NASHVILLE– Gov. Bill Lee has proclaimed May as Tennessee Grape and Wine Appreciation Month, just one month after he signed a bill to ease some restrictions on wineries. Leaders in the Tennessee wine industry hope these efforts and others will continue to encourage the state’s small but growing wine industry.
“The grape and wine industry is unique in that it combines agriculture, tourism and economic development,” Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M said. “Vineyards and wineries are generational investments, and they have allowed many family farms in Tennessee to diversify into value-added agriculture and agritourism.”
“Designating May as Tennessee Wine and Grape Appreciation Month builds on the efforts we have been pursuing,” said Rhonda Moody, president of the Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance. “Recent revisions to the Wine and Grape Law will make it much easier for our rural wineries to open satellite facilities and expand their businesses. This is a great benefit to Tennessee wineries and farmers, too, helping them succeed.”
SB1353 was signed by Lee on March 28, 2019, allowing small wineries to open up to two satellite facilities without the previous restriction of first going through a licensed wholesaler to distribute wines. This legislation will particularly benefit small rural wineries and farm wineries.
Grapes are one of the fastest growing segments of Tennessee agriculture, with a 40 percent increase in production acreage from 2007 to 2017 according to USDA’s Census of Agriculture. The wine and grape industry currently employs more than 400 people in Tennessee, with recent analysis showing 12.6 percent growth since 2015.
The Tennessee grape and wine industry has a direct economic impact estimated at $736 million per year and contributes significantly to enhanced tourism opportunities in Tennessee, by providing travel destinations. Tennessee is home to seven wine trails—five of those located in East Tennessee—with more planned in the coming year.
The Appalachian Region Wine Producers Association (ARWPA) promotes Tennessee wines through a number of events in East Tennessee, including its signature event, the Nine Lakes Wine Festival, May 31-June 1 in Oak Ridge and with wine tastings at festivals such as the Lakeside of the Smokies Wine and Balloon Fest, Oct. 26-27 in White Pine.
The grape and wine month designation was championed by ARWPA as well as the Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance. The organizations are working with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to increase consumer awareness and develop brand identity of the many award winning Tennessee wines.
“We are also working to establish ‘American Viticultural Areas (AVA)’ in Tennessee, including one in the Nine Lakes region surrounding Knoxville,” said James Riddle, president ARWPA. An AVA is a federally designated growing region for grapes which identifies the uniqueness of the wines produced from those grapes.
“An AVA here would help us establish an identity for our wines, which is crucial in the industry. Think of Napa Valley and Sonoma County—those are American Viticultural Areas,” said Riddle. “We have a unique climate for growing grapes, and wines produced from our grapes have been distinguished in competitions across the United States.”
The Nine Lakes region of East Tennessee—called so because of the nine TVA-made lakes surrounding Knoxville—has more wine trails, wineries, farm wineries, satellite winery locations and vineyard acreage than any other part of the state. Wines from this region have been recognized as Tennessee’s best wine, as judged by the regional Wines of the South competition, in five of the last six years.
“Our goal is to put Tennessee on the wine lovers’ map,” said Riddle. “Celebrating Tennessee wines during Tennessee Grape and Wine Appreciation month is a great start.”
With more than 67 wineries and over 500 acres of vineyards, Tennessee wines are making a huge impact on Tennessee. Visitors from across the country come to explore the variety of fruit grown from the Tri-Cities all the way to Memphis, while sipping on some of the state’s many award-winning wines. Visit www.TennesseeWines.com for more information.