Five New AVAs Across the East

TTB establishes three wine grape growing areas and considers two more

by Linda Jones McKee
wine vineyard grape AVA TTB
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Lancaster, Pa.—One of the consequences of having wineries in all 50 states is that there are now more regions petitioning the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to establish American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Since the Loess Hills District AVA in Iowa became official in April, three additional AVAs have been established east of the Rockies, and two more have received a “notice of proposed rulemaking,” the final step before an AVA is approved.

On Nov. 28, the Appalachian High Country AVA became the most recent region to receive that official designation. The AVA covers approximately 2,400 square miles and includes eight counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell and Watauga in North Carolina; Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee; and Grayson County in Virginia. The new AVA includes 10 wineries and 21 commercially-producing vineyards with about 71 acres of grapes.

The distinctive topographical features of the Appalachian High Country are the steep slopes and high elevations, which vary from about 1,330 feet to 6,000 feet. Most of the vineyards are planted between 2,290 and 4,630 feet; to be included in the AVA, wineries and vineyards must be above 2,000 feet in elevation. High Country vineyards are usually on slopes of 30° or more and, as a consequence, some vineyards are terraced both to make it easier to work on the vines and to prevent erosion. Vineyard work is done by hand, not by machine. Because of the area’s cool climate and short growing season, many of the vineyards are planted with cold-climate varieties such as Marquette and Frontenac as well as the more cold-tolerant hybrids like Vidal.

Dr. Dick Wolfe planted the first wine grapes (other than Concord) in the High Country in 2002 and opened his winery, Banner Elk Winery at Blueberry Farm in Banner Elk, N.C., in 2005. He currently has 4 acres of vineyard and produces 2,500 cases of wine per year.

One winery in the AVA, Watauga Lake Winery, is located in Butler, Tenn. Founded by Wayne and Linda Gay in 2005, the winery is now making 1,200 cases per year of varieties such as Seyval, Traminette and Chancellor. Wayne Gay, president of the High Country Wine Growers Association, told Wines & Vines he is very pleased that the AVA was approved. “It was a community effort to get this done, and we’re actively trying to build the (AVA) brand. We hope to get more people growing grapes here in Tennessee, and in the entire High Country region.”

Champlain Valley of New York AVA
Another cold-climate region, the Champlain Valley of New York, became an official AVA on Sept. 16. Covering 500 square miles in Clinton and Essex counties along the western shore of Lake Champlain, the AVA stretches from the Canadian border south to Ticonderoga, N.Y. The area includes six wineries with a total of 39 acres of grapes and 11 commercial vineyards with about 15.5 acres. According to the petition to TTB, “virtually all vineyards” are planted with cold-hardy Minnesota varieties including Frontenac, Marquette and LaCrescent.

wine vineyard grape AVA TTB
Colin Read, the owner of North Star Vineyard (and the tasting room, Champlain Wine Co., in Plattsburg) submitted the petition on behalf of the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association. Read noted that the growing season within the new AVA is much shorter than in surrounding areas. To the east of the region, South Hero, Vt., has a growing season that is four weeks longer than on the west side of Lake Champlain; to the south, the growing season is two weeks longer, while to the west, the Adirondack Mountains are too cold to grow grapes.

Tip of the Mitt AVA
Until August, Michigan had four AVAs: two in the southwestern part of the state, the Fennville and the Lake Michigan Shore AVAs, and two near Grand Traverse Bay, including the Leelanau Peninsula AVA and Old Mission Peninsula AVA. As of Aug. 22, a 2,760-square-mile area of the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula was recognized as the Tip of the Mitt AVA. The name “Tip of the Mitt” is a common nickname used to refer to the mitten-shape of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The region includes 41 commercially producing vineyards with 94 acres of grapes and eight wineries, with four more wineries planning to open in the near future.

wine vineyard grape AVA TTB
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The climate of the new AVA is moderated by the presence of large bodies of water on three sides of the region: Grand Traverse Bay, Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan to the west; the Straits of Mackinac to the north; and Lake Huron to the east. The Tip of the Mitt region has fewer days with high temperatures both below 0° and below 32° F, and it has a longer growing season and higher number of growing degree-days than the region to the south. The winter temperatures allow some French hybrid grapes such as Maréchal Foch and Léon Millot to grow, and the longer season permits mid- to late-season grapes like Frontenac to reach maturity.

Next up: two proposed AVAs
The TTB has published a “notice of proposed rulemaking” in the Federal Register for two other potential AVAs east of the Rockies, the Dahlonega Plateau AVA in Georgia on Dec. 2 and the Expansion of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA in New Jersey on Sept. 20. Comments on the proposed Dahlonega Plateau petition must be received on or before Jan. 31, 2017. The time frame for comments on the proposed Expansion of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA closed Nov. 21.

The proposed Dahlonega Plateau AVA will encompass about 133 square miles in parts of Lumpkin and White counties in northern Georgia. Currently there are seven wineries and eight commercial vineyards with approximately 110 acres planted in grapes in the area of the AVA.

The petition, submitted by the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber & Visitors Bureau on behalf of local vineyard and winery owners, notes that the distinguishing features of the region are its topography and its climate. The petition states, “The proposed AVA is characterized by broad, rounded hilltops, wide valleys, gentle slopes and moderate elevations.” To the north and northeast of the proposed AVA are the Blue Ridge Mountains with high elevations and steep, rugged slopes, and to the east and southeast is an area known as the Hightower Ridges, which have a “washboard” appearance with high, steep ridges separated by narrow valleys. The Dahlonega Plateau has a climate suitable for growing V. vinifera varieties, with a longer growing season than in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north and northeast, and somewhat shorter season than the regions to the south and west.

The Outer Coastal Plain AVA in southeastern New Jersey was established in February 2007 and includes approximately 2.25 million acres in nine counties. John and Jan Giunco, owners of 4JG’s Orchards and Vineyards in Colts Neck, N.J., submitted the petition to the TTB to expand the established AVA by adding about 32,932 acres in Monmouth County on the western edge of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA. 4JG’s Orchard and Vineyards is the only winery, with 30 acres of vineyard, that is located within the proposed expansion area.

The winery and its vineyard existed in 2007, when the Outer Coastal Plain AVA was established, and the Giuncos only recently learned that their property was inadvertently left out of the AVA’s boundaries. One of the items submitted with the Giunco’s petition was a letter from the current president of the Outer Coastal Plain Vineyard Association stating that the Giuncos have been members of the association since 2006, and that the association supports the proposed expansion. The soils, elevation and climate of the expansion area are similar to those within the current AVA.

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