Monday, March 29, 2010

Pacific Northwest AVAs

The Importance (and Confusion) of AVAs
American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are winegrape-growing regions that have been legally established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB - created as a reorganization of the functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2003). The purpose of these regions is to allow wine producers to better describe the place of origin of their wines, and to allow consumers to more easily identify wines that they may wish to purchase. Simple enough. But this simple concept can actually lead to a lot of confusion. This post will detail the Pacific Northwest AVAs, and the next post will address some of the issues raised by the American Viticultural Areas system.

(A bit outdated, but the best map I could find to give you the total picture. Thanks to Quentin Sadler's blog for the map.)

Pacific Northwest AVAs
Before diving in to some of the complexity surrounding AVAs, and Pacific Northwest AVAs in particular, I wanted to list all of the AVAs, sub-AVAs and in one case "super-AVA" found in the Pacific Northwest as of March 2010 (as this is bound to keep expanding). A caveat - I'm an Oregon guy, so my coverage and knowledge of Pacific Northwest wines are jilted in that direction (a deficiency I am working (drinking?) to correct).

Willamette Valley AVA - the largest AVA in Oregon, and the one containing the highest percentage of the state's wineries. Has six sub-AVAs:

Southern Oregon Super AVA - This AVA was established specifically to encompass two already-existing AVAs in Southern Oregon. This was mainly done to allow the southern AVAs to better distinguish themselves from the much larger and more influential Willamette Valley AVA which, to many buyers, was simply synonymous with "Oregon wine". The Southern Oregon AVAs are:

Umpqua Valley AVA - Part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, centered around the city of Roseburg, OR. Has one sub-AVA:

Rogue Valley AVA - Again, part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, located just across the border from California. Contains one sub-AVA and two AVA-ish regions:

Columbia Gorge AVA - An approximately 40 mile long stretch of the Columbia River Valley, including land on both the Washington and Oregon sides. I can't explain it any better than Paul Gregutt did here.

Columbia Valley AVA - Starting just east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, the Columbia Valley AVA includes some land in Oregon and then follows the Columbia River north into Washington, becoming Washington's largest AVA. Paul Gregutt has an excellent description of the Columbia Valley AVA posted here. The Columbia Valley AVA includes eight sub-AVAs:

Puget Sound AVA - Washington's "outlier AVA" (as described by Paul Gregutt here), the only AVA in Washington located west of the Cascade Mountains. Includes the entire Puget Sound region from the Canadian border down to Olympia.

Snake River Valley AVA - Idaho didn't want to miss out on all the fun, thus was born Idaho's first (and currently only) AVA (the Snake River Valley AVA also extends into Oregon, although I do not believe there are any wineries or major commercial vineyards there yet).

To help you figure out where all of these are:

The Confusion of AVAs
Phew, good to get through that list - and I think in reading over it you will already have picked up on several of the issues that make AVAs overly complicated. More on that in the next post.


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