vineyard, President of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Grower Association, and Member of the Board of Directors for the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association for Clarke County, Advisor to the Virginia Wine and Food Society and is a published writer and event speaker on Wine, Food, Travel and Agritourism with a Virginia focus. 540-955-5510 www.veramar.com

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Comment Wall (3 comments)

At 8:35am on December 1, 2008, Margie Tosch said…
Hi James!

Welcome and thanks for joining. How's the wine industry in VA these days - there are quite a few wineries out that way now, aren't there?

At 5:31pm on March 12, 2009, Mutineer Magazine said…
Hey James, Thanks for adding Mutineer Magazine. I hope you will take the time to check us out.
At 12:45pm on July 23, 2009, Leonie Bowers said…
Welcome aboard

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