By Jesse Wood
On Thursday, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made the establishment of the Appalachian High Country American Viticultural Area (AVA) official by placing it in the Federal Register.
The ruling goes into effect on Nov. 28, 2016. The High Country Wine Growers Association was responsible for the AVA application that was submitted in October 2014.
An AVA is a federal designation bestowed upon unique wine grape-growing regions, where geography, soil, elevation, weather, climate and more influence the grapes – and other crops, of course – that are grown.
The new Appalachian High Country region spans 2,400 acres in eight counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell and Watauga counties in North Carolina; Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee; and Grayson County in Virginia.
For bottles of wine to feature the coveted AVA label, 85 percent of the grapes must be grown locally, within the AVA boundaries. Supporters of the AVA tout the economic benefits of a wine trail, where folks will eat, shop, sleep and drink in the area, and the positive impact this will have on local farmers who decided to grow the fickle crop.
“It’s exciting,” said Wright Tilley, the executive director of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, which was one of the first organizations to contribute seed money for the meticulous and tedious, pre-application and application process.
Tilley noted that the TDA will continue to provide its support for this project.
“From the research done the last couple years with consumers who have visited Boone and the Boone area and are interested in visiting the area, wineries, microbreweries and culinary experiences are all in the top list of things, in addition to outdoor recreation and just rest and relaxation,” Tilley said.
Johnnie James, owner of Bethel Valley Farms, spearheaded the application process. On Thursday morning, he sent an email to stakeholders and supporters announcing the AVA establishment.
“It’s official! Here is the final ruling that was published in the Federal Register this morning … Thanks for helping get the word out as this is a big deal for our area,” James wrote.
He noted that while there are about 234 other AVAs in the United States, only about 100 exist outside of California. In North Carolina, the Yadkin Valley AVA, Haw River Valley AVA and Swan Creek AVA exist.
After the 30-day wait for the establishment of the AVA to go into effect, James said the wineries will be allowed to submit their new wine labels that feature the AVA logo. By the end of this year – at the latest- local wine should be showing off the Appalachian High Country AVA label.
For much more details about the AVA and the history of modern winemaking in the High Country, checkout High Country Magazine’s cover story from the August/September 2016 issue.