Steps to Enhance Credibility of AVAs

August 2016
by Richard Mendelson

Editor’s note: The following excerpt, with certain modifications, is from a new book by Richard Mendelson, Appellation Napa Valley: Building and Protecting an American Treasure (Val de Grace Books 2016). In his book, Mendelson, who managed the legal work for many appellations in California and elsewhere, tells a detailed story of the birth, definition, personalities and protection of the Napa Valley. In so doing, he offers insights into the establishment of American Viticultural Areas and the future of vineyard designations in the United States. Mendelson’s book is available for purchase at

Book cover

In 1978, the United States adopted a formal wine appellation system with a new category of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Since then, more than 225 AVAs have been established in 32 states. And while some AVAs have been wildly successful and are recognized today around the world, others have “died on the vine.”

From 2007 to 2011, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) conducted a thorough reassessment of the AVA program. While this review was welcome, it was an opportunity lost. As I learned after more than 30 years of battles over the establishment and protection of AVAs, the appellation program is in need of change. With the benefit of hindsight and with the recognition that our AVAs now compete on the world stage, I believe that the TTB can—and must—take steps to enhance the credibility of U.S. appellations.

TTB expertise


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