California be warned. You aren’t going to control the market on US wine-making forever. No, sir. Washington and Oregon have already shown themselves as formidable contributors with North Carolina and perhaps even Virginia right behind.
Sure, go ahead and gaff while you’re swirling your Riedel with a spit bucket at your side. “Haha, all those rednecks know how to produce is moonshine and muscadine wine. What do they know about fine wines?” Laugh all you want, but let me remind you that they were the largest wine producing state prior to Prohibition.
I have been exploring the North Carolina wine trail for about five years now. One thing I have not found is muscadine wine. As much as I loathe sweet wines, I’d actually really like to try it. The fruit is native to the area and I am all about consuming local goods. Instead, what I find are dry wines of European style vinifera grapes grafted on muscadine roots. Petit Verdot, Chambourcin, Traminette, and Viogner all grow particularly well in the region and can stand on their own without being blended.
The wine industry in North Carolina is still very young. Most wineries have been open less than ten years, and many winemakers will tell you those first years were tough ones. They were taking product to market that was much too young just to pay the mortgage and keep their families fed. Opening a vineyard is very capital intensive with a slow return on investment. In just the past five years, we have witnessed the North Carolina wine scene make major strides. A recent trip to some of our favorites within an hour of Charlotte epitomized this.
The first stop was to Grassy Creek – a winery we stumbled upon while lost a few years ago. The street sign Tasting Room Road pointed us in the right direction. The winery and tasting room built on historic grounds both incorporate an old dairy farm and stables. The winery claims its local fame by producing a couple of dessert wines in old milk style bottles. Don’t be fooled by the cute marketing gimmick though, try the ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s a winemaker who waited out the startup years with a product that far surpasses any cab I have tried in the region for a fraction of the cost. Also try the Chambourcin, it displays the nuances of red dirt found in many North Carolina wines (think spicy and peppery).
Next on the list was McRitchie which is both a winery and cider works. . Okay, stop the judging right now. They don’t make high school girl woodchuck style ciders. We sampled both offerings: a semi-sweet and a dry. Either could go up against any dry white wine as a substitute with a nice meal. We brought home a bottle of the semi-sweet since it had a bit more “appleness” to it. McRitchie also produces some killer whites like their Fallingwater blend. I can’t forget to mention the Ring of Fire Red, which pays tribute to Johnny Cash. Only in the South.
We then drove south to Raffaldini which heralds itself as the most Italian of all the vineyards. At first, this wasn’t such a good idea for them. But time has advanced and they are producing some really amazing product. We joined the club we were so impressed. Our faves are the Frizzante, a sparkling rosé, and La Dolce Vita, a sparkling white. Both worked perfect on the hot summer day.
Finally, we would up at Buck Shoals, our longtime favorite for their creativity. They do it all here – wine, mead, brandy, and a port style wine. All are worthy of the many awards they have won. I ended my day on their lightly oaked Chardonnay while my wife enjoyed Shoals Creek Red, a slightly sweet red blended with unfermented Chardonnay, perfect for watching sunset over the vines.
Sure, our selections this day happened to heavily favor lighter, sweeter wines. But it was over ninety degrees outside. Next time I’ll highlight some of the heavier reds that have characteristics of tobacco that are very common to his region (many are grown on old tobacco fields), varieties that are found at the wineries we visited but just weren’t enjoyed given the heat levels.