The Mountain Times

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Labeling regional wine is highly regulated by not consistent internationally

AVA stands for American Viticultural Area and designates wine grape growing areas in the US, similar to regulations in other parts of the world such as French appellations of origin (AOC) or the Italian IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

However unlike the European regulations, the AVA only specifies a geographical location in which at least 85% of the grapes used in a wine must be grown. European DOC regulations are much more defined and cover traditional winemaking practices and grapes used for specific wines, which generally are named after the specific area the wines come from. Barolo, Brunello, Champagne, Rioja, Burgundy, Chianti are all examples of specific regions, where winemakers have to adhere to very strict regulations to put the terms on the label of their wines.

In the US, AVA's do not limit the types of grapes grown, nor the winemaking process or the crop yields per acre, as is the case in Europe. The only specification relates to geographical location.

While there is wine grown in every state of the nation, only few states have AVA's, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Virginia, Texas, and Michigan. There is a number of smaller Ava's from Arkansas to Wisconsin, but there is none yet for Vermont.

However there are very strong regulations on how wines are labeled. Both on a state level and federal level, very clear regulations exist, says Ken Albert, owner of Shelburne Vineyard.

Per the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) wines with 75% or more Vermont fruit can be labeled "Vermont" or "Vermont Grown". These wines also have the phrase "Produced and Bottled by (name of winery) and (address of winery).

There is no Vermont winery that is violating these regulations. 

The state of Vermont says that if a product is made in Vermont it can be considered a Vermont "product", but it cannot be labeled "Vermont".

So when buying local Vermont wine, pay attention to what it says on the label: If the label on the bottle does not say "Vermont" or "Vermont grown", the wine is made from fruit grown somewhere else. The same is true with wines from any other geographical location.  You can buy a wine "produced and bottled in a Napa Valley town", but if it does not have the AVA "Napa" listed on the label, it is not from Napa grapes, and the taste may not be what you expect.

In the case of Shelburne Vineyard (and most other VT wineries), they adhere strictly to these rules. When the label does not say Vermont, it is wine made entirely at the winery, but from grapes bought from growers somewhere else. Shelburne Vineyard buys from quality growers on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York State; the farthest they go for grapes is NY State.

Tagged: Wine Experiments, wine, Gerd Hirschmann