I just read a really good article on a new AVA that has been submitted for the Coombsville area in Napa. If approved it would become the 16th sub-AVA within Napa Valley.
AVAs have grown in numbers rapidly in the last 5 years. The process that happens behind the scenes to create them may look simple, but involves detailed research.
There are currently 197 AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas in the US. An AVA is a specifically defined grape growing region that can be used on a wine's label to offer further background about the wine's "blood lines" so to speak. The approval of an AVA comes from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. (TTB) The major step before that approval comes from the submission of a petition from members of the wine industry who desire to see an area they hold dear become the next name on the TTB's official list. Just what are the required items for this petition that gets submitted to the TTB? A brief list of 4 items.
Item # 1, Name Evidence. It must be clearly associated with an area in which viticulture exists. (Uh, Duh) The name and evidence which supports its use must come from sources independent of the petitioner. Where might that evidence come from? Maps, books, magazines, or road names just to list a few. Petitioners are required to submit copies of the name evidence examples to back it up.
Item # 2, Boundary Evidence. This is an explanation of how the boundaries were decided upon for the parameters of the proposed AVA. This evidence needs to list commonalities within the proposed area as well as how those common characteristics make it different from areas immediately outside of it.
Item # 3, Distinguishing Features. These are the specific details which must be submitted in narrative form that are common to the proposed area which make it unique in the following categories: climate, geology, soils, physical features and elevation. Each of these categories must be described as to how they make an impact related to viticulture and once again how they specifically differ from sorounding areas outside of the proposed boundaries
Item # 4, Maps and Boundary Description. The petitioner needs to submit actual USGS maps clearly marking the boundaries of the proposed AVA. Along with this marked map they must also provide a detailed narrative of those boundaries, designating a starting point and describing the entire boundary in a clockwise direction from that point and leading back to it. This narrative description must refer to easily recognized reference points on the USGS map.
This is not the complete breakdown of the AVA petition and approval process but gives you a basic overview of what they are looking for. Over the last 15 years in the industry I've watched as AVA after AVA has been approved. I'm a believer in their role as a guide to the consumer about useful background for wine shopping and appreciation purposes. Wine is a product very much about the "where" of it, so AVAs play (for US wines) a hugely significant role in that.
For more info here is a link to the TTB's AVA page: http://www.ttb.gov/wine/ava.shtml