Public Comment Period for Appalachian High Country AVA Designation Proposal Open

Published Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 12:03 pm


By Jesse Wood

The public comment period for the proposed establishment of the Appalachian High Country AVA (American Viticultural Area) is now open. The 60-day public comment period, which began yesterday, will end on July 5, 2016.

If this is approved in the coming months, an Appalachian High Country AVA will put our region on the map – as far as the wine industry is concerned.

The proposed local AVA is a 2,400-square-mile area in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia that features 21 wine-grape growers and 10 wineries in portions or all of these eight counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties in North Carolina; Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee; and Grayson County in Virginia.

Steve Tatum, owner of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, holds up some of the AVA paperwork on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Steve Tatum, owner of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, holds up some of the AVA paperwork on Wednesday. Photo by Ken Ketchie

The High Country Wine Growers Association is responsible for applying for the local AVA through the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The application was submitted in October 2014.

“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 when announcing the application in the fall of 2014. “This will tell the rest of the world where the [grapes were] grown and where the wine was produced.”

Part of the application process includes demonstrating how it differs itself from other AVAs, such as the Yadkin Valley AVA, which is the closest AVA, located down the mountain off of U.S. 421.

The geography, elevation, weather, climate and soil is all different between Yadkin Valley and the proposed Appalachian High Country AVA. With that covered and unless opposition to the local AVA mounts, which isn’t likely, or something unforeseen arises, HCWGA members see official approval happening come October.

“I can’t imagine anybody down there [Yadkin Valley opposing our AVA]. The more the merrier because what you want is a wine trail where [wine connoisseurs] could start at Yadkin Valley and work their way up here,” said Steve Tatum, owner of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, on Wednesday.

An official AVA approval would allow for an Appalachian High Country label to identify local wines and highway signs designating the region as a wine country, for two examples. Local wine leaders also say that the designation would improve the economy.

AVA Boundary

AVA Boundary

“If you look at AVAs established in other areas, there is no doubt they have improved the economy in that area. Look at the Yadkin Valley, they are very distressed, but that’s a tourist area now. It’s really good. We already have that going for us, but obviously this will help add to that,” Tatum said.

On May 18, from 3 to 5 p.m., the High Country Wine Growers Association will meet at the Agricultural Conference Center in Boone to answer questions regarding the status of the petition and the remaining steps that need to be finalized.

“[But] most importantly to discuss how we can all work collaboratively together to jointly market the new AVA name! As our neighbors to the east in Yadkin Valley have shown, an AVA can bring a tremendous increase in tourism and visitors to our area who want to experience the unique wines that can only be produced here in the Appalachian High Country,” wrote Johnnie James of Bethal Valley Farms, a winegrower who spearheaded the AVA petition process, in an email to HCWGA members. “While no one ‘owns’ the name, it is a ‘brand’ like ‘Napa Valley’ that we will all share and can leverage the advertising and marketing that each other does.”

For more information and to comment, click the links in the federal notices below:

Notice No. 158, Proposed Establishment of the Appalachian High Country Viticultural Area. This notice proposes to establish the “Appalachian High Country” viticultural area in portions of northeastern Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia.

To view all documents and comments related to this proposal, go to Docket No. TTB–2016–0003 on the website.  To comment electronically, use the comment form for Notice No. 158.  To submit comments by postal mail or hand delivery, see the instructions in the notice.  Comments on this proposal are due by July 5, 2016.

Proposed Establishment of the “Appalachian High Country” Viticultural Area

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, proposing to establish the approximately 2,400-square mile “Appalachian High Country” American Viticultural Area in all or portions of Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, and Watauga Counties in North Carolina, Carter and Johnson Counties in Tennessee, and Grayson County in Virginia.

The proposed viticultural area is not located within any established viticultural area.

TTB is making this proposal in response to a petition filed by a local wine industry member on behalf of a local association of vineyard and winery owners. TTB designates viticultural areas to allow vintners to better describe the origin of their wines and to allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.

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 “” website ( within Docket No. TTB–2016–0003.

A link to that docket is posted on the TTB website at 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.


HCWGA Release on May 4

The High Country Wine Growers Association is pleased to announce that on May 3, 2016 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) proposed to establish an approximately 2400 square mile “Appalachian High Country” viticulture area in all or portions of the following 8 counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell and Watauga Counties in North Carolina; Carter and Johnson Counties in Tennessee; and Grayson County in Virginia. The original petition requesting consideration was filed with the TTB in October 2014 and included the following:

-Evidence that the area within the proposed AVA boundary is nationally or locally known by the AVA name specified

-Explanation of the basis for defining the boundary of the proposed AVA

-Narrative description of the features of the proposed AVA affecting viticulture such as climate, geology, soils, elevation, etc.

-United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps showing the location of the proposed AVA with the boundary drawn

-Detailed narrative description of the proposed AVA boundary based on the USGA map markings

This was a significant undertaking and required the assistance of ASU’s Department of Geography and Planning, Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, local Cooperative Extension offices, as well as significant input from the local growers and wineries. The shared funding for this project was the 8 county governments included in the AVA petition as well as a few select wineries. This was truly a “community team effort” that should be celebrated by the entire area.

Currently there are approximately 21 commercial vineyards planted in the proposed AVA area representing approximately 71 acres. Another 37 acres are planned pending approval of the AVA. In addition there are 10 bonded wineries within the proposed AVA.

In order to put the name “Appalachian High Country” on a bottle of wine, 85% of the grapes used to make the wine must have been grown within the boundaries of the AVA. Thus, it will be a unique bottle of wine that cannot be found anywhere else in the world except right here in High Country! As we’ve seen with the establishment of the other 233 AVA’s around the country, the economic ripple effect on the local economy is significant as it will bring more tourists who will rent more hotel rooms, eat more meals at our restaurants, and visit many of our other wonderful venues while they are here in the mountains. In addition, it will help create new opportunities to farmers with fallow land previously focused in tobacco or Christmas tree farming.

The High Country Wine Growers Association is hosting an information meeting on Wednesday, May 18, at 3:00 pm at the Watauga Ag Extension Office in their downstairs conference center. The public is invited to attend.

For questions, call Johnnie James at 407-808-1617.

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