Everything You Need To Know About North Carolina's Wine Country

I must admit, when I think of wine country, I instantly think of the rolling hills of Northern California that are lined with vines and bright blue skies. Discovering North Carolina's wine country, Yadkin Valley, came as a pleasant surprise. And, although Napa is the first region that comes to mind, North Carolina was been producing wine since its early days of European colonization. Today, North Carolina ranks tenth in both grape and wine production in the United States. The state's wine industry continues to expand, and today is one of the United States’ five most visited state destinations for wine and culinary tourism.

Hanging out by the vines at Shelton Winery

Wine tasting in this region may not be as picturesque as Napa Valley or even Tuscany; but that doesn't mean the landscape isn't as pretty in its own way. A big benefit of not having a name like Napa Valley attached to it is noticeable in the price of tastings and wine. The wineries are also small, with intimate wine tasting rooms providing more access to the winemakers and owners (often one and the same). That offers a great chance to try new wines and learn about the winemaking process.

What You Should Know

North Carolina was the first to cultivate grape variety, the Scuppernong, which produces a sweet wine, examples of which are still being made in the state. North Carolina was the first to cultivate grape variety, the Scuppernong, which produces a sweet wine, examples of which are still being made in the state.

The is home to more than 100 wineries and 400 vineyards. 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.

Thriving in hot, sandy conditions. Plantings of native muscadine grapes, also known as Scuppernongs, are relatively pest resistant and thrive in the hot sandy conditions of the Coastal region. Muscadines contain high levels of Resveratrol and other health-enhancing antioxidants. Some wineries even sell grape skins to nutraceutical companies.

Noteworthy Vineyards and Wineries

The tasting room at Shelton Winery Shelton Vineyards. Formerly a 400-acre dairy farm, Shelton Vineyards is now a gravity-flow winery using a hillside incline to move the juices and wines. Shelton Vineyards is a North Carolina winery located in Dobson at the north end of Yadkin Valley. The on-site restaurant, Harvest Grill, serves excellent seasonal dishes. Its visitors show a preference for the Salem Fork Blush and the Yadkin Valley Riesling.Shelton Vineyards, 286 Cabernet Ln, Dobson; 336-366-4724; www.sheltonvineyards.com

Flint Hill Vineyards. This is one of the medium-sized, family run North Carolina wineries. Flint Hill now boasts a restaurant, Century Kitchen, where meals accompany your wine order. An alternative to Chardonnay is their well-balanced 2005 Viognier brand. Flint Hill Vineyards, 2133 Flint Hill Rd, East Bend; 336-699-4455; www.flinthillvineyards.com

Sanders Ridge. The award winning wines at Sanders Ridge are all locally influenced. The Hearth Restaurant onsite offers excellent and unique new southern cuisine from the organic gardens on the grounds, as well as, other locally sourced foods. And, if you dare, they also have a separate zip-line. Sanders Ridge, 3200 Sanders Ridge Ln, Boonville; www.sandersridge.com

Elkin Creek Vineyard. This winery sports a restaurant, The Kitchen, which is best in the valley. However, the most popular room is the basement tasting room. Finish your tour and dinner by exploring Mark Greene’s 100-year old mill. The creek is in the back and brick oven pizza is served on Sundays. The Chardonnay from Elkin Creek has a smokey oak taste that rivals any California wine. Elkin Creek Vineyard, 318 Elkin Creek Mill Rd, Elkin; 336-526-5119; www.elkincreekvineyard.com

Grassy Creek Vineyard and Winery. This re-purposed old dairy farm where two couples have come together with a unique idea. Here, for under $5,000, you can blend your own barrel with advice from the winemaker. The cost includes visiting rights during preparation as well as your own name and label. Visitors here love the Merlot which is spicy and pairs nicely with meaty pizza or flank steak. Grassy Creek Vineyard, 235 Chatham Cottage Ln, State Rd; 336-835-4230; www.grassycreekvineyard.com

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Mapping Out Local Vineyards

View Yadkin Valley Wineries in a larger map. A special thanks to our friend's co-worker that organized this very useful map.

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