The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has, in a final rule/treasury decision (available here), issued new and revised regulations with respect to three formerly confusing areas pertaining to American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): brand names that conflict with AVA designations, the AVA application process, and the existence of smaller AVAs inside currently existing or proposed AVAs, aka "nested" AVAs.

The new rules are considered less stringent than were originally proposed by the agency. The originally proposed rules were widely rejected by members of the wine industry and were subject to a resolution of opposition by the California legislature, authored by two lawmakers from the Napa Valley.

 Brand Names

The TTB had originally proposed adding a "grandfather" clause for brand names that had received the proper Certification of Label Approval (COLA) but contained the name of a potential or recently established AVA. After receiving comments, the TTB reversed its proposed rules and did not adopt a standard grandfather clause, believing that its current "case-by-case" analysis and flexibility of remedies was preferable.

 Establishment of AVAs

The new/revised rule codifies long-standing agency practice and clarifies the process and evidence required in petitioning for a new AVA. The new section 9.12 (27 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 9) sets forth exact requirements, which include very distinct name and boundary evidence, distinguishing features, and detailed maps. The new section 9.13 also spells out in greater detail the actual rule-making process of applying for an AVA. In addition, the TTB stated that while "sufficient viticulture" must exist in order to establish an AVA, it would not establish a rule identifying a minimum acreage site or vineyard density.

 "Nested" AVAs

The new Part 9 also directly deals with the issue of smaller AVAs surrounded by larger AVAs or "nested" AVAs. There had been a proposal to prospectively prohibit the creation of "nested" AVAs but the TTB rejected an outright ban and instead set forth regulations regarding evidentiary proof for their establishment. Section 9.12(b) states that when a petitioner is requesting the creation of a smaller AVA within an already existing larger AVA or the creation of a larger AVA that would envelop the smaller AVA, the petitioner must state, in the petition itself, why the proposed AVA is "sufficiently distinct" from the existing one and must explain why the "establishment of the [new] AVA is acceptable."

The TTB also declined to implement standing regulations regarding which AVA a winery in a "nested" AVA could use on its labels, concluding that its current "case-by-case" basis was better than a standing rule.

This post was written in collaboration with Lee Smith, a partner in Stoel’s Sacramento office.