Designation of 8-county Appalachian High Country viticulture area nears success

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Watauga Lake Winery, along with others in the High Country Wine Growers Association, has worked diligently over the last four years to establish a geographical distinction for wines produced in this unique southern Appalachian region.

On May 3, the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau proposed to establish an approximately 2,400 square mile “Appalachian High Country” viticulture area in all or portions of the following counties: Carter and Johnson Counties in Tennessee; Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, and Watauga Counties in North Carolina; and Grayson County in Virginia. The original application included 21 wine-grape growers and 10 wineries.

“This was truly a “community team effort” that should be celebrated by the entire area,” said Linda Gay, co-owner with her husband Wayne of Watauga Lake Winery and Ville Nove Vineyards in Butler, Tenn.

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To earn this distinction, wine growers in these counties, along with support from their local governments, submitted a proposal in October 2014 which evidenced cause based on climate, geology, soils, elevation and other unique regional features. It required mapping, detailed narrative and a unified effort to identify the qualities that make high country wine so unique.

“This was a significant undertaking and required the assistance of ASU’s Department of Geography and Planning, Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, local agriculture extension offices, as well as significant input from the local growers and wineries,” said Gay.

A viticulture area is a wine-grape growing area defined to highlight specific differences in the climate and geology of an area, and there are only 233 in the nation.

Not only do they bring pride and identity to the region, but Gay said it attracts tourism. Once finalized, wines produced in the area with at least 85 percent locally grown grapes will bear the designation “Appalachian High Country.”

“Thus, it will be a unique bottle of wine that cannot be found anywhere else in the world except right here in High Country!” said Gay. “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.”

She said an additional benefit will be for local farmers with fallow land to begin growing wine-grapes, where they may have previously grown tobacco or Christmas trees.

Currently, 10 bonded wineries and 21 commercial vineyards are encompassed in the proposed AVA, representing 71 planted acres. According to the petition, another 8 vineyards dispersed across 37 acres are planned pending AVA approval.

Larry Potter, Mayor of Johnson County submitted a letter of endorsement via the online public comment section, saying the value-added production of wine produced at Watauga Lake Winery’s Ville Nove Vineyards is a “catalyst for developing the agri-tourism industry and farm-to-table concept for our economically distressed county.” He also said it has “demonstrated the economic viability of viticulture in what has historically been an area based on tobacco production.

The High Country Wine Growers Association will host an informational meeting on May 18 at 3 p.m. at the Watauga Agricultural Extension Office conference center at 252 Poplar Grove Rd. in Boone, NC. The public is invited to attend, and public comment must be submitted by July 5. The public may also submit comment online by searching TTB-2016-0003 at and following the link to Notice No. 158.

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