Great Valley Wine Trail Launches New Name, Anticipates Expansion Including Hard Ciders

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New legislation for hard cider ushers in growth and change in Tennessee wine industry and tourism.

Vineyard with mountain in background

Great Valley Wine Trail has wonderful views like this one from the vineyard at Spout Spring Estates, Blaine, Tenn., features Clinch Mountain in the background.

With legislation changes in March 2016, Tennessee winemakers can now make hard cider. "Expect a modern Johnny Appleseed to visit rural Appalachia!" said James R. Riddle, founder of Great Valley Wine Trail, East Tennessee.

Serving the same award-winning wine, five wineries in East Tennessee are changing their collective trail name to reflect coming expansion. Great Valley Wine Trail (formerly Thunder Road Wine Trail) is part of a growing farm wine industry in East Tennessee. Winery wages and salaries have doubled since 2013, to more than $7.9 million in 2015. And with recent legislation passed in March 2016 allowing wineries to make hard cider too, the industry is perched on the edge of additional growth.

"We don't fit on Thunder Road anymore," said Riddle. "Our wineries are spread out throughout the Great Valley of East Tennessee, and we are adding hard cider and cideries as well. Reflecting that, our trail is changing its name to 'Great Valley Wine Trail,' within a larger region called 'Nine Lakes Wine Country.'"

Great Valley Wine Trail includes five independent East Tennessee wineries: Eagle Springs Winery, Kodak, TN; Goodwater Vineyards, Mosheim, TN; Spout Spring Estates Winery & Vineyard, Blaine, TN; The Winery at Seven Springs Farm, Maynardville, TN; and Watauga Lake Winery, Butler, TN.

Nine Lakes Wine Country is the area encompassing 16 counties in middle East Tennessee, between the Smoky Mountains and Cumberland Mountains. It features nine TVA-made lakes; on the east and west are Cherokee Lake and Watts Bar Lake, and bordering north and south are Norris Lake and Chilhowee and Calderwood Lakes. It is a sought after tourism destination for visitors.

This region features gentle hills with north-east and south facing slopes, and deep, well-drained loam soils with clay sub-soils. It is perfect for growing many types of grapes. "The Nine Lakes Region of the Great Valley of East Tennessee has a unique mix of soils, climate and gentle rolling hills that produce a character in grapes unique to anything in the United States," said Riddle.

Several of the five wineries on the trail are on or near the old Thunder Road-to-Copperhead Road moonshine smuggling route used during the Prohibition Era. Great Valley Wine Trail expects to keep that history a part of its appeal, as visitors can still see many historic sites along the way.

"Our slogan is still 'Uncork the history,' and you can still visit to many historic spots along the 140 miles of our Trail," said Riddle, whose own father was an ATF agent. "We will not forget our Prohibition history, and in fact we celebrate our return to pre-Prohibition grape growing days in Tennessee."

Tennessee was the third largest grape producer in the nation before Prohibition, which devastated the spirits industry in the state. Today, East Tennessee farmers are again discovering the local soil perfect for growing many types of wine-bearing grapes, and of course, apples.

With hard cider being so popular today, several wineries expect to add those drinks in the next year.

On March 24, Governor Bill Haslam signed an amendment to the Tennessee Code, allowing Tennessee wineries and farm wine growers to make and sell hard apple cider. Previously, only licensed breweries were allowed to make this popular drink.

"Hard apple cider is actually a wine," Riddle said. "Like other wines, it is made from the fermented juice of a fruit. And, it's the fastest growing segment of the beverage industry today."

Tennessee has 19 apple orchards listed nationally, and only two hard cider makers. "This will change rapidly as wineries will now be able to produce, label and sell hard cider. Expect a modern Johnny Appleseed to visit rural Appalachia!" said Riddle.

Riddle and other winegrowers are working toward establishing Nine Lakes Wine Country as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), an official designation that defines a unique soil and climate area for grapes. Sonoma and Napa Valley in California are AVAs, for example.

Look for Nine Lakes Wine Country festivals and events in the future! And be sure to visit all five of the Great Valley Wine Trail wineries for prizes and gifts. For more information visit

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Rebecca Williams

James R. Riddle
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