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Monday, August 4, 2014 - 3:00am

Napa Valley, Sonoma...Hiwassee Highlands? Georgia Gets Its First "American Viticultural Area"

Georgia’s wine industry took a step forward last month, when the federal government recognized the state’s first American Viticultural Area, or AVA. There are over 200 such areas in the US (California’s Napa Valley is probably the best known).

The Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA covers nearly 700 square miles in north Georgia and southwest North Carolina.

“There are so many growers in the area, and we’re all growing different types of grapes and doing things a little bit differently,” said Travis Green.

He’s winemaker at Hightower Creek Vineyards in Towns County, about two hours northeast of Atlanta. His and the other wineries in the region wanted recognition that their wine and grapes are unique, so they applied to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for recognition.

“We brought in a grape geologist out of North Carolina who interviewed all of the winemakers and growers in the area,” Green said. “We were looking into topographical maps and soil samples from the different regions, really trying to figure out the geographic and geological boundaries of the area.”

Wine production in Georgia remains small; the Tax and Trade Bureau says the state turned out over 132,000 gallons in 2013. Wineries in neighboring North Carolina and Florida produced nearly 1.4 million and over 2 million gallons, respectively. Still, North Georgia winemaker Green says he’s seeing a growing demand for his product.

“We sell out just about every year,” he said. “I think the wine industry in Georgia has really grown to a point that we’re beginning to serve not just the Atlanta or Chattanooga or Greenville areas, but outside of that.”