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Know your regions

American Viticulture Area, or AVA, is the system of designating a grape-growing region for wines produced in the United States. An AVA is where a geographically defined area uses the name and has come to be identified with that area. It is based on the Appellation dorigine controlee system that governs French grape growing and wine making. In France, the system controls the type of grape that can be grown in the named appellation, also how many tons per acre may be harvested, aging requirements and alcohol levels.The American system is restricted to the geographic definition of the named area. It was begun in 1979.The very first AVA approved by the governments Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was Augusta, Mo., and Napa Valley became the second AVA approved shortly thereafter. Regulations state that only wines that use 85 percent or more of grapes from within the boundaries of a designated AVA may use that AVA name to label their wine. The wine must also have been made to conform to the laws and regulations of the named appellation area governing the composition, method of manufacture, and designation of wines made in such a place. This clause protects the authority of each state to regulate methods of wine production. The wines must also be completely produced within the AVA, except for cellaring the finished wine. Although an AVA designation does not impose any regulations on the quality of wine produced there, knowing the area where the wine was produced and the weather and soil of that area can give you an idea what the characteristics of that grape should be. Certain AVAs have become known for certain grape varieties or wine style, which should give you an idea what the wine should taste like. Howell Mountain, Carneros, Mount Veeder, Paso Robles are all approved AVAs which are associated with certain styles and flavors of the grapes grown there. An Ava can encompass large areas and several states. The largest is 26,000 square mile, 16.5 million acre Ohio River Valley AVA, which includes parts of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. The smallest is the Cole Ranch AVA, which is 150 acres in Mendocino County. An Ava specifies a location where the grapes are grown. It does not indicate the type of grapes grown, or the wine making method. More than 170 separate AVAs have been approved by the Tax & Trade Bureau and there are now 27 states that have registered AVAs.California accounts for more than 90 percent of all wine produced in the U.S., and has the most approved AVAs. To become an approved AVA, the grape growers or wine makers in a region must petition the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The petition must explain why and how the region can be identified as a separate grape growing area, and what makes it distinct from neighboring land. The petitioner must show evidence that the name of the proposed AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to the area. They must prove that growing conditions such as climate, soil, elevations are distinctive to that particular area and that boundaries of the proposed area are legitimate, according to USGS maps. You may want to compare the same type of wine from different growing regions to see if you can detect that regions influence on the finished wine. Dont forget the 21st annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Fest to be held on Sept. 28 through Oct. 1 at the Resort at Squaw Valley. On the first, you can sample some wonderful wines paired with delicious foods prepared by our local chefs. Janice Jones Truckee resident and wine consultant. Reach her at sierrafinewines@yahoo.com.


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