Public Encouraged To Comment on Appalachian High Country AVA Proposal, Approval Should Come by Fall

Published Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 10:32 am
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Johnnie James of Bethel Valley Farms, who spearheaded the AVA application process for the High Country Wine Growers Association listens to comments from HCWGA members on Wednesday. Photos by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

The High Country Wine Growers Association met on Wednesday to discuss the likely designation of the ‘Appalachian High Country’ as an American Viticultural Area, which is a federal distinction that identifies wine grape-growing regions in the U.S., such as the famous Napa Valley in California or the Yadkin Valley closer to home.

“We need as many people as possible to comment in support. That’s one message we want to get out today,” Johnnie James, owner of Bethel Valley Farms and spearheading HCWGA member in the AVA process. “While it’s very rare to withdraw one – and it’s also not a popularity contest – they do like to see validation that the community at large is weighing positively at the petition.

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After the presentation, Steve Tatum of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery poured samples of his award-winning wines.

The local group petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in October 2014 with a 2,400-square-mile AVA spanning eight counties in three states. This region encompasses Alleghany, Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties in North Carolina; Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee; and Grayson County in Virginia.

As of the application date, the region featured 21 wine grape growers and 10 wineries.

In May – nearly 20 months after the application submittal – the TTB officially proposed to establish the Appalachian High Country and opened the petition to public comment. Once public comment is over after July 5, the final review happens and if all goes well, the AVA designation could be official in September at the earliest.

Advocates say this distinction will improve tourism and create new opportunities for farmers. James said that consumers will associate the area with particular wines and grapes. Compared to other nearby AVAs, our region is unique with regards to climate, soils, geology and elevation, among other viticulture-affecting characteristics

The demand for local grapes will increase because 85 percent of the grapes in a local AVA-labeled bottle must grow within the region. He mentioned the ripple effect associated with wine-loving tourists visiting the region. They will wine and dine and shop and lodge and follow the wine trail wherever it may lead, spending money along the way.

Two legends in the local wine industry: Jack Wiseman of Linville Falls Winery (left) and Steve Tatum of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery.

Two legends in the local wine industry: Jack Wiseman of Linville Falls Winery (left) and Steve Tatum of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery.

The meeting was open to the public and James refreshed members of the HCWGA and those in attendance about this process which began two years ago. James essentially said that September/October will be here before we all know it and a coordinated marketing effort, with a big emphasis on social media, needs to begin ASAP.

Steve Tatum, owner of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery on the riverbanks of the Watauga River, asked James how about the cost of marketing. James responded that an AVA that applied a couple years back spent $185,000 to kick-off the marketing campaign with branding, website launch, hosting events, media packets and more.

While that might sound like quite a bit of change to the vintners and farmers who where present, James said that this AVA has the support of many local governments, tourism development authorities and chambers of commerce in eight county region across three states. Proponents of the local AVA raised $10,000 for the meticulous application process and James said that some of these groups expressed future support if the AVA were to be officially established.

The group is also in the final stages of establishing a 501(c)3 nonprofit solely for the AVA and separate from the High Country Wine Growers Association.

For more information or to become involved, call James at 407-808-1617.

You may submit comments on this proposal and view copies of the proposed rule, selected supporting materials, and any comments TTB receives about this proposal at the “Regulations.gov” website (https://www.regulations.gov) within Docket No. TTB–2016–0003.

A link to that docket is posted on the TTB website at https://www.ttb.gov/wine/wine-rulemaking.shtml under Notice No. 158.

Alternatively, written comments may be submitted to one of these addresses:

U.S. Mail: Director, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street NW., Box 12, Washington, DC 20005; or

Hand delivery/courier in lieu of mail: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street, NW., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005.

Comments on this proposal must be received on or before July 5, 2016.

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