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Much Ado about AVAs


Winemakers in America are increasingly running foul of regulations that have kept pace neither with the march of technology nor with the evolving ingenuity of business. Some of the latest controversies in American wine have to do with trying to decide what criteria should be used to determine where a wine is from. This seemingly simple question doesn’t have an easy answer, thanks to America’s complex and antiquated laws governing alcohol sales and, more importantly, alcohol labelling.
Place of origin has seemingly been a crucial component of wine since the earliest days of winemaking, perhaps reaching its apotheosis in the well-known climats of Burgundy that have defined origin with unmatched precision for centuries. Today, a given wine’s origins are not only statements of geography but, thanks to wine laws around the world, also statements of quality, composition, winemaking practices and legal status. Any wine region of reasonable maturity around the world has enacted regulations defining specific geographical indications and, very often, establishing the rules and requirements by which such indications can be used in the labelling of certain wines. And most are far more restrictive than America’s.
America’s versions of these laws may be more lax but, as with all things having to do with alcohol in the United States (see How to buy wine in America), they are often more complicated, not least because most wine regions in America are regulated by one set of laws made by the federal government, and by another set of laws enacted by each state. And just as with laws about automobile fuel economy, marijuana and abortion, the interplay between federal, state and local regulations has resulted in more than a little conflict and confusion.
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This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.