Happy (Wine) Trails to You
Oct 01, 2014 02:57PM ● Published by Jason Huddle
For those who enjoy sweet wines, it’s most likely common knowledge that the scuppernong grape is native to North Carolina and is the state’s official fruit.
This bronze-colored Muscadine was discovered in the Cape Fear River Valley in 1524 by Giovanni de Verrazano, a French explorer. Near Wilmington, the valley’s soil is sandy but the Muscadine has established a hardiness that enables it to thrive in the heavy clay of the Piedmont as well as the rocky terrain of the North Carolina mountains.
In the 1950s – post-Great Recession and Prohibition – new North Carolina vineyards were established to eventually fill the many orders for grapes coming from out-of-state. Then, in 1985, Asheville’s Biltmore Estate opened its own $65-million winery in its converted dairy barn; it grows some of its own grapes as part of its self-sustainment program, blending them with other varieties purchased elsewhere. In 1999, the Golden LEAF Foundation was formed to offer financial incentive to the state’s tobacco farmers, hoping to get them to cultivate grapes instead. And, in 2003, the Yadkin River Valley in northwestern North Carolina, became the state’s first official American Viticultural (cultivation of grapes for wine-making) Area.
The success in growing and selling native grapes like the Carlos or Magnolia brought about an enthusiasm for cultivating other varieties and experimenting with hybrids that could withstand North Carolina’s various climates and soils, and provide a drier, less sweet wine. Vitis Vinifera grapes include Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc; French-American hybrids include Chambourcin and Villard Noir; and Labruscas – American bunch grapes – include the Concord and Niagara.
“In North Carolina, you’ll find wine as unique as the land itself. In fact, no other region in the world grows every major type of grape, including Vinifera, French-American hybrids, Labruscas and Muscadines. The state’s varied geography, climate and soil makes this feat possible,” ncwine.org says.
So, like a domino effect, the cultivation and procurement of such a variety of grapes resulted in wineries dotting the North Carolina landscape; there are some 130 wineries statewide today.
According to visitncwinecountry.com, “The number of wineries has more than quadrupled since 2001. The industry has two focuses – native Muscadine grapes and European-style Vinifera grapes. Commonly planted Vinifera grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. They are planted in the western and Piedmont regions of the state. Plantings of native Muscadine grapes, also known as Scuppernongs, are relatively pest resistant and thrive in the hot, sandy conditions of the coastal region.”
Many North Carolina wineries are small and family-owned and run, offering an up close and personal glimpse into winemaking…and tasting.
There are currently about 20 wine trails across the state – broken down geographically – from the coast to the mountains. These trails are a fun and easy way to taste a variety of wines on a weekend afternoon. For example, Yadkin River Wine Trail – one of the largest – sees visitors driving from Sanders Ridge Vineyard and Winery, to RagApple Lassie Vineyards, to Flint Hill Vineyards, to Divine Llama Vineyards and ending up at Cellar 4201. This particular trail covers 42 miles and a little more than an hour of driving time. How long you linger at each location is totally up to you!
“Wine trails, special events and wine clubs add to the Yadkin Valley Wine Country experience,” yadkinwinecountry.com says. “Combine this with abundant outdoor activities, local arts & crafts, charming bed & breakfasts, and the exquisite food and wine offered at local restaurants, and you have the makings of a great wine country getaway, family vacation, wedding reception or banquet.”
A specific event – taking place this month, on the weekend of October 11-12 – is the annual Sip Trip. Gathering at Fairfield Inn & Suites in Elkin on 10:30 that Saturday morning, registered participants start the experience with wine tasting and food pairings. Then a charter bus takes them to Jones vonDrehle Vineyards, a new winery in the Yadkin Valley, where lunch and a wine tasting will take place.
Then it’s on to Adagio Vineyards where a winery tour will be conducted as well as a tasting. The third stop is Grassy Creek Vineyards, where the tasting room manager and winemakers will be on hand. The last stop, and where dinner will be served on the grounds, is McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks. The owners will offer a Chardonnay tasting before dinner. The bus will then return to Fairfield Inn around 7:00 Saturday night, where participants are welcome to come together and talk about their day before turning in at the hotel. The Sip Trip concludes at breakfast on Sunday morning.
For anyone new to the experience of wine tasting or for those who would like to become more familiar with its nuances, the N.C. Department of Agriculture offers The 5 Ss:
“See:Pour about an ounce of wine in a clear, stemmed glass; hold the glass by the stem. Raise your glass in front of a white background and tip it slightly away from you. Check for clarity and brilliance. If the wine is dull and cloudy, something is wrong. Next, note the color and intensity of its hue. These two factors change as wine ages and are often clues to its condition and quality. As white wines age, shades of light straw with hues of yellow change to tones of full straw and gold. As red wines mature, their purple or violet tones first become ruby, then brownish-orange.
“Swirl:Grasp the glass firmly by the stem with one hand. Gently swirl the glass so the wine laps up the sides of the glass. Observe how the wine trickles back down. The clear tear-like streams on the side of the glass are called ‘legs.’ The thickness of the legs will give you a clue as to how full-bodied the wine is. For the next step, swirl the wine again to get the most concentrated smell of the wine.
“Sniff:Now raise the glass to your nose and sniff deeply. Your nose will tell you about 75 percent of what you want to know about a wine. An experienced taster can detect and distinguish hundreds of smells – and so can you. The majority of these smells are everyday scents. All it takes is practice.
“Sip:Take a good sip. The taste of the wine in your mouth should confirm what your nose already told you.
“Savor:As you swish the wine through your mouth, your taste buds will note the presence of fruit, acidity and alcohol. If tannins are present, your cheeks will feel an astringent puckering sensation, as is often the case with red wine. (This is the same way your cheeks feel when you drink a strong cup of tea.) The tip of your tongue will detect the wine’s degree of sweetness, something your nose cannot do. Check for a balance of all the tastes you sense. Now swallow and savor the taste. The longer the taste stays in your mouth after swallowing, the higher the quality of the wine.”
With the cooler fall months upon us – and the holidays just around the corner – now is a great time to take advantage of all the North Carolina wineries that love to see visitors come sample their wares. Cheers!