An appellation is an officially recognized geographically defined region for growing grapes. The practice originated in France as a way to ensure quality of wines produced in specific regions. The French system regulates the grape varieties that may be grown in a specific appellation, how vines may be planted, what yields are permitted and other aspects of wine making. The thought behind the appellation system embraces the notion of  terroir: the impact of a region’s soil, climate, sun, water quality, and geography acting in concert to produce a wine of unique and irreproducible character. Appellations range in size: from very small single vineyards to vast expanses of land spanning hundreds of miles.

In the U.S. appellations are formally called American Viticultural Areas or AVAs. This system is less strict than the French (or other European) systems. Established by Congress in 1978, it was administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), until 2003 when it was assigned to the newly formed  Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The AVA system assures consumers that the wine they are drinking originates from a specific winemaker and growing area. However, unlike the French system, the AVA system requires only 85% of the grapes used come from within that specified AVA (in most cases). This is different from the requirements pertaining to labeling wines as  varietals. Such wines must contain a minimum of 75% of the grape variety indicated on the label (in most cases). The AVA system also does not limit the regions in the types of grapes grown, or regulate growing or winemaking practices.

Below are the major Californian AVAs with focus placed on the Central Coast

Arroyo Grande Valley

Arroyo Seco

Carmel Valley

Central Coast


Cienega Valley


Edna Valley

Hames Valley

Lime Kiln




Monterey County

Mount Harlan


Paso Robles

San Antonio Valley

San Benito

San Bernabe


San Lucas



San Luis Obispo County

Santa Barbara County


Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Lucia Highlands

Santa Maria Valley 

Sta. Rita Hills

Santa Ynez Valley 

York Mountain

Non-Central Coast

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