The United States Treasury Department has temporarily suspended issuance of new American Viticultural Area designations because it wants time to conduct hearings on the AVA system and “about a dozen” pending AVAs within existing AVAs.
Some in the wine business described the move as “surprising” and “a major freeze.”
“Major,” of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but nobody should be surprised by the move, given the litigation that has unfolded in recent years over the use of geographic and/or AVA names in winery names. Some wineries, for instance, included the word “Napa” in their names, but used little or no grapes from the Napa Valley in their wines. That practice has been banned.
That’s just one issue that comes into play when AVAs (or appellations, as they’re known in France) come into play. AVA status is supposed to be granted only when an area or region in question can be demonstrated to have qualities (in soil, climate, etc.) that set it apart from other areas. With sub-appellations, or AVAs within AVAs, it can be difficult to show true uniqueness, and that’s one reason the Treasury Department has opted to put a moratorium on the issuance of new AVA designations.
While the move may frustrate some wineries impacted by the delay, it’s probably a wise decision because it could help avoid more litigation down the road.
Then again, it could lead to a thorough review of the entire AVA system. Few in the industry want to see that happen, because revised AVA boundaries and parameters could lead to massive re-labeling, trademark and other potentially costly issues.
We’ll keep you posted as this story develops and hearings are scheduled.