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Initiated in 1981, the American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation system was an attempt by the Federal Government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, now known as the Alchohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, TTB) to define the boundaries of grape-growing regions. Although better than nothing, the AVA system is often a compromise of the political views of AVA applicants and the neighboring vintners. The politics of the AVA system has often lead to AVAs resembling southern, or should we say, Texas, voting districts. It is unfortunate that the criteria for defining wine-growing regions is such a quagmire of bureaucracy and the politics of commercial gain versus accurate definitions of distinct wine-growing regions. Like it or not, this is how AVAs are defined in California and America.

Political appellations fall under the jurisdiction of political boundaries. For example, from largest to smallest political appellations would be: America, California, Santa Barbara (county boundary). Political county appellations only require that 75% of grapes come from that County, versus the AVA requirement that 85% of the grapes be from the respective AVA. The Santa Barbara County appellation is often used for grapes from vineyards located in areas such as the Los Alamos Valley, which does not fall under any existing AVA. The county designation is also used when 85% of grapes in a wine do not come from any one AVA from Santa Barbara County. Some vintners use the county appellation of Santa Barbara instead of an AVA, as the name ”Santa Barbara” is more recognized than the AVA names of Santa Barbara wine country. All Santa Barbara wine country falls under the political appellations of American, California, and Santa Barbara County.