Tours showcase state’s bounty
by Danielle Jackson
It’s hard to believe that almost 100 wineries call North Carolina home. The state — ranked No. 7 in the country in wine production — also is quickly becoming one of the top wine destinations in the country. And for good reason.
Located everywhere from the mountains to the coast, wineries offer a homegrown taste of what the state offers. And a growing movement is making sure that North Carolina residents know what’s available locally.
“Despite the fact that we have so many wineries, there are still people just realizing that we have a wine industry here,” says Margo Knight Metzger, executive director for the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, an advocacy group established in 1986 to promote the industry.
“We try to make sure everyone knows that there’s a winery nearby,” she adds. “No matter where you live in the state, there’s a winery within 100 miles.”
The state of grapes
Winemaking actually is quite a tradition in North Carolina. The first commercial winery was established in 1835, with 25 wineries in operation by 1900. The state was leading the country in wine production by the turn of the 20th century, but in 1919 Prohibition drew everything to a halt.
“A few wineries managed to stay in business making juice and Communion wine,” Metzger says.
The late 1990s were a time of resurgence for the North Carolina wine industry, with the number of wineries jumping to 34 by 2004. Today, there are 96 throughout the state, with the heaviest concentration in the western Piedmont.
“The Piedmont area is becoming known for it vineyards and excellent wines,” says Scott Stanley, owner and general manager of Autumn Creek Vineyards in Mayodan.
North Carolina wineries focus on two varieties: native Muscadine and European-style Vinifera grapes.
Muscadine grapes — also known as Scuppernong, the official fruit of North Carolina — thrive in the hot, sandy conditions of the coastal region, while Vinifera — with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Viognier — primarily are grown in the Piedmont and western regions.
“If you think about the state and how varied it is from the high mountains to the foothills to the clay of the Piedmont and sand of the flat, coastal plains, you’ll see that we grow different grapes for all of these places,” Metzger notes.
“Each wine has a sense of place, wherever it’s coming from.”
Autumn Creek, for instance, has a 100-acre farm with 15 acres of vines and offers 12 varieties, from dry reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to whites such as Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio.
A whirlwind of wine
To showcase these varieties at wineries throughout the state, the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council helps promote the dozens of wine trails available.And with N.C. Wine Appreciation Month in September, it’s a better time than ever to see the state’s wine growers in action.
“It’s farming at its core,” Metzger says of the industry.
“I have been amazed at the resiliency of the people in this business, and impressed with their ability to weather a variety of storms, both economic and traditional.”
Autumn Creek is one such success story. The vineyard, which features a tasting room in addition to cabins for weekend getaways, is adding a 6,000-square-foot pavilion for hosting larger indoor and outdoor weddings and other events.
“We are committed to becoming the premier vineyard in the Triad and plan to continue to add to our facility with the addition of two more planned cabins, as well as with the planting of additional grape vines,” Stanley says.
Metzger notes that in addition to the quantity of wineries available today, quality has improved as well.
“There are so many North Carolina wines that I’m proud to pour for people,” she says.
“For those who think they know North Carolina wine but haven’t tried it lately, I’d suggest trying it again.”
Danielle Jackson is editor of Triad Living, Wake Living and Fifteen501 magazines.
On the wine trail
Fall is the perfect time to head to any one of the region’s many wineries and explore all that winemaking in North Carolina has to offer.
Check out these trails — all within an hour or so — to take it all in. For a full list or for a map of the state’s many wine trails, call toll-free (877) 362-9463 or visit www.visitncwine.com.
Haw River Wine Trail: Conveniently located between the Triangle and Triad, this set of four wineries follows the path of the Haw River and features European varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Savignon, Muscadine wines like Carlos and Magnolia, and dessert wines made from blackberries and strawberries. Wineries include Benjamin Vineyards & Winery in Saxapahaw, GlenMarie Vineyards & Winery in Burlington, Grove Winery in Gibsonville, and Glen Iron Gate Vineyards in Mebane.
Piedmont Heritage Wine Trail: This relaxing drive through the rolling hills and farmland of the northern Piedmont region includes stops at Stonefield Cellars in Stokesdale, Grove Winery in Gibsonville, Chinqua Penn Vineyards in Reidsville and Autumn Creek Vineyards in Mayodan. These wineries feature almost every type of wine imaginable, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Muscadine varieties like Carlos and Niagara.
Yadkin Valley Wine’s Lexington Loop: This tour of four Yadkin Valley wineries takes you through prime farmland just southwest of Winston-Salem. Wineries on the tour include Childress Vineyards, Weathervane Winery and Junius Lindsay Vineyard in Lexington, and RayLen Vineyards in Mocksville.
Yadkin Valley Wine’s Scenic 421 Corridor: This trail — which meanders along a section of U.S. Highway 421 — stretches from Benny Parsons Rendezvous Ridge in Purlear to Alison Oaks Vineyards and Hanover Park Vineyard in Yadkinville to Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville.