An American Viticultural Area, sometimes called an appellation, is defined as: a delimited grape-growing region that is distinguishable by geographic features with boundaries that are approved, defined, and published in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax, and Trade Bureau.

Bernard Kipp is district director for the bureau’s nine-state Pacific Northwest region, which includes Washington and Oregon, but not California. He noted that the average number of AVA petitions submitted each year is around 13. However, a major subdividing of AVAs is taking place in California, which increased the number of submitted petitions to 25 in the past year. The approval process usually takes about two years.

Federal regulations require that 85 percent of the wine must come from within the AVA’s boundaries if the AVA is stated on the label. To include a statewide AVA on a label, 75 percent of the grapes must come from that state.

Kipp said that the bureau looks for four things in a petition: evidence of name recognition of the proposed AVA name; historical or current evidence of boundaries; evidence of geographical features that set it apart (climate, soils, geological information, and physical land features); and maps that show the boundaries.

After a petition is determined to meet the criteria, a notice of proposed rulemaking is published in the Federal Register, inviting public input. Feedback is evaluated, with attempts made to negotiate, arbitrate, or compromise any problem areas.

"We look for things like ‘donut petitions’ that leave out acreage in the middle," he said, adding that other common reasons for opposition relate to conflicts between the proposed name and existing brand names, boundaries that are too expansive or too limiting, and proposed names that are inappropriate for the geographical area.