By Jesse Wood
Oct. 17, 2014. On Thursday, the High Country Wine Growers Association (HCWGA) announced that it has recently submitted an application with the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for the region to become an American Viticultural Area (AVA).
The application process will likely take six to 10 months, and if it is successful the Appalachian High Country AVA will be huge for the local wine industry.
“Oh man, I think it’s going to be something else,” Jack Wiseman, owner of Linville Falls Winery and a member of the HCWGA, said. “This will tell the rest of the world where the wine was grown and where the wine was produced.”
This AVA region consists of three states – North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia – and portions or all of these eight counties – Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Carter, Grayson, Johnson, Mitchell and Watauga. It also includes 21 wine-grape growers and 10 wineries.
Those in the wine industry say the establishment of this AVA has a number of benefits. Aside from boosts to the local economy and tourism, it will spur the region in distinguishing itself from other winemaking regions in the state, nation and world.
The boundary of the Appalachian High Country AVA excludes properties below 2,000 feet in elevation. This region also has different soil and a climate of warm days and cool nights in the summer that, for example, the bordering Yadkin Valley AVA doesn’t have.
“It really represents a tremendous opportunity for the High Country to distinguish ourselves from so many other AVAs in the U.S.,” Johnny James, a grower who owns Bethel Valley Farms and is the catalyst behind getting this AVA application submitted.
For wine bottles to have the local AVA label, 85 percent of the grapes must be grown in this region, James said. Winemakers such as Wiseman and Steve Tatum of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery have already talked about the shortage of local grapes to make wines with locally-sourced fruit, and if this AVA is granted, the demand for local grapes will go up dramatically. This increased demand and therefore increased prices will motivate farmers to grow more wine grapes.
This will also be a boost to the local economy and tourism.
James noted that busloads of tourists visit the famed NAPA Valley AVA in California. James also noted that in 2009, the overall economic impact of wine in North Carolina was estimated to be $1.28 billion. James added that the study was five years old and that annual financial impact of wine on the state has probably increased by 50 percent.
Tatum mentioned that wine drinkers tend to have more expendable income and that this AVA will attract new visitors to the area who will spend their money at shops and restaurants and hotels.
“If you are a wine drinker, you’ll say what the heck is this all about [and you will want to check it out]. If you are a wine drinker, you will definitely stop in. I’ve already seen this with Grandfather Vineyard. The next questions will be where’s the wine tasting and where are other wineries,” Tatum said. “It’s definitely a great tourism activity to do after going out hiking or skiing … Getting an AVA gives you a little more clout about your grape growing in the area and it also interests other growers to come to the area. That feeds on itself.”
Myra Cook, president of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the economic benefits of wine to the Yadkin Valley region. The AVA in the Yadkin Valley was the first of its kind in North Carolina.
“It has really helped the Yadkin Valley, as far as tourism. It brings people to our wine festival and to the tasting rooms and tours,” Cook said. “A lot of vineyards have restaurants and cafes there. So [visitors] can eat, do tastings and buy bottles of wine, and, of course, spend the night [which brings in hotel revenue]. It’s been a really great thing for this area.”
Ed Shelton of Shelton Vineyards spearheaded the movement to turn Yadkin Valley into an AVA more than 10 years ago. He noted the “stamp of approval” that the AVA label gives to a region and he said he thought the Appalachian High Country AVA proposal is “a very good idea” for the wine industry in the High Country.
“It was very important to the development of the wine region in this area,” Shelton said.
Organizers of the Appalachian High Country AVA raised $10,000 for the application process, which was extensive and meticulous – to say the least. Those that contributed financially include: Allegheny County, Ashe County, Carter County TDA, Grayson County, HCWGA, Johnson County Chamber, Linville Falls Winery [because Avery County didn’t donate funds], Mitchell County TDA, Mountain Electric and the Watauga County TDA.
While James is considered the “catalyst” of getting the extensive application submitted, he also received quite a bit of help from others including ASU Geography and Planning Professor Jeff Colby, ASU graduate student Bianca Temple and Derek Goddard of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants.