Food & Drink

Let It Pour: Feds put new wine region on NC/Georgia map

It’s a good thing October comes right after September in North Carolina, otherwise we might just forget what makes this place so livable.

September anywhere east of the foothills in North Carolina is the most torturous of months, with all the heat, humidity and bugs of summer and none of the love. It’s all back-to-school, back-to-business. After those 30 days, we deserve the little slice of paradise that is October.

Two of my favorite reasons to love October are leaf-peeping and the State Fair, and since I’m not headed to the mountains this fall, I’ll just have to envy those who are. Apparently it’s going to be a busy season, if you trust the predictions of a Western Carolina University tourism study. Lots of folks want to make up for what they missed last year when a federal government shut-down closed national parks – including visitors centers on the Blue Ridge Parkway – for about half of October and put a damper on mountain tourism traffic.

Vineyards and tasting rooms see a small but growing segment of the state’s tourism market, and for many, fall is when they get a close-up look at the state’s wine scene.

Among the surprises awaiting wine fans who make it far enough west is a new American Viticultural Area – the Upper Hiwassee Highlands. Don’t expect to see road signs welcoming you to the AVA, but if you stop in one of the 26 vineyards therein, you’ll find excited winemakers talking about the change, including Eric Carlson, owner of Calaboose Cellars in Andrews, who headed up the AVA application.

An AVA designation literally puts a wine region on the map, and bolsters the legitimacy of its product. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau created the new AVA this summer. It covers 690 square miles in Cherokee and Clay counties in North Carolina and three counties in Georgia. Upper Hiwassee is North Carolina’s fourth viticultural area and the 214th nationwide. It is Georgia’s first.

To achieve the designation, an area must demonstrate that the soil and climate of a particular swath of land sets it apart. The Upper Hiwassee Highland AVA is in a rugged nook of the southern Appalachians but the slopes of its hills are comparatively gentle, making them safe for cultivation. The area also gets more sunlight than the steeper hills and valleys nearby, which means the land gets a little bit warmer, making grape growing easier. Those grapes are vinifera, French-American hybrids and natives.

While you won’t be seeing me on the road to the mountains, you will find me at the State Fair in Raleigh, where, as usual, no wine will be served. Fair judges have tasted wine in dozens of categories and bestowed ribbons on their favorites. You can see a few behind glass in a display case at the fair, but you can taste none. Regular readers know that I whine every year about Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler’s teetotalism policy.

Normally I view this as an example of over-regulation. But when I heard that gun rights advocates were pushing to have firearms allowed at the fair under North Carolina’s new concealed carry law, I had to raise a glass to Troxler’s sober judgment to oppose them.

Opponents of wine tasting at the fair have argued that we shouldn’t add alcohol to the already volatile mix of tens of thousands of folks crammed into a gated area, hopped up on adrenaline, turkey legs and fried Twinkies, lest a drunken brawl break out at the pig races. This year, I’d agree.

Fortunately, a Wake County judge sided with Troxler to ban guns at the fair.

Oh, October, thank you again for reminding us why we all love living here so much.

Amber Nimocks is a former food editor for The News & Observer. Reach her at