In wine marketing, an appellation or American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a way to differentiate your wine from others and define its sense of place. Washington State has 13 designated AVAs, and more are likely coming.
When the U.S. government first promoted the concept of AVAs years ago, they tended to focus on river valley drainages, says Dr. Wade Wolfe, wine industry veteran and co-owner of Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser, Washington.
The regulatory government branch that designated AVAs then, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, used terms to delineate boundaries that followed the water flow through an area, according to Wolfe who, on behalf of Chateau Ste. Michelle, prepared the petition to designate the Columbia Valley AVA.
“River valley drainage areas were one way to suggest an area had similar geography, microclimate, soils, and such,” he said. “That’s why the early AVAs all had valley in their names—Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, and the three valleys in Washington, Yakima, Columbia, and Walla Walla.”
Subappellations were the next step in further defining the place where grapes are grown. “But you couldn’t describe the area with the valley term because it had already been used,” he said. “So now we have AVAs that have hills, ridges, mountains, and other descriptions in the name.”
Examples include Howell Mountain and Rutherford Bench, both subappellations of Napa Valley AVA, and in Washington, there are Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, and Naches Heights.
“It’s a progression, as an industry evolves, to define smaller growing regions from large AVAs,” he said. “Yes, I think there will be more subappellations within Yakima Valley,” he said.