The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently issued revised regulations effecting three formerly confusing issues regarding American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The new regulations concern the AVA application process, brand names that conflict with AVA designations, and proposals for smaller AVAs that are entirely within a larger existing AVA, aka “nested” AVAs.

The AVA rules govern winemakers who want federal approval to use a regional designation on their labels. Wine growing regions with distinctive characteristics such as climate and soil can obtain viticultural area designation by navigating an application process that often takes several years. There are currently 198 recognized viticultural areas, and most are located in California.

New rules respecting the application process codify existing practices within the agency and also elucidate the evidence required in petitioning for a new AVA. The new rule 9.12 (27 CFR Part 9) sets forth exact requirements, which include very distinct name and boundary evidence, distinguishing features, and detailed maps. The new rules also give greater detail on the regulatory process of approving a new AVA.

The final rules, as adopted, are not as dramatic a change as originally proposed. Notably, the proposed “grandfather clause” which would have protected brand names that had prior Certification of Label Approval, but contained the name of a newer AVA (or one undergoing the application process). The agency opted to continue the case-by-case review currently in practice, rejecting the rigid grandfather clause proposal based on comments received from growers and politicians alike.

Also cut from the proposed regulations was an all out ban on new “nested” AVAs. Instead, the TTB set out specific evidentiary requirements for their establishment, requiring a showing that the proposed area is “sufficiently distinct” from the existing AVA, and must explain why the “establishment of the [new] AVA is acceptable.” (Section 9.12(b)).

A summary of the new regulations can be accessed here:


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