What is a wine appellation?

A common term you hear when talking about wine is appellation. Discerning wine drinkers will often inquire about the appellation of the wine, and wine shops have been known to sort by appellation. Simply put, an appellation is a legally defined geographical region where certain grapes for wine are allowed to be grown. The history of appellations stems from Europe with Hungary, Italy, and Portugal having some of the world’s first appellation systems in place as early as the 1700s. It is a system of classification of a place, and allows for only certain types of grapes to be grown in certain regions. Each country has their own system and requirements for joining appellations. Famous appellations include Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in France, Barolo DOCG in Italy, or Napa Valley AVA in California.

Because of the strict classification and regulations on how grapes are grown, natural wine has had a hard time fitting into the appellation system. In France particularly, natural wine growers balk at the limitations they see in the appellation system, while conventional winegrowers cling to it as a symbol of value.

Our recommendation if you are buying or drinking natural wine, don’t worry too much about whether it is part of an appellation. The appellation does not make the wine, and in many cases, small wine growers aren’t able to keep up with the requirements or fees of being part of an appellation. It is more telling if a natural wine is from the Loire Valley as a whole than whether it is from the Vouvray AOC within the Loire Valley.  

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