By Chris Hermann and Bernie Kipp:

The recent notice of the proposed new AVA “The Rocks” in northeast Oregon has kicked off a round of questions about what Northwest wineries may use as an appellation of origin on their labels when grapes are grown in multi-state AVAs such as the Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Columbia Gorge, Snake River Valley, or the newly proposed “The Rocks” AVA. What all of these viticultural areas, except The Rocks, have in common is boundaries that cross state lines.

The use of AVA references on wine labels trigger specific requirements per federal regulations that sometimes can be confusing. First, it is important to remember that American Viticultural Areas are delimited grape-growing regions having distinguishing features which have been accepted and approved by TTB by name and a delineated boundary as established and published in federal regulations. In other words, there are unique features about the AVA that transcend political boundaries.

So…what are the three requirements for use of an AVA as an appellation of origin on a wine label?

First, the named appellation must have been approved by TTB and published in 27 CFR Part 9.

Next, not less than 85 percent of the wine is derived from grapes grown within the boundaries of the named viticultural area. Finally, in the case of American wine, it has been fully finished within the State, or one of the States, within which the labeled viticultural area is located (except for cellar treatment pursuant to §4.22(c), and blending which does not result in an alteration of class and type under §4.22(b)).

This last condition can get a little tricky so here is some clarification:

According to TTB policy "fully finished" means that the wine is completely finished and ready for bottling, except that it may still be subject to the practices authorized in Section 27 CFR 4.22(c) (filtering, fining, refrigeration, pasteurization). It does not require that every step of the finishing process for 100% of the wine took place in the named appellation (or state or adjacent state as applicable). So what that means for wineries that intend to use AVAs that touch more than one state is that the fruit has to come from within the boundaries of the named AVA and then wine must be “made and finished” at a winery located in the state of the named AVA. (Note this means that the producing winery does not have to be located within the boundaries of the AVA, it just has to be located in the same state(s) as the named AVA.) Also, the wine does not have to be bottled to be considered “fully finished.” In other words, the wine could be bottled in another state not associated with the named AVA and still retain the AVA claim on the label.

Some specific examples would be wineries in Oregon and Washington that purchase fruit from vineyards within the boundaries of the Columbia Valley AVA, crush the fruit, ferment the juice, and age and blend the wine in the same state in which the Columbia Valley AVA is located. If they meet all these tests they have a wine that is entitled to a Columbia Valley appellation of origin on the wine. The same would apply to wineries in Oregon and Washington for use of Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Gorge AVAs. Wineries in Idaho and Oregon could use the Snake River Valley AVA on wine produced from fruit sourced from within the boundaries of the Snake River Valley AVA and finished in a state in which the AVA is located.

However, the “fully finished” requirement would preclude an Oregon winery from buying fruit from the Yakima Valley AVA (located entirely within the state of Washington) and transporting the fruit to its Oregon location for processing into wine. That wine would not have been fully finished in the state of the named AVA since no part of the Yakima Valley AVA is in or abuts Oregon. Such wine could use a Washington state appellation, but not Yakima Valley AVA appellation.

In the case of the proposed “The Rocks” AVA, the suggested boundaries are located entirely within the state of Oregon which means that Washington wineries will not be able to use “The Rocks” AVA appellation (once approved) unless they purchase wine "fully finished” in Oregon and bottle it. That is, a Washington winery would not be able to purchase fruit from “The Rocks” AVA and transport it to Washington for processing and claim “The Rocks” AVA appellation of origin on the label.

On the other hand, an Oregon winery located in Salem, Roseburg, or Medford, Oregon, could use “The Rocks” AVA if it bought grapes from within the approved boundaries of the AVA and processed the fruit at its Oregon location.

One final note about overlapping viticultural area appellations: an appellation of origin comprised of more than one viticultural area may be used in the case of overlapping viticultural areas if not less than 85 percent of the volume of the wine is derived from grapes grown in the overlapping area. This is a common occurrence when approved AVAs nest within each other. For example, Yakima Valley AVA, the Red Mountain AVA, the Walla Walla Valley AVA, the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Lake Chelan AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and the Wahluke Slope AVA are all located within the boundaries of the Columbia Valley. Sometimes a winery makes a wine that will not meet the 85 percent requirement to claim a smaller AVA, so they use the option of claiming the larger AVA that overlaps the smaller AVA to meet the 85 percent requirement.