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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Here in Washington state, a new appellation called Horse Heaven Hills was recently recognized. The creation of new AVAs seems rather infrequent. What is the process a region must go through in order to be recognized as its own AVA here in the United States?

—Brandon, Seattle

Dear Brandon,

An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is a grape-growing region distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the United States government's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Anyone can petition for an AVA, although it tends to be winemakers and grapegrowers who do all the petitioning. Petitions need a lot of evidence that the area is historically known, distinctive and geographically unique. An argument to create an AVA has to be very persuasive—petitions these days contain extensive evidence from soil experts, engineers, meteorologists, historians and researchers, not to mention attorneys! There used to be AVA public hearings, but now there is a notice-and-comment period instead. Still, the process takes years and pockets full of cash.

How useful AVAs are is another question. While some are distinctive and consistent enough, in terms of geology and climate, to create wines with recognizable character, others are simply marketing devices. The mere existence of an AVA doesn't mean the wines themselves will be special.

—Dr. Vinny

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