AVA Marketing: All Quality, All Destination, All The Time
What makes American Viticultural Areas, like similarly demarcated wine growing areas in Europe and other parts of the New World, important is that they are among the few items that can legally be placed on the front of a wine label. As a result, they get tremendous exposure.In fact, after vintage and varietal, no other element of the label gets more exposure than the AVA.
The 2010 vintage will get more exposure on wine labels over the long run, as will most varietals. But after that, it's "Napa Valley", "Russian River Valley", "Anderson Valley" and the like that will gain far more exposure than any brand names. More importantly, what is represented by AVAs (a place that holds people and businesses) has more to gain in the way of compensation than what is represented by either varietal or vintage.
Exploiting that kind of exposure and economic potential is, then, a very important issue where a great deal is at stake.
Those involved in the marketing of AVAs learned a long time ago that the value of an AVA is not in whatever ideas of terroir some might think are associated with these federally approved regions. This is confirmed by looking at the websites of any number of regions that represents wineries and growers of that particular wine growing region. They rarely if ever suggest that wines from the AVA deliver specific characteristics. The reason this is not, and should never, be done is simply that there can never be a guarantee that any wine from a given region will have any specific characteristics. Furthermore. there is no political will to impose the various grapegrowing or winemaking rules that might result in specific characteristics in the wines.
There are, as far as I can tell, only two ways to promote an AVA that will be, literally, profitable: Quality Claims and Destination Desirability.
QUALITY CLAIM AVA MARKETING
The extent to which an AVA promotional body can successfully market quality claims about the wines originating from its AVA will determine the extent to which those wines will demand a premium price. It's that simple and it's why any AVA promotional body MUST focus on, develop and carry out a Quality Claims Marketing strategy.
Communicated in a number of ways and through a number of different media, all Quality Claims Marketing boils down to this: "Wines From Here Taste Better (or at least taste great)". The ways in which this message can be communicated are not unlimited, but they are numerous. Determining what kind of message the promotional body will adopt depends on the geographic, historical, endorsement and cultural assets the area possesses.
Examples might be:
Sonoma Valley…Where Great Wines Began
Napa Valley…America's 1st Name in Wine
Anderson Valley…Just Wine, Not Hype.
None of these or any other tag lines or quality qualifiers used by any AVA speak to characteristics of the wines themselves…and they never should. The point is to make a quality distinction between the region promoted and its competitive wine regions.
DESTINATION DESIRABILITY AVA MARKETING
The second opportunity for AVA promotion is Destination Desirability Marketing. This is where the money is because it's based around a commodity that is far more valuable than wine: Tourism.
The AVA that can cultivate a reputation for "visitability" is the AVA that benefits not only its producers and growers, but also its hoteliers, restaurants, service providers and tax base. Any AVA promotional body not actively promoting as a destination is failing. This of course assumes there is something to visit in the region. An example of an AVA that has no business promoting itself as a destination is Atlas Peak in the southern end of Napa Valley where there is really nothing to visit besides the wineries. Few hotels or restaurants or service entities are there to benefit from the arrival of visitors.
The importance of Destination Desirability means that any AVA engaging in this promotional approach should place as much emphasis at attracting non-wineries and non-growers as members as they do wineries and growers since the former's stake in the success of the AVA branding is great. This fact emphasizes, again, that AVAs most often have little to do with any notion of terroir.
The importance of American Viticultural Areas will only increase over time as revenue generators for both wineries and the folks working and living inside the many AVAs across the country. In so many cases a carefully crafted promotional program aimed exclusively at communicating quality and destination desirability will be critical for revenue generation by a larger and larger constituency of people and business.