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american viticultural areas

American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)

The finest wines in the USA are made in American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) – federally-recognized regions, in which regulations require that 85% or more of the wine must be derived from grapes grown within the boundaries of that AVA and that the wine is fully finished within the state/one of the states in which the AVA is located. (It must be noted that certain states have stricter standards for use of the name of an AVA on wine labels.)

Beneath AVAs are wines designated with an Appellation of Origin, defined by a political boundary such as a county name, state or country. At least 75% of grapes used to make the wine must be from that appellation, and that the wine be fully finished within the state in which the county is located. Furthermore, a wine bearing California as an Appellation of Origin must contain 100% grapes that were grown and finished in the Golden State.

Californian AVAs

California has over 100 AVAs, and produces approximately 90% of all wine produced in the USA, and nearly 30% more wine than Australia. If California were a nation, it would rank fourth worldwide in overall wine production.

California can be divided into four main wine-producing regions: the North Coast, Central Coast, Central Valley, and South Coast. Each of these regions can be broken down into smaller, distinctive wine sub-regions, within which are AVAs.


North Coast
The North Coast (north of San Francisco) is home to (amongst others) the Napa Valley and Sonoma sub-regions. Napa has 16 different nested AVAs (Napa Valley is an AVA itself), while Sonoma has 13 nested AVAs (Sonoma Valley is also an AVA itself).

  • Napa Valley AVAs include: Howell Mountain, Oakville, Stags Leap and Yountville.
  • Sonoma AVAs include: Russian River Valley; Dry Creek; Chalk Hill; Knights Valley; Alexander Valley.

Central Coast
The Central Coast extends along the California coast, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and is divided into the North Central Coast and the South Central Coast.

  • North Central Coast AVAs include: Livermore Valley, Monterey County and Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • South Central Coast AVAs include: San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. (Some of the more famous AVAs are within Santa Barbara, including Santa Maria, Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills.)

Central Valley
If you see a wine bottle that is simply labelled California wine, it is likely to be from the Central Valley, which accounts for nearly 75% of all grapes used in wine production. This large region encompasses the counties of Sacramento, San Joaquin and Fresno.

South Coast
The South Coast includes everything south of Los Angeles to the border with Mexico, ranging from cooler coastal wine growing regions to warm inland valleys.

  • South Coast AVAs include: Malibu, Temecula Valley and San Diego County.
Washington State AVAs

Washington State has over 1000 winery licenses and 14 AVAs. The Columbia Valley is by far the largest and includes the nested AVAs of: Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, Snipes Mountain, Naches Heights, and Lake Chelan. (Two of these AVAs share territory with neighbouring Orgeon state and one AVA with Idaho.)

The 14 AVAs are: