For the first five and a half years I lived in Charlotte, I never visited a North Carolina vineyard. Now as I approach the six year mark, I have experienced two vineyard tours in six months.
Near the end of last week, a friend called and asked if I would be interested in going on a winter winery tour on Saturday. Since I bake on Saturdays, my first reaction was to decline, but something compelled me to be a little spontaneous.
Though I felt very guilty about turning my back on baking, I am so glad I had an opportunity to get out of the kitchen as it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I also justified writing a post about my experience rather than a recipe since it’s now the month of Valentine’s Day, and I started off my first winery tour post with a remark about just that day.
Unlike the summer tour of mountain vineyards, the winter tour took us to Albemarle – home of the famous Kelly Pickler (American Idol) and the infamous Mary K. Mary K is the friend who invited me along on the tour, and her home grown knowledge provided us unauthorized insights on the tour.
I should make it clear, just as I am not a foodie, I am also not a wine connoisseur. My level of expertise tops out at knowing what differentiates champagne and sparkling wine (the answer is geography – only grapes grown in the Champagne region of France are allowed to be labeled champagne). But just as I enjoy learning about baking, I also enjoy learning about wine, and it doesn’t hurt when vineyards are located less than an hour’s drive from my front door.
The grapes grown in the Albemarle area are big, fat, round, juicy, sweet, seedy muscadines. To get an idea of the size of a muscadine, think of another variety of grape as a marble, then think of a muscadine as the shooter.
I prefer a light, white wine like a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. (I have also come to enjoy Pinot Noir, but that’s about it when it comes to red.) Given I like a sweet wine, I thought I would really like wines made from muscadines, but there can be too much of a good thing. For the most part, the wines had such a sweet taste I didn’t care for much more than the taste poured in my glass. On the other hand, not one to typically care for a Chardonnay, I really enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnays served at these wineries.
Vineyard One: Stony Mountain
Located on Stony Mountain, with a view of the Uwharrie Mountains and the lower Yadkin Valley, this vineyard offered the prettiest view. The Uwharries are the oldest mountain range in North America. Like people, mountains shrink with age – this range tops out at just over 1,000 feet. Stony Mountain Vineyard is the place to visit if you enjoy dry red wines, and they have a nice selection of fruit and muscadine wines. Their Riesling may have been the best wine I tasted all day, but unfortunately, the wine’s nose left a lot to be desired.
Vineyard Two: Uwharrie
I once read or heard that consumers who are not familiar with wines often select a bottle based on an appealing label. If that is true, then Uwharrie should sell a lot of wine – their labels are colorful and compelling. In addition to lovely bottles, I would rate this vineyard as home to the most personable owner. Though we enjoyed wonderful hospitality at all of the vineyards, the gentleman at Uwharrie was a natural public speaker who educated us on both wine and the wine-making process. I tasted my favorite Chardonnay of the day at this vineyard, and though it was not a part of the tasting, two groups who purchased the Cabernet loved it.
Vineyard Three: Dennis
By the time we reached Dennis Vineyards, our tour bus full of people was 18 wine tastings deep. Bless the ladies who poured our remaining nine tastings, as things were getting a bit rowdy. Dennis Vineyards was the first vineyard to open in Stanly County, and the 12th vineyard to open in the state. Today, Stanly County is home to 15 vineyards, and North Carolina boasts over 100. I too was 18 wine tastings deep when I wrote those numbers down, so any errors are unintentional and my own. Here, I enjoyed the best-selling Bramble, made not from grapes, but from blackberries and raspberries. The gentleman at this vineyard also provided a tour, but I can’t tell you any more about it as my friends and I opted out of the tour and into an unauthorized field trip across the street to enjoy the view from the Gazebo.
If you are an out of state resident planning a trip to North Carolina, an in state resident planning a day trip, or just want to learn more about the state’s vineyards and wineries, resources abound at visitncwine.com. Cheers!