By Jesse Wood
Representatives of four wineries in Avery, Watauga and Johnson counties met on Tuesday night to discuss the pending High Country Wine Trail passport system that will launch in a few months.
Nicole Winder, tasting room manager for Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, said that the High Country Wine Trail map includes Banner Elk Winery, Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, Linville Falls Winery and Watauga Lake Winery.
Speaking on Wednesday, Winder said that the passport system is still in the planning stages as the new High Country Wine Trail board irons out the details, such as the culminating gift for individuals visiting all four wineries and completing the trail.
“We are still in the early stages, but we will have a grand opening to kick off the passport system in May or June,” Winder said, stressing that this celebratory date is tentative.
During this grand opening weekend, each winery will do something special to highlight the new wine trail and passport system, which will allow visitors to take in the multi-county, wine experience at their own pace.
“You don’t necessarily have to go to all four wineries in one day,” Winder said. “You can go in six or eight months, and whenever you hit that fourth one, you’ll get a gift.”
Although there is some overlap, note that the High Country Wine Trail is different from the Appalachian High Country AVA (American Viticultural Area), which was officially established last fall after the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau placed it in the Federal Register.
The Appalachian High Country AVA spans 2,400 square miles and eight counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell and Watauga counties in North Carolina; Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee; and Grayson County in Virginia. At last count, about a dozen wineries and two dozen vineyards operate within this region.
An AVA essentially legitimizes an area as a grape-growing region, and for bottles of wine to feature the coveted AVA label, 85 percent of the grapes must be grown locally, within the AVA boundaries. Local AVA-bottled wine has already been produced.
The AVA is expected to have a positive impact on local farmers growing wine grapes, and supporters tout the economic benefits (such as the shoppers, diners and lodgers) a wine trail brings to the area.
Winder also noted that the group talked about AVA crop grants and elected officers for the new High Country Wine Trail board, which will vote on High Country wine-related items throughout the year.