Appalachian Vineyards: Herbaceous Hillbilly Hooch
Think of the Appalachian Mountains, and you probably think of a hardy people with a taste for bluegrass music and moonshine. You certainly don’t think of Appalachian vineyards, Cabernet vinted in the Carolinas or Pino Vinto from Virginia. After all, this ain’t Napa Valley; it’s more like Hillbilly Holler’. Who would have the gumption to think that they could grow grapes in the rugged terrain of Appalachia? The very folks that tried for so long to stamp out moonshiners, that’s who.
The Appalachian High Country AVA ( American Viticultural Area) became the 5th AVA wine region in North Carolina in October 2016. An AVA is a designated wine grape-growing region distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. I’m sure a lot of old-timers in the region think the government finally came to their senses because it turns out that Appalachia is a great place to make moonshine and wine!
The Appalachian High Country joins the Haw River Valley, Swan Creek, Upper Hiawassee Highlands, and Yadkin Valley AVAs to make the Appalachian vineyards a wine region to be reckoned with. Look out California! Covering 2,400 square miles, the new AVA spans eight counties in three states throughout the Appalachian Mountains. Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, and Watauga in North Carolina, Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee, and Grayson County in Virginia. The AVA features about a dozen wineries and over 20 vineyards.
Growing grapes in Appalachian vineyards takes ingenuity and special skills, but the people of Appalachia are used to an “uphill battle.”( pun intended!) From the cooler climate to the high-elevation terrain, mountain-grown grapes face a lot of adversity and need vintners with passion and skill. More than half of the Appalachian High Country AVA vineyards grow above 3,000 feet on slopes with angles of 30 degrees or more. But it’s all worth the effort because these hardy grapes make some of the best wine in the country.
While the relatively new wine region benefits from established tourism, the AVA designation will, in turn, benefit the local economy. Farmers will have an alternative crop, jobs will be created in the growing wine industry, and the AVA vineyards will be yet another draw for tourism. But the real winners here are the lucky wine enthusiasts who can now savor vintages found nowhere else in the world. From vinifera varieties (Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Merlot) to hybrids (Seyval Blanc, Marquette, and Marechal Foch), there are over 24 different varieties already in production.
Black-Diamond Slopes to Ancient Forests
From the ski slopes around Banner Elk to the pristine forests of the Linville Gorge, there are exceptional AVA vintners who would love for wine lovers to come by and sit a spell. These hospitable hosts know a lot about the wine of course, but they also know a thing or two about Appalachia. And they’re just waiting for a chance to show off both.
It’s time to head into the hills! Here are five Appalachian vineyards with great wine, beautiful scenery, and downhome mountain hospitality.
Banner Elk Winery and Villa
Banner Elk Winery can be found in Banner Elk, North Carolina surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains close to some of the best skiing in the south. Their luxury Villa, an extensive selection of wines, and southern hospitality are humbly offered with obvious Appalachian pride. The High Country’s original winery, Banner Elk blends the art and the science of winemaking into a palate-pleasing experience.
Grandfather Vineyard & Winery
Sitting beneath its namesake, Grandfather Mountain, along the Watauga River, Grandfather Vineyard and Winery is truly a family affair. Multiple generations craft wines that embody the warm days and cool nights of the Appalachian vineyards in every glass. And visitors will know they’re in the right place when they see Casey, the vineyard’s “Bordeaux Collie,” bound up to greet her guests.
Linville Falls Winery
The backdrop at Linville Falls Winery of Frasier Firs and the Blue Ridge Mountains give the vineyard an air of old-world charm. Named after beautiful Linville Falls in the Linville Gorge Wilderness in North Carolina, the winery is more than a destination; it’s an event. Their live shows featuring mountain music and other special events showcase some of the best of what Appalachia is all about. And the wine ain’t bad either!
Watauga Lake Winery
In the backwoods around Butler, Tennessee, on the shores of Watauga Lake, sits an old haunted schoolhouse. Instead of readers and restless school boys, the building now houses fermenters and watchful vintners. Just down the road a bit the Villa Nove Vineyard surrounds an Italian inspired farmhouse that overlooks the lake. Visitors to Watauga Lake Winery and their Appalachian vineyard will find traditional and hybrid vintages where the Alps meet the Appalachians.
A short side trip off the Virginia Creeper Trail, in Abingdon, Virginia, wine adventurers will find the Abingdon Vineyard and Winery. In a region traditionally known for Blue Grass and moonshine, vintners and pickers happily coexist. The winery blends the traditions of Appalachia and their passion for winemaking to create their Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, and other mountain-grown varieties. Wine lovers will find a little bit of paradise in the Blue Ridge Mountains at one of the most beautiful vineyards in Appalachia.
Check out our post on the Banner Elk Winery and Villa and stay tuned for more in our Appalachian vineyards wine series.
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