BANNER ELK — The Appalachian High Country AVA has officially become North Carolina’s fifth American Viticultural Area. Grape growers and wineries in the region will be able to add the distinction to their labels starting Nov. 28.
“The establishment of an AVA can help wine makers describe more accurately the origin of their wines, and assists consumers in identifying wines for purchase,” said Whit Winslow, executive director of the N.C. Wine and Grape Growers Council. “The distinction will allow wineries in the area to market their products collectively for the benefit of the entire region. We’ve already seen this happen with great success in Yadkin Valley.”
The Appalachian High Country AVA is a 2,400-acre area spanning eight counties across three states. Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell and Watauga counties are included, as well as Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee and Grayson County in Virginia. A total of 10 wineries and 21 vineyards are included in the AVA, with an additional eight vineyards planned in the near future.
Johnnie James, owner of Bethel Valley Farms and member of the High Country Winegrowers Association, led the effort to get the region distinguished as an AVA. James grows three varieties of grapes on his farm in Watauga County. He said the High Country’s climate makes it unique and challenging for grape growers.
“We have much colder temperatures and fewer growing days above 51 degrees,” James said. “Cold-hardy varieties such as Vidal Blanc, Marquette and Traminette do well.”
In addition to climate, one of the most striking characteristics of the region is its topography. The area has one of the highest average elevations east of the Mississippi River. Vineyards are planted at elevations between 2,290 and 4,630 feet. More than half are at or above 3,000 feet. In addition, more than half of the vineyards are planted on slopes with angles of 30 degrees or more.
Grandfather Vineyard & Winery in Banner Elk is one such winery. Its 58° Fusion wine is so named because the vineyard is planted on a 58-degree slope. Steve Tatum, owner of Grandfather Vineyard, is excited about having the new AVA designation.
“We have a supply of wine made from 100-percent Appalachian High Country AVA grapes that we’ve been holding back for this,” Tatum said. “We plan on being one of the first to apply for new labels on Nov. 28.”
Tourists interested in visiting wineries in the newly established Appalachian High Country AVA can plan their trip by contacting the wineries directly. Following are the eight N.C. wineries that make up the new AVA:
• Banner Elk Winery and Villa, Banner Elk (http://www.bannerelkwinery.com/)
• Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, Banner Elk (http://www.grandfathervineyard.com/)
• Linville Falls Winery, Linville Falls (http://www.linvillefallswinery.com/)
• Plumtree Valley Vineyards, Plumtree
• Raven Rock Vineyards, Vilas (http://www.ravenrockvineyards.com/)
• Roaring River Vineyards, Traphill (http://www.roaringrivervineyards.com/)
• Spencer Mountain Vineyards, Vilas
• Thistle Meadow Winery, Laurel Springs (http://www.thistlemeadowwinery.com/)
North Carolina’s wine and grape industry has a $1.71 billion economic impact on the state’s economy. North Carolina is home to five AVAs, more than 180 wineries and 525 commercial grape growers. The industry employs nearly 8,000 people across the state.
More information about the state’s wine and grape industry is available at www.ncwine.org.