The geography in this long and narrow state ranges from mountains to coastline; in between the two is where the finest winemaking happens – the North Carolina Piedmont.
The entire state has more than 200 wineries and six AVAs (Appalachian High Country, Crest of the Blue Ridge, Haw River Valley, Swan Creek, Upper Hiwassee Highlands and Yadkin Valley) spread across a wide distance; it is a daunting state to explore and grape expressions vary widely.
In fact, explains Louis Jeroslow, owner of Elkin Creek Vineyard in Yadkin Valley: ‘We haven’t found many grape varieties that don’t do well here. It’s an exciting time where people are planting everything they can get their hands on. Right now, variety diversity is the defining feature in North Carolina.’
For the purposes of touring, and to ensure access to a nice density of wineries, Yadkin Valley and Swan Creek offer the greatest opportunity. This slice of North Carolina is the envy of the state with its serene, smooth-edged mountains.
Located northeast of Asheville, North Carolina’s groovy, beer-loving town, Yadkin Valley is the oldest, most established AVA in North Carolina (circa 2003). There are 48 wineries in the region and vines here grow in the type of sandy clay found in Tuscany, while the temperature and humidity averages are almost exactly like those in Bordeaux.
‘These vines don’t know they are in North Carolina,’ says Jeroslow. ‘Their roots are in Italy and the fruit and leaves are in France.’
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During your exploration of Yadkin, you can take an interesting detour into the Swan Creek AVA, a sub-appellation of Yadkin Valley. These wines tend to have a distinctive mineral note – thanks to the area’s proximity to the Brushy Mountains, an isolated spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains with unique mineral deposits.
Kick off your Yadkin Valley wine trail with stops at the new Pilot Mountain Winery & Vineyards and JOLO Winery & Vineyards. Both wineries enjoy amazing views of the distinctive Pilot Mountain – a quartzite dome that’s unlike any other mountain in North Carolina and the defining geographical feature in Yadkin Valley.
Further north, Round Peak Vineyards is popular for both its Nebbiolo and its 18-hole disc golf course that wanders through the vineyards; it has two cabins for rent, and a brewery. Visitors to Shelton Vineyards enjoy the local speciality sonker with their wine at the winery’s Harvest Grill restaurant– it’s a cobbler-style dessert handed down through generations in the area.
At Elkin Creek Vineyard they’ll pour the flagship wine, the Bordeaux blend Rossa (2017), but Jeroslow admits it’s the Dornfelder that sells like hotcakes. ‘We make it in the traditional German table-wine style, just a touch off dry to accent the herbal character; visitors love it,’ he says.
Llama-trekking is on offer at Divine Llama Vineyards, where you can sip the well-regarded Reserve Merlot before taking a 3km llama trek – a perfect way to explore the mountainous terrain.
North Carolina: where to stay & eat
The Rockford Inn is an historic antebellum home that dates back to 1848. Located in the village of Rockford, it offers a quiet escape, with pretty gardens and easy access to the Yadkin Valley wineries. Nearby, the Wine Lodge at Stony Knoll Vineyards is a carefully restored 1860s homestead that features two winery houses overlooking the vines at Round Peak Vineyards.
For a more rustic vibe, consider a stay at Klondike Cabins at Grassy Creek Vineyard, 24km west; they were formerly the hunting cabins for the Hanes family of Hanesbrands textile fame.
In Pilot Mountain, End Posts Restaurant at JOLO Winery & Vineyards is a wonderful option for a lunch of shared plates and tapas. Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards is a local favourite, while on Sundays, Elkin Creek Vineyard serves up brick oven gourmet pizzas, but plan ahead and make a reservation – it’s very popular.