Southern Charm Winery

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

One day we were headed out furniture shopping in Hickory, NC. On our way through Lincolnton, NC we happened upon Southern Charm Winery. Situated in the midst of town, the winery is located in a quaint storefront location. We were greeted by winemaker Dwight Ramseur and the tasting server. The tasting room itself is located adjacent to a gift shop featuring handmade crafts and edible treats. It was pouring rain so the locale seemed welcoming. They do not have a vineyard and outsource their raw materials.

The tasting menu includes traditional varietals and many fruit/grape combinations. Sticking with the traditional varietals I started with their Magnolia which is made using the Muscadine grape. Muscadine is a native to North America and very prevalent in areas of North Carolina. This will be my first taste of this wine so I’m excited. It is a white with little color. It tastes very much like white grape juice and is very sweet. It is noted that Muscadine grapes are eaten right off the vine (you can find them in grocery stores) and the resulting wines are traditionally sweet. With sugar added they are crafted to be sweet desert wines.

I then moved to the reds. Soaring Eagle is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. Aged in oak, this wine was dry, light in body with slight tannins on the finish. The next wine was Vintage Red, a Zinfandel. It was light with subtle dark fruit and light tannins on finish. I thought it tasted very much like a Temperanillo.

The next blend was Southern Red, a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. This wine was a blend that was a bit medicinal, with light tannins on the finish. The next wine was South Fork Red, a Merlot. This wine showed light fruit, medium tannins, very mild. The final wine was Dixie Red. I was unable to get the blend of this wine. It had hints of dark cherry, was sweet and tasted similar to a Vidal.

I inquired about all of the blends to the winemaker. I was hoping to find out the motivations and get a bit more information about the winemaking. Dwight indicated that his ‘recipes’ could not be shared as they are a competitive advantage in the market place. He elaborated that he did not want to give his competition any additional information. While I may take notes, ask questions and try to enhance my knowledge, I personally am not his competition. He also would not divulge the source of his grape juice. A little too much drama it seems.

Their wines range between $10-$19. We left and drove down the street to the Court Street Grill for lunch. This was a recommendation from Southern Charm as they noted that they served their wines. We ordered a delightful lunch and I ordered their White Laurel, a Pinot Grigio not on the tasting menu. It was pleasant and paired well with my Greek Salad!

A Return Trip to the Vineyards of Swan Creek in the Yadkin Valley (and a little beyond)

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

On a beautiful and sunny day I was able to return to the Vineyards of Swan Creek to finish the trail. The day began at Dobbins Creek Vineyards in Hamptonville, NC. Upon approach, the deck to the tasting room was filled with customers enjoying glasses of wine while gazing over the outstretched vineyards and the mountains beyond. I learned that all grapes used in the wine are sourced from the estate. They currently have 5 acres under vine, first planted in 2002. The site is atop a hill and was originally the family tobacco farm. There is an actual creek, Dobbins Creek, just down the hill from the tasting room.

I entered to find the tasting room bustling with activity. A large stone fireplace anchored one wall and a tasting bar covered in 100 year old wild cherry harvested from the property welcomed guests. I was greeted by an extremely well versed server and regret not jotting down his name. His knowledge of the winery and wines was refreshing. We started the tasting with a 2012 Dry Riesling. The wine was clear, crisp and had pear notes on the nose and finish. It was pleasant, definitely dry, with 0% RS. We then moved on to the 2012 barrel fermented Chardonnay. This was also clear with citrus on the nose and a hint of lemon on the finish. While barrel fermented it did not have any oak to mask the citrus flavors.

Next up were the reds. Starting with a 2011 Cab Franc it showed classic earthy aromas on the nose and medium tannins on the finish. The tannins were smooth and the wine enjoyable. We discussed the smooth character of the wine noting it was a 2011. My server suggested I taste the 2012 to better understand how the wine had aged and settled down a bit in the bottle. The 2012 was very fruit forward and presented as a younger more feisty wine. This was a great comparison between the two vintages. The next wine was a 2011 Ram Cat Red. This wine is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon (2011) and 35% Merlot (2010). The wine was earthy but not heavy, light and smooth on the finish. We then moved to a 2012 Merlot. This wine had a lot of berry up front, soft tannins and a smooth finish. The winemaker believes this is one of the best wines they have ever made, as stated in the tasting notes. We then moved to the Hemric Mountain Reds. First up was the Rose. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the French style. It is served slightly chilled and is dry. The Hemric Mountain Red is a blend of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with blackberries. The RS is 1.5%, and the taste of blackberries is prominent. I am not typically a fan of fruit infused wines, however, this was pleasant if that is what you are seeking.

Last up was the 2012 Sweet Riesling. This is a 50/50 blend of the 2012 Dry Riesling and Sweet Riesling. It is 5% RS but does not lose the hint of spice from the contribution of the Dry Riesling. I did not get spice from the Dry Riesling on its own, but the combination of the two developed the affect.

The tasting was a great way to start the day. The tasting was $6 and included the commemorative glass. The wines are priced from $16-$20 per bottle. While the wines were pleasant, the prices seemed a bit high for the value. Interesting to note, the winemaker is Charlie Kid, the winemaker at Yadkin Valley Wine Co. (refer to previous post). It is common here for winemakers to craft at several wineries as the cost of winemakers and their availability are a challenge to the budding wine business here in NC.

Dobbins Creek Winery Facts
Location: Hamptonville, NC
Latitude: 36o 10’ 0.1194”N
Longitude: 80o 49’ 30.36”W
Elevation: 1338’
Located in the Swan Creek AVA within the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker & Owner: Charlie Kid

The adventure moved on to Windsor Run Cellars also in Hamptonville. Windsor Run claims they are the only licensed Distillery and Winery in NC. Originally, the land was owned and farmed by the Crater Family. In 2001 the Crater’s decided to replace the current tobacco crops with vines. They named the business Buck Shoals and built the tasting room in 2006. They added the distillery in 2008. In 2011 Chuck and Jamie Johnson purchase the property and business. They changed the name to Windsor Run, expanded and re-opened in 2012. (They also own Shadow Springs Vineyard, more on that later.) The winery also features the wines from another close by family vineyard, Ferguson Vineyards. Owned by a retired Texas judge, Paul Ferguson, the vineyard is said to have some of the oldest vines in the Swan Creek AVA. The wines are sold under the Ferguson Vineyard label.

The tasting room was filled with a large touring party (two buses). All hands were on deck and one of the servers went in search of another to open up an adjacent tasting bar so that another couple and I did not have to wait until the larger party’s tasting was complete. The tasting includes 6 wines for $5 and includes the commemorative glass. A fortified wine tasting included 3 wines and also included a commemorative shot glass. Not wanting to skimp, I opted for both tastings at the bargain price of $9!

We started with a Ferguson Vineyard 2012 Justice. It is a blend of Chardonel and Melody. (The Ferguson Vineyards mostly contain French and French-American hybrids.) The wine was clear and crisp, with light fruit on the nose and an acidic finish. The 2010 Viognier followed. This is 100% Viognier. The nose was off to me, similar to some other NC wines I’ve encountered. However, the actual taste was pleasant, with citrus and fruit. Not really good for me as the nose was a deal breaker.

The next wine was a Ferguson Vineyard 2010 Chambourcin. The wine was both light in color and in taste. Very little strength coming from the wine itself, a bit disappointing. The next wine was a Ferguson Vineyard 2010 Judge’s Verdict. This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This wine is barrel aged and had a very ‘woodsy’ nose. Light and not overwhelming, the combination did not favor any specific varietal. A Windsor Run Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon followed. It is a blend of two vintages. During the winery’s change of ownership some barrels of the 2007 vintage were not bottled and left in barrel. When the winery changed hands in 2011 the wine was ‘rediscovered’ and blended with the 2010 and 2011 harvests. Seventy-five percent of this wine was from 2007. The wine did not overwhelm with mature flavors, but did present moderate tannins with a smooth finish. The final wine was a 2012 Traminette. This wine had 1.5% RS and had more a classic Riesling nose and taste. The notes indicate it is sweetened with its own unfermented grape juice. Certainly, sweeter than some classic Traminette offerings.

The Fortified Wines were made with brandy from Windsor Runs own still. All of the fortified wines tasted were labeled as Windsor Run wines. The first was Ratafia, a blend of Traminette brandy and Traminette grape juice. At 18% alcohol, this wine was very sweet with a fruity finish. The second wine was Lymncello. This is Viognier wine with Seyval Brandy. I compare the smell and taste to a margarita style beverage. Very tart. The final wine was Midnight Run. This was in the port style and contained a blend of Chambourcin and Petit Verdot wine fortified with brandy. This was aged 3 years and, at 18% alcohol, was very pungent.

The wines ranged from $15-$18 per bottle, high for my perceived value. The fortified wines wee $22-$25, similarly too high for the perceived value. The winery is still getting its bearings from the change in ownership. The expanded tasting room and new focus on the collaboration between local wineries should increase the opportunities of this operation.

Windsor Run Cellars Facts
Location: Hamptonville, NC
Latitude: 36o 6’ 54.35”N
Longitude: 80o 51’ 26.279”W
Elevation: 1097’
Located in the Swan Creek AVA within the Yadkin Valley AVA.|
Winemaker: Dana Acker
Owners: Chuck and Jamie Johnson

One half mile down the road, and under the same ownership, is Shadow Springs Vineyard. The tasting room is quite a contrast from the quaint farm stand look of Windsor Run. The tasting room doubles as a destination for weddings and various events. The farmland was purchased in 2005 and the tasting room opened in 2008. There are over 10 acres under vine.

The tasting room at Shadow Springs was also very active, although the two tour buses were not in attendance. I quickly found my spot at the tasting bar and was greeted quickly by an attendant. While making introductions, one of the servers from Windsor Run walked in the door and greeted me like an old friend. I had offered to give him a ride over but he opted for a company vehicle. The two wineries work closely with each other and share resources.

The tasting started with a 2012 Chardonnay. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and was clear, crisp and showed light fruit. The second wine was a 2010 Viognier. This wine was also clear, had very little nose and finished crisp, with a hint of citrus.

Moving to the reds, the third wine was a 2011 Cabernet Franc. This wine was light with rich flavor yet lacked the spicy finish characteristic of a Cab Franc. The next wine was a 2008 Merlot. This wine did not present any fruit and instead was a bit tart and sour. The flavors may be influenced by its age; it did not make a good impression during this tasting. Following the Merlot was a 2011 Chambourcin. The tasting notes indicate the Chambourcin was blended with 12% Petit Verdot and aged 18 months in oak barrels. This wine was also light and the finish unbalanced. All three of these reds were not as structured as some previously tasted. The final red was a 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It is actually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) and Petit Verdot (25%). This wine was very well rounded, light and smooth on the finish. A pleasant surprise. I asked about a single offering of the Petit Verdot for comparison purposes. Something really made the Cabernet offering different from the rest. I was offered a taste of the 2012 Petit Verdot (not on the tasting menu). This wine had a beautiful fragrant nose, very clean flavors and a lovely finish. Certainly could be the source of the well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.

I was told all the grapes were sourced from the property. The tasting was $5 for six wines and included the commemorative glass. The wines were priced from $14-$28 per bottle. There was an alternate tasting offer of 14 wines for $12. I stuck with the smaller tasting.

Shadow Springs Vineyard Facts
Location: Hamptonville, NC
Latitude: 36o 5’ 31.199”N
Longitude: 80o 49’ 35.04”W
Elevation: 1063’
Located in the Swan Creek AVA within the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Dana Acker
Owners: Chuck and Jamie Johnson

My final destination of the day was to MenaRick Vineyard and Winery in Ronda, NC. The name is a combination of the two owners names, Filomena and Rick Wampler. This is the most unique winery that I have visited in NC. Mena and Rick specialize in Spanish and Portuguese varietals. Rick grew up in California and Mena in her family’s vineyards in Portugal. The combination of life experiences brought them to MenaRick. They planted their first vines in 2008 then started designing and constructing the winery and tasting room.

I arrived in the early afternoon, the lone visitor at the time. I was greeted by both Mena and Rick and was immediately taken by their friendliness and eagerness to share their wines. They are right up front. They do Spanish and Portuguese varietals, unfiltered and use only traditional yeasts sourced from Spain and Portugal. They only sell from the winery. Rick was busy restocking the winery shelves after the previous weeks Harvest Festival and Tempranillo Release so Mena took over the tasting duties.

There are 11 wines on the menu, three are fruit based and one was sold out. I started with the Albarino. This wine had a strong fruity nose, was very full bodied and had a concentrated finish. She served the wine chilled, but commented that it is also enjoyed at room temperature. To illustrate the point, Rick suggested she open a room temperature for comparison. They were correct, even at room temperature the robust characteristics of the wine were well contained. We then moved to the Chardonnay. This wine was unlike any Chardonnay I’ve tasted. You could taste imparted by the yeast, something I’ve tasted before in wine made with indigenous yeast. A very distinct and unique flavor.

A Grenache started the red tastings. This wine was very full, lots of berry flavors and had soft tannins on the finish. Next was the Touriga Nacional. This wine was big, full and had substantial tannins. Very complex in flavor – berry, chocolate and spice. The next wine was the newly released Tempranillo. This is a classic Tempranillo with full body, lots of berry, fruit and ripe tannins. You could tell the wine was young from the nose and finish. This wine should age very well and become even better.

Up next was the Merlot. This wine had full body, a complex abundant earthy nose and was dry on the finish. You could taste the influence of the yeast in the wine, not overpowering but shaping the flavor. The next wine was the Syrah. Again, complex flavors, dark with a hint of coco and spice.

The tasting could continue with the fruit based wines, but I chose only one, the Raspberry. Mena explained that this wine had a bit of effervescence. The wine was all raspberry and tasted like raspberry champagne. This reminded me of a winery in NY State that makes champagne in the traditional method (second fermentation in the bottle) with indigenous yeast. This wine was very good and would be well received at any celebration or just relaxing with friends.

The tasting was $8 and included the commemorative glass. I could not leave this winery without the incredible Tempranillo which I intend to cellar for several years. The wines ranged from $14-$23 per bottle and are worthy of the pricing. You can visit the winery for scheduled events or tastings, purchase wines by the glass, and enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds. I look forward to my next visit to MenaRick.

MenaRick Vineyard and Winery Facts
Location: Ronda, NC
Latitude: 36o 15’ 59.039”N
Longitude: 80o 55’ 15.6”W
Elevation: 1143’
Located in the foothills of the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Rick Wampler
Owners: Rick and Filomena Wampler

Another tour in the Yadkin Valley AVA

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

My most recent adventure into the Yadkin Valley AVA started at noon sharp at Brushy Mountain Winery in historic downtown Elkin, NC. I arrived just as the doors were being unlocked and was greeted immediately by Jason Weisman the owner and winemaker. I was the only visitor during my time at the winery and Jason was a perfect host.

The winery is in a historic building in downtown Elkin. It was the old Elkin Canning Company building. They have completely remodeled the inside of the building to resemble historic restoration and modern chic.  They even uncovered old store advertisements and art behind brick walls. Uncovered but not fully restored, the walls blend together seamlessly with the contemporary furnishings, art and décor.

The tasting room offers three types of tastings – Dry Tasting ($6), Semi-Sweet Tasting ($6) and a Full Tasting ($10). Of course, I chose the full tasting which, as expected, included the commemorative glass. Since I had the full attention of Jason, we chatted and talked about the wines in the Full Tasting. One is ‘tasters choice’ so he recommended we start with the Foothills Folly Main Event White which is actually a Riesling from California fruit. You see, Jason worked for several years in Napa before settling down in NC. It is hard to break old habits. This wine was floral on the nose, fruity tasting with melon, apricot and peach. The RS was 1.4% and yet tasted a bit sweeter.

We then moved on to the 2011 Chardonnay. Jason makes all of his wine in the cannery building itself, and sources the fruit from a vineyard about 10 miles East of Elkin, all from the same trusted grower.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak barrels where it underwent malolactic fermentation. Jason shared with me that he actually keeps some of the Chardonnay back in the stainless and the final result is a blend of the stainless and barrel fermented juice. The wine had a citrus and oak nose that supported the citrus blend of flavors and finished very bright and refreshing.

Next up was Booger Swamp White. This wine is actually named for a Civil War Battlefield nearby. It was featured on the Jay Leno show in 2007. It is a proprietary blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay, Niagara and Petit Menseng.  The nose is familiar Niagara and the blend that has been crafted is fruity, with distinct Niagara finish. Recently being in the Finger Lakes this blend is a very round and well balanced example of what Niagara can do as a blend. It was sweet (1.4% RS) but the other grapes toned it down to a very enjoyable wine.

Moving to the reds we started with E&A Red. E&A stands for the Elkin and Allegheny Railroad. The historic railroad was used to transport goods from NC to western Virginia. This wine is a blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a lighter red with a bit of spice from the Chambourcin and a familiar Cab Franc finish.

During our discussions I told Jason I was familiar with Cab Francs from NY. As an added bonus he poured me a Cab Franc (60%) and Cab Sauv (40%) blend, 2010 Bugaboo Creek Red. Bugaboo Creek is another historic war site from the Revolutionary War. The wine had smoke and plum on the nose with full fruit taste on the finish. This wine had won many awards and the newest release is coming soon.

The next red was the 2007 Red Bud Ridge. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chambourcin. Another award winning wine it is dark in color, full bodied and filled with dark fruit flavors. The Merlot added a very nice touch making this wine easy to drink.

I passed on the suggested tasting of a Blackberry wine and Jason was very nice to substitute their coveted reserve wine, Chatham Reserve. Yet another award winner, this is said to be a blend of their best barrels of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin. The blend is different from the Red Bud Ridge and the wine is aged in French oak for 18 months. This wine had excellent structure, fruit on the nose, and was very full bodied with smooth tannins on the finish. Very pleasant.

This should have been the end of my tasting but Jason was very generous and we were having great conversation. We stopped briefly as Jason took me on a personalized tour of the winery itself. Located downstairs in the old cannery area he showed me where he stores his barrels, his lab and how they move the wine in and out of the space. The winery was quiet, clean and roomy. Back up in the tasting room Jason poured his Booger Swamp Red. This is a semi-sweet blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is served slightly chilled and does not seem as sweet as its 1.5% RS. It has the familiar nose of dark fruit and it is very subtle tannins. A good summer deck wine.

The finale came with a port style dessert wine made from Chambourcin, 2008 Pour Mon Amour. This wine was aged in oak for two years with an RS of 6%. I’m developing a fondness for good Chambourcin and ports are always enjoyable. This combination is elegant and decadent. Suggested food paring is a Stilton cheese and I could not agree more. I cannot wait to try it as I could not leave without this bottle.

Wines range from $15-$35 per bottle, a little high, but Jason’s wines do not disappoint. There are volume discounts starting at three bottles giving some incentive. This winery is a gem in downtown Elkin. They don’t have vineyards to overlook but they host live local musicians and local artists to really drive the Elkin historic feeling home.

Jason was kind enough to also recommend another winery nearby, not yet on my map. It was Jones Von Drehle in Thurmond, NC. It was not my intended destination but with Jason’s recommendation I plugged it into the GPS!

Brushy Mountain Winery Facts
Location: Elkin, NC
Latitude: 36o 14’ 36.96”N
Longitude: 80o 51’ 6.1119”W
Elevation: 895’
Located in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Jason Weisman
Owners: Jason Weisman

The Jones Von Drehle tasting room was a little tricky to find, but once there I found a beautiful building overlooking the vineyards, lake and stream.  There were two other guests when I arrived. The tasting room is large and well appointed.  Morgan, my server, was very attentive and new a great deal about the winery. She has been with the winery since the tasting room opened. The land was purchased in 2007 and includes 65 acres, with 30 now under vine. The winemaker is Dan Tallman who started his career in Oregon, attended UC Davis, and practiced his craft in Virginia before settling in Thurmond, NC.

There are 3 tasting tracks; Dry to Off-Dry, Off-Dry to Slightly Sweet and Slightly Sweet to Sweet. I chose the Dry to Off-Dry. The tasting started with the 2013 Viognier. The nose was a perfume of fruit; I sensed a little banana scent. The wine was light and the bouquet enticing. With full mouth feel, this wine was very much appreciated. We moved on to the 2012 Steel Fermented Chardonnay. This wine was almost clear, had a fruit forward nose and was light on the palate. It was very approachable, not overpowering. The third white was a 2012 Petit Manseng. I’ve seen this grape at other vineyards, typically used to blend. Manseng is of French origin, but is gaining in popularity. This wine is 16% alcohol and surprisingly spicy, not sweet. The grape is often used to make dessert wines, but in this case, the wine is refreshingly unique and was served slightly chilled.

The first red tasted was the 2012 Tempranillo. This wine has the classic attributes of a Tempranillo with easy tannins on the finish. It is a lighter presentation, easy to drink. The next red was the 2012 Cabernet Franc. This wine had a berry nose, classic Cab Franc taste and a very light tannin finish. Given the year, it seemed to have settled nicely in the bottle to smooth the finish. The next wine is called Rock & Rail. It is their signature blend.  The 2012 consisted of 39% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. This wine was a smooth and pleasant blend that had a slightly sweet finish. As we discussed this, I suggested it probably came from the Merlot. Morgan suggested that I try the Merlot on its own and gave me a sample.  And, yes, the Merlot influence in the wine was the source. The final wine was the 2012 Petit Verdot. This wine had licorice on the nose, round tannins, a full mouth feel and a smooth, appreciable finish.

All of the grapes and wine are Estate grown and produced on premise. They harvest around 110 tons from the 30 acres. The wines range in price from $18 – $24 per bottle. This seemed a bit high. They also produce a few fruit wines that are slightly less. The tasting was $8 and included the commemorative glass. The visit was very pleasant and my server was exceptional.

Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery Facts
Location: Thurmond, NC
Latitude: 36o 22’ 46.23”N
Longitude: 80o 57’ 9.99”W
Elevation: 1511’
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Dan Tallman
Owners: Chuck and Diana Jones, Ronnie and Raymond vonDrehle

My next stop was to Carolina Heritage Vineyard and Winery. Carolina Heritage is the first and only USDA Certified organic winery in North Carolina. The have 12.5 acres under vine. They have been open 5 years and the owners/winemakers are Pat and Clyde Caldwell. I arrived mid-afternoon to find Pat and Clyde preparing to host a tasting event in Raleigh that evening. While Clyde prepared the cases for transport, Pat and I had a delightful tasting (well, I tasted, she poured).

The first wine was a 2013 Traminette. This wine was fruit forward yet dry and finished with a taste of spice. Very pleasant and distinct from the many tasted in New York. We then moved on to the 2013 Chambourcin. This wine had lots of spice on the nose, was a bit light but nice spice on the finish. Before I knew the vintage I suggested it was young. A 2013, it should age beautifully over the next couple of years. A Chambourcin-Cynthiana Blend was next. This was a dry red blend from 62% Chambourcin and 38% Cynthiana (Norton). Again, the Chambourcin influence was apparent, yet accompanied by a bit of fruit from the Cynthiana addition. Very pleasant mouth feel and finish. The next red was Noble Rose, and semi-dry rose from Noble grapes. This wine was slightly sweet and smooth. It has 1.0% RS but did not present as too sweet. Very drinkable.

Carolina Heritage also produces some sweet wines, fruit wines and blends. The first was a blend of Blueberry and Chambourcin, a likely pair. Called Burch-Blue it was a semi-sweet (1.5% RS) blend. While the strong Chambourcin carried the wine, the hint of blueberry supported the complexity. Again, slightly sweet, but very smooth and blueberry on the finish. The second wine was Sweet T and, as you may have guessed, was a version of the Traminette on the sweet side. This wine, as many others from CH, was a Gold Medal winner in 2013 at the Southeastern Wine Competition. At 2.5% RS it was not overdone. This wine is popular with many winery guests. The next wine was Blueberry. Some wineries in the state use fruit syrup to flavor their fruit wines. CH uses 100% naturally grown blueberries. The color is red and the blueberry flavor is prominent. The finish was slightly acidic. The final wine was Glogg. This is a traditional Scandinavian spiced wine made with red wine, fruits, nuts, sugar and traditional spices. This had tremendous spice on the nose and reminded me of a heated spice wine from Virginia that the Wine Wise Guys shared at last year’s Christmas time wine tasting! Very engaging and fun!

This is a very unique winery. It is the only winery situated on the Yadkin River and the owners are truly focused on organic farming techniques. There wines range from $8 -$16 per bottle, well worth the price. I could not leave without the dry Traminette to taste next to a 7.389 Winery New York Traminette bottle.  Pat and Clyde were perfect hosts and did not charge for the tasting but did let me retain the commemorative glass! A great end to another NC wine adventure!

Carolina Heritage Vineyards & Winery Facts
Location: Elkin, NC
Latitude: 36o 16’ 42.6”N
Longitude: 80o 45’ 52.38”W
Elevation: 990’
Located in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Pat & Clyde Caldwell
Owners: Pat & Clyde Caldwell

Visiting Wineries in the Yadkin Valley AVA

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

The summer months are a great time to visit wineries. If you are able to go during the week they are usually not packed at the tasting bar and the server, and sometimes winemaker or owner, are right there to talk to you about their passion.

Today’s adventure took me North on Hwy 77 to Dobson, NC. This is about a one hour drive North from Mooresville. I planned my day to include several wineries in this area. I started at Shelton Vineyards in Dobson. This is a stunning estate of 125 acres with 12 grape varietals.  The winery is the largest family owned estate winery in NC.  Started by Charlie and Ed Shelton, the winery is their dream. Charlie and Ed were responsible for petitioning the federal government for American Viticultural Area recognition for North Carolina’s first AVA, The Yadkin Valley.

Shelton Vineyards Facts
Location: Dobson, NC
Latitude: 36o 21’ 48.24”N
Longitude: 80o 46’ 3.36”W
Elevation: 1227’
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Gil Niece
Owners: Charlie and Ed Shelton

I was greeted immediately upon entering the beautiful tasting room and gift shop. Escorted by an exceptional tasting clerk to the tasting bar, I was treated as if I was the only one there (which I was not). The tasting included 5 varieties for $5. I selected the Madison Lee White, a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling to start the tasting. To my surprise, the server asked if I’d like to try an older vintage of the wine that they recently put on special. Of course, I agreed, and we started with an older vintage (not identified on the bottle and unknown). The appearance of the wine (“yellowed”) was a clear sign of its age. It was pleasant enough but clearly past its prime, surely the reason for the discount. We then moved on to the 2012 Madison Lee White. This wine was very good. An apple and pear nose, citrus and spice on the finish. Not sweet , a very enjoyable wine. We moved on to the 2012 Estate Chardonnay (a gold medal at the Finger Lakes Competition). This wine is barrel fermented. The nose smelled of melon and the body was full with a very well rounded finish, not terribly oaky.

We then moved on to the Reds. I started with the Harvest Red a blend of Merlot, Tannat and Malbec. This wine was dry and clearly influenced by the 50% Merlot. I asked about the Tannat grape. This is not a common grape in the US, but is gaining in popularity. I learned that it is being trialed in the region. Historically, it is used as a blending grape. However,  Shelton produced a 100% Tannat in 2011. My exceptional server allowed me to taste this wine (not on tasting list). It had big tannins and reminded me of the characteristics of a Temperanillo. It seems this grape is gaining popularity in California as well, as a blending  grape. The next wine was a 2011 Estate Cab Sauv. It had a light appearance for a cab and ample spice on finish which was more prominent than any tannin.

As an added bonus, my server allowed me to taste the 2012 Dry Reisling, 2-5-9 (stands for 2 brothers, 5 children and 9 grandchildren in the family) which was not on the tasting menu. This wine had a nose of light fruit, citrus and was dry. It was very pleasant indeed.

In summary, this winery was a pleasure to visit. The servers’ attention to our discussion and my interests really made this visit special. The wines were well done and it is here that I purchased my first bottle of NC wine. (As many of you know, I don’t buy unless the wine is very good and I would feel comfortable sharing it with a fellow Wine Wise Guy). It was the 2012 Madison Lee White at $12.99, a value.  All the wines were a cut above those tasted so far – nice job.  The prices are at par or better based on the value and ranged from $11 – $18.

Note: When I asked my server the elevation of the winery she admitted she did not know, but she said she would find someone who did. Within minutes we had the answer from another tasting room associate.

Grassy Creek Vineyard and Winery Facts
Location: State Road, NC
Latitude: 36o 17’ 37.674”N
Longitude: 80o 51’ 44.28”W
Elevation: 1158’
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Jim Douthit
Owners: Jim and Cynthia Douthit, Derrill and Lori Rice

With that delightful start to the day I was on to my next destination, Grassy Creek Vineyard and Winery. Driving up to this tasting room was like going back to farming roots. No palatial buildings, but a renovated red horse barn. The property started with a one room cabin on 1,000 acres owned by John Hanes of Hanes Hosiery. John’s sister, Lucy, married Thurmond Chatham of Chatham Manufacturing Company, and they started a dairy farm. The farm raised cattle, horses and has abundant wildlife. The winery has kept the farming theme and still sells classic milk bottles and accessories in the gift shop (including wine in milk bottles).

I was greeted by Wayne Moore and his wife Joyce. Wayne is the tasting manager. They were very professional and personable. Wayne was more than happy to tell me all about the history of the property, the Red Barn tasting room and the dairy farm history. They have 20 acres under vine in Elkin, NC and 10 more acres in Troutman, NC.  We started the tasting with a 2010 Pinot Gris. The nose on this wine was not pleasant for me, it was ‘off’. However, the wine was very smooth with a honey sweetness and apple finish. I then tasted the 2008 Chardonnay (unoaked). This wine was very pleasant, full and had a nice crisp finish. Up next was the 2008 Barrel Chardonnay. This wine was full, oaky with a tinge of acidity on the finish.

We then moved on to the reds and started with a 2010 Red Barn Blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. This wine was light, very nice with dark fruit flavors and light tannins. We then moved to the 2008 Chambourcin. This wine was surprisingly full bodied and had lots of spice and tannins that I have not tasted in NC (or NY for that matter). Very, very well done. The next wine was a 2009 Cab Sauv. This wine had a medicinal aroma, not unpleasant but noticeable. It was light but full in flavor.

We then went on to the 2012 Ruby Slippers. This wine is a red and white blend and served chilled. It was slightly sweet yet had a dry, pleasant finish. The final wine was the Klondike Farm Guernsey Red (bottled in milk jug). This is a blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Chambourcin, Merlot, Noble and Carlos grapes. Also served chilled it was smooth and sweet. They recommend it for Sangria.

The visit to Grassy Creek was delightful. The setting was beautiful, the tasting room filled with historic items to view as you tasted the wine. Wayne was also very attentive and a pleasure to meet.  It is here that I purchased my second bottle of NC wine, the 2008 Chambourcin for $19. This is more than I typically like to spend but this wine was a keeper. I served it to my husband a week or so later, he really liked it too. If I return to the winery I will certainly buy more! The rest of the wines were priced from $8-$21.

Elkin Creek Vineyard and Winery Facts
Location: Elkin, NC
Latitude: 36o 16’ 49.44”N
Longitude: 80o 52’ 34.68”W
Elevation: 1012’
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Louis Jeroslow
Owners: Louis and Carrie Jeroslow and Nick and Jennifer White

A great day so far! Now, on to Elkin Creek Vineyard and Winery. Driving in to Elkin Creek Winery was a similar experience of stepping back to a time long forgotten. The estate was very rustic and the feel very remote and peaceful.  The property has a former grist mill that houses the owners.

When I entered the rustic tasting room there were three other guests at the bar. I walked up and was greeted by all and pulled out a stool to take my place. As I began to slide myself on to the stool, a tremendous pain resonating from my thigh halted me and I recoiled back, in tremendous discomfort and with a bit of a shriek , startled that a feeling of pain at a wine tasting was even remotely possible. Initially I thought perhaps a splinter from the wood stool? Grabbing my leg as I moved away from the stool revealed the real culprit – I was stung by a wasp! Apparently, I did not see him sitting on the chair and he did not appreciate my intrusion. By now I was a spectacle and had the full attention of everyone in the room. The server/owner, Nick White, quickly came from behind the bar and put the wasp out of its misery. He explained that sometimes they do get in the building but he had not seen this one arrive (or belly up to the bar). He apologized profusely for my discomfort. The other patrons in the bar asked if I was allergic, and volunteered that one of them was a nurse, just in case of an emergency. Since this was my first sting, which was swelling and turning red as we spoke, I did not know if I was allergic. I asked if the nurse had an ‘epi pen’, critical in an allergic reaction situation, and the answer was no. So, the best she could do was call 911 if I started to have difficulty breathing which, I suppose, was a comfort. Since I was still breathing I looked at Nick and suggested tasting wine instead of anticipating my demise. He agreed that this was a good idea and went back behind the bar. Still wincing in pain, I asked if the tasting would be complimentary today. He fully agreed and we proceeded with the tasting.

We started with a 2013 Chardonnay, fermented and aged in stainless steel. For the second time that day, the nose of this wine was not pleasant for me. I am wondering if this will continue as I pace through NC wines? Regardless, the wine was creamy, some citrus, drinkable. We then went on to their 2013 Soft White. This is a Niagara and was significantly less sweet than those I’ve experienced from the Finger Lakes.

We then moved to the reds with a 2012 Sangiovese. It was medium bodied but came off as sweet on my pallet – this was curious. The next wine was Adequate Red. This is a blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Chambourcin. You could taste the Chambourcin influence, however, this too seemed a bit sweet. The Rossa 2012 is a meritage blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot. This wine had a full mouth feel and was nicely balanced. A very nice wine. The Remembrances Reserve 2010 is another blend of Merlot and Sangiovese in the Super Tuscan style. This wine was very nice, pleasant and balanced, but was a bit lighter than other Super Tuscan’s I’ve tasted. It is 55/45 Sangiovese/Merlot. This makes sense to me as I thought the Sangiovese was light and a bit sweet, perhaps affecting the depth of the blend.

The tasting also offered wines from Surry Oak Vineyard. The winery is offering them in memory of Dr. Ken Goehle, owner and winemaker, who recently passed away. These are the remaining wines from the vineyard and are available until sold out. We tasted a Chambourcin 2011. This wine was very good, yet mild. The second wine was a 2012 Merlot. This wine was very unique, not fruit forward but contained a good deal of spice and complexity.

The visit to Elkin Creek Vineyard and Winery was certainly memorable to me. The setting was beautiful and the staff very accommodating. While tasting, the winemaker, Lewis Jeroslow, came in and we had an indepth discussion on the challenges of NC vineyards. In this humid climate it is a struggle to keep mold at bay. They are experimenting with grape varieties that do not produce a tight cluster but allow the air to circulate and help keep them dry. They are also working on the canopies to let air circulate yet provide protection to the grapes.

The wines were $16-$34 per bottle. A little high for NC wines, at least that I’ve experienced so far. I didn’t get to keep the glass but I didn’t have to pay for the tasting either. I got to take home the welt on my thigh which reminded me for about 2 more weeks of my experience at Elkin Creek!

Slightly Askew Winery Facts
Location: Elkin, NC
Latitude: 36o 15’ 32.4”N
Longitude: 80o 50’ 53.52”W
Elevation: 1075’
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, in the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Walt Tayloe
Owners: Tim Gentry

The last winery of the day was Slightly Askew Winery. I got there just as it started to rain, and severe thunderstorm with hail just south of our location. We only encountered a little rain, so being inside and tasting wine was a good place to be.

Slightly Askew is located on Bridge Street in Elkin, NC. This is a downtown freestanding building and it does not include any vineyards. In fact, Slightly Askew purchases all of their juice, some locally, some from ‘around the world’, and also make a long list of fruit wines. They make the wine in the small downtown location. I was greeted by winemaker Walt Tayloe who was also standing in as tasting room host. Since I was the only guest we had ample opportunity to chat about the business, their wine and how they operate. This is one of those situations that gives me pause. While this winery is in NC, and it does make some (one on the list) NC sourced grape wine, they appear to be primarily fruit wine producers and importers of other geographic locations juice. The ambiance was not the same as the previous visits I’d made that day but I stayed to find out what they had to offer.

We started with Stump Farm White and Pinot Grigio said to be sourced from Italy. This wine was not too sweet, light and with a good mouth feel. The second wine was Penny For Your Thoughts, an Australian Chardonnay. This Chardonnay was smokey and oaky. When asked about how this was achieved in plastic fermentation vessels, oak staves were the source. A little too much for me.

Moving to the reds we started with Poplar Springs, a Pinot Noir from Chile. This wine was smooth, and had subtle tannins. The Yadkin River Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon, was the only NC sourced grape wine tasted. It was a traditional Cab, similar in weight to other NC Cab Sauv’s tasted. Their Mystic Vision was next, a Malbec from Chile. This was a very light Malbec compared to those I’ve tasted from Argentina. The Old Bridge Zin was sourced from California. Again, very light compared to other California sourced old vine zins. The Blue Door Red was a Carmenere again from Chile. This wine was pleasant and had a very nice finish. Mountaineer Pride is a Washington State blend of Cab Sauv, Syrah and Merlot. It was 35% Syrah and was the most rounded wine of the tasting. The Syrah was very noticeable on the finish. The last was the Bridge Street Red, an Amarone, which was a little sweet. My notes do not indicate where those grapes were sourced.

Good conversation was had with the winemaker Walt. The wines, in general, a bit light from my experience with the international varieties. He did not indicate the source of the juice(s) but that may have an influence with respect to handling and quality. I did purchase the Mountaineer Pride blend which was far too expensive. The tasting was $5 and I got to keep the commemorative glass. Wines are not priced on either the tasting menu or the web site…hmmm.

Davesté Vineyards Review

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

I recently visited Davesé Vineyards located in Troutman, NC. This winery is the closest to Mooresville and the one I was unable to visit during my father-in-law’s visit because they are closed Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s. Davesté  is the first winery in Iradell County, and the 52 acre site was purchased in 2003, the land renovated and cultivated, 4 acres planted in 2005, and the first harvest in 2006.

I was greeted by a very nice server who was also attending two other ladies. They were in doing a tasting to choose the wines for an upcoming event they were having at the vineyard’s beautifully landscaped grounds and buildings. I learned Davesté  is a combination of the owners’ two names, Dave and Ester, and that the tasting room also serves as a small gallery for local artists. Tastings are $7 and you can keep the commemorative glass, or $5 without.

The tasting started with a 2011 Viognier. The wine is made in stainless steel and was slightly acidic with distinguishable citrus. This wine was pleasant and drinkable. We then moved to the 2011 Chardonnay. It, too, was made in stainless, no oak at all. It was very light with hints of fruit. A blend of Viognier and Niagra was next. This wine was also very pleasant and finished with the acidity of the Viognier. The Niagra was also distinguishable. The next wine was a Bordeaux-style blend of Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Merlot and Malbec. This was very pleasant with light tannins—not as intense as a typical wine of that style. The next wine was a Cab Franc. Again, this Cab Franc was lighter than NY Cab Francs and was made in French oak.  The final wine was a blend of Chambourcin, Cab Sauv, and Merlot. This wine was served chilled and had a port-like finish—very pleasant.

The server was personable, and we chatted a bit. I asked about their available wines, specifically about their 2011 Moonlake Traminette relating my experiences with wines of the Finger Lakes. Without much prodding, she offered me a taste of this wine as well. This wine was dry and very pleasant with a citrus finish and is named after the vineyard that produced the fruit. I was also given a sample of the Rkatsiteli. Davesté  is the only vineyard in the state to grow the Rkatsiteli grape. This wine reminded me of a Sauv Blanc with good acidity and a long finish.

I purchased a glass of the Traminette and set out to see the grounds. They have an outdoor pavilion that is perfect for parties and events and overlooks a beautiful pond, fountain, and waterfall—very serene and relaxing.  All of these features were adapted from an old animal farm very nicely documented in a photo album in the tasting room. The gallery was also very nice, albeit quite small.

The wines ranged from $12 – $22. While they were all very pleasant, I think the prices were a little high for the value. The visit to this vineyard was well worth the time, and so close to home.  I will definitely take visiting guests to this nearby spot.

Davesté Vineyard Facts
Location: Troutman, NC
Latitude: 35o 50’ 24.36”N
Longitude: 80o 17’9.96”W
Elevation: 936’
Located in Iradell County, just South of the Yadkin Valley AVA.

Hunt Country Vineyards Review

by Laura Wayland-Smith Hatch, Wine Wise Guy

During the 4th of July holidays, Tom and I  had the opportunity to stop by Hunt Country Vineyards, overlooking the western shore of Keuka Lake, and try some of their wines.

Cassidie was our tasting host, and she walked us through a tasting of five wines, chosen by us from a list of over 20 varieties.

First on our list was their 2012 Chardonnay. Aged eight months in French oak, it had the classic chardonnay oaky nose and good fruit.

Moving on to the reds, our second selection was the 2011 Cabernet Franc. Aged nine months in French oak barrels, this had a lot of cherry on the nose and a little spice on the palate. Next was their 2011 Meritage, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvingon, and Merlot. This wine was also aged nine months in French oak. We found it to be a lite blend, a good red for summer quaffing. Last in our selection of reds was Alchemy, their unique blend of reds (cabernet franc, lemberger, merlot, cabernet sauvignon) with some oak aging. Our opinion – the lemberger make this a richer blend than the Meritage with dark berry flavors.

Saving the best for last, we tasted Hunt Valley’s 2012 Vignoles. This wine with 4.5% residual sugar featured notes of strawberry and was absolutely delicious when paired with a coconut-curry chocolate! Based on our positive response to this wine, Cassidie shared a tasting of their 2012 Late Harvest Vignoles—another winner for us! We went home with Alchemy and the 2012 Vignoles and coconut-curry chocolate and will be sharing it with friends at an upcoming dinner.

We’d like to thank Cassidie for being such a great host at the tasting bar. She was both friendly and knowledgeable about the wines, making the visit an enjoyable and educational experience.

If you happen to be driving through New York’s Finger Lakes, we recommend you stop by Hunt Country Vineyards and take a taste.

Founders & Owners: Art & Joyce Hunt
Owner & Winemaker: Jonathan Hunt
Owner: Caroline Boutard-Hunt
Vineyard Manager: Dave Mortensen
4021 Italy Hill Road (County Road 32)
Branchport, NY  14418

More Adventures in North Carolina Wine Country

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

Today’s wine adventure is very special. I was accompanied by my husband and father-in-law! My 86 year old father-in-law drove from Michigan to North Carolina for a well-deserved rest and visit. We tried to jam as much adventure into the week as possible, going boating, to battle fields, touring the country side and yes, to wineries. I had my sights set on one that was close, and one that did not offer fruit wines. My father-in-law is not a big fan of fruit wines and I wanted his North Carolina wine experience to be a good one! Unfortunately, the winery I originally selected (close to home) was not open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I thought this was a little odd, but I’ve since learned that many wineries in NC are not open on those days. In New York, the wineries are open nearly every single day, especially in the summer. We scrubbed the first plan and I reorganized to find some wineries open on Wednesday.

This trip, we headed Northeast to the very Southeast corner of the Yadkin Valley AVA. The first winery we visited was Weathervane Winery in Lexington, NC. Upon arrival we were greeted with construction sounds and smells emanating from an addition being built at the winery. Once inside, we were greeted by a relatively friendly gentleman who got us started on our tasting. The tastings were $7 each and we got to keep the commemorative glass.

We started with an Estate grown Traminette. Being familiar with Traminette from New York, I expected something similar. It was not, and did not have a memorable taste. The vineyards are just beyond the tasting room and I inquired about the location and slope of the land, if it was chosen to facilitate growing, ripening and/or soil contribution. Unfortunately, the server and the owner/winemaker, were unable to make that leap, it is where they are and where they are making wine and holding events. We also tasted a Pinot Grigio, an Estate grown Chambourcin, a Malbec (California juice), and three red blends, a ‘super Tuscan’ (that was sweet?) and a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. We finished with a Merlot, Cab Sauv and Petite Verdot blend. The wines were bland and unremarkable. When I asked the wine maker what his background was and how he got in to wine making, he responded by asking me what my profession was and how I chose my path. Not sure where he was going with that, as I was at his winery tasting his wines, not in my office reviewing monthly sales numbers. My father-in-law also asked about the elevation of the winery. Unfortunately, the server did not know and, more importantly, did not know why this is important.

Overall impression is that this winery is still trying to find its way. (It even says something like that on their website.) They had additional fruit wines to taste, but we declined. The wines were priced from $13-20, a bit high for the taste. The overall experience was disappointing, not a good way to start the day. Undeterred, we headed out for the next stop!

Weathervane Facts
Location: Lexington, NC
Latitude: 35o 55’ 7.6794”N
Longitude: 80o 16’27.1”W
Elevation: 813’
Located in the South East corner of the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker & Owner: Sid Proctor

Just a short distance down the road we arrived at Childress Vineyards. Similar to Raffaldini, the Estate has a very large and breathtaking building that housed the tasting room, meeting rooms, a restaurant and gift shop. The location sits right next to Highway 52 in Lexington. It is difficult to miss the grand structure surrounded by 41 acres of vineyards. For those of you who do not know, Childress is a very well-known name in these parts. Have you heard of NASCAR? Richard Childress Racing?  No. 3? Richard became interested in wine and wine making during his years of travel on the racing tour. He started on his own, then hired a team of viticulturists and an aspiring winemaker, Mark Friszolowski, to build his dream. Mark had already made a reputation for himself working at a Long Island, NY winery.

They had two options for tastings. One was a Cellar select tasting (predominately off-dry) and the other a Barrel Select Tasting (Barrel Select, Reserve or Signature Wine). Of course, we chose the Barrel Select tasting for (gulp) $15 (but we get to keep the commemorative glass). (You have to wonder if NC wineries are selling wine or just glasses.) And, we had to pay first, taste second.

We started with a 2011 Viognier. My father-in-law thought this was unique as Viognier is used as a blending grape and is not often seen on its own. It is also a very finicky grape to grow and in the North Carolina heat and humidity is most likely a challenge. It had a very light aroma and taste. Not the perfume fruit you would expect, more subdued. The second wine was a 2010 Sauv Blanc. The RS was said to be 0, but the wine tasted sweet. We then moved to a non-vintage red blend of Cab Franc, Merlot, Cab Sauv, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It was light in color, pleasant, not heavy as is characteristic of Cab Franc. Next came a 2009 Merlot. This wine was not really fruit forward as some merlots, and had very light tannins. Not very remarkable. The 2010 Sangiovese was next. These grapes were not estate grown but sourced from a vineyard in Sumerfield, NC (North of Greensboro and outside of the Yadkin Valley AVA.) This wine was also light, and light tannins. We then tried the 2010 Reserve Cab Franc. Coming from the Finger Lakes where Cab Franc is plentiful, this one seemed much lighter. I will admit, I have not tasted enough NC Cab Francs to determine if this is due to the grapes or due to the winemaker, but the comparison cannot help but be made. We then tried the 2009 Signature Meritage which is similar to the non-vintage red blend we previously tasted except with more Merlot. Indeed light again, with smooth tannins. The last red wine was a 2010 Richard’s Red which is a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sauv. The fruit of the Cab Sauv could be distinguished here. Nice tannins and pleasant finish. The final wine was a Late Harvest Viognier. This wine was okay, not really sweet as some late harvests can be. Makes sense based on the first Viognier we tasted.

The staff of the tasting room were seemed well prepared. When asked the elevation, our host did not know, but within a minute or two was able to summon someone who did. The tasting room ‘store’ was filled with an eclectic mix of wine, picnic, tastes, NASCAR, No. 3 and serving ware. The wines are priced from $9.99-$49.99. We did not taste the $9 wines so cannot vouch for their value. As for the others, the prices are a bit higher than we’d be willing to pay.

Childress Facts
Location: Lexington, NC
Latitude: 35o 50’ 24.36”N
Longitude: 80o 17’9.96”W
Elevation: 757’
Located in the South East corner of the Yadkin Valley AVA.
Winemaker: Mark Friszolowski
Owners: Richard Childress and Greg Johns

Ridge 2011 Three Valleys Sonoma County

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer
We had the distinct pleasure of tasting (and enjoying) a Ridge 2011 Three Valleys Sonoma County wine today. I purchased the wine at Total Wine for $24 (less discount! Thank you Total Wine!).
I purchased the wine because I know that any Ridge wines are a bit more expensive (for good reason) and it peaked my curiosity on why the price was right. We enjoyed the bottle with a New York Strip steak accompanied with garlic and rosemary roasted red potatoes and green peas.
The initial nose was pretty mellow compared with other Ridge single vineyard zinfandels that are our favorites. The initial taste did not explode or ‘wow’. However, once we tasted the food (read steak and fat) the wine soared in depth and flavor! We were happily tasting a savory wine filled with berry, depth and very enjoyable tannins! Delicious.
After dinner the research begins. The following is blatantly taken from the Ridge website on this wine.

Varietal Information 
65% Zinfandel
20% Petite Sirah
9% Carignane
3% Mataro (Mourvedre)
2% Alicante Bouchet (cross between Petit Bouschet (itself a cross of the very old
variety Teinturier du Cher and Aramon) and Grenache.
1% Grenache
13.8% Alcohol by Volume

The history of the Ridge Sonoma County Three Valleys began with the release of the 2001. The wine contains grapes from a number of Sonoma vineyards – this year, seven. We take great care in selecting the fruit, which is hand-harvested, then crushed and fermented at both Monte Bello and Lytton Springs. Unlike our single-vineyard wines, which reflect the distinctive character of each site, Three Valleys represents the blending of vineyards – winemaking – at it’s finest. Zinfandel determines the wine’s varietal character; old-vine carignane contributes bright fruit and acidity; petite sirah spice, depth of color, and firm tannins; grenache brings briary fruit and lively tannins.

Harvest Dates: 19 September – 25 October
Grapes: Average Brix 23.6˚
Fermentation: No inoculation; natural primary and secondary. Grapes fully crushed and fermented in small stainless steel tanks; fermenting juice circulated over the cap twice daily for extraction of color, tannin, and flavor. Full, natural malolactic to soften acidity. Pressed at six days on average.
Barrels: 100% air-dried american oak barrels (10% new, 20% one and two years old, and 70% three to five years old).
Aging: Twelve months in barrel

Growing Season
Rainfall: 40 inches (above average)
Bloom: Mid May
Weather: Wet spring and typical cool summer, with no sustained heat spells. 

Ridge is noted for its single vineyard wines. Very well respected and distinguishable. We have had the pleasure of visiting the winery and sampling their incredible work. Overall evaluation of this blend is that it is a great value for the price, from a renown producer of exceptional wine. An every day (albeit special for us) wine. Very enjoyable, a Ridge success.

And so it begins- North Carolina Winery Adventures!

by Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

And so it begins! For those of you who know me, visiting wineries is my hobby. I am fortunate to have visited hundreds in the United States and Europe. My most recent adventures were in the Finger Lakes Region in New York State. I believe I visited every winery in operation in the region during my three years living in the Rochester area (and have proof in my tasting notes!). I learned a great deal about New York wines and was fortunate to be acquainted with a working wine maker, home winemakers and tasting groups.

Today I will be documenting my newest adventure – North Carolina Wineries. While not considered a dominant wine producer, North Carolina has over two hundred wineries. The state consists of three regions – the Mountain Region, Piedmont Region and the Sandhill/Coastal Region. There are three   AVA’s – Yadkin Valley AVA, Swan Creek AVA and the Haw River Valley AVA, all located in the Piedmont Region. . I will not go into the varietals here (saving that for the tasting notes) but there are well known vinifera as well as indigenous varietals. The most famous NC winery is the Biltmore Estate Winery   whose name, architecture, history and grandeur bring in thousands of visitors a year. For the record, this is the only winery I visited prior to moving to the Charlotte area earlier this year

As you may have surmised, I now live in the Piedmont Region. I was not here long before researching my approach to visiting and learning about NC wine. They have a website ( and a wine growers association ( that supply ample information on the states wineries and vineyards.

They also do a very good job of advertising the wine industry. There are many billboards along the highways advertising the industry and signs along the roadways directing you to the wineries themselves. Having this information in hand, I begin my journey!

The first winery visit was at Raffaldini Vineyards. The Tuscan style villa, located in Ronda, NC, is nestled in the Swan Creek AVA at the southern end of the Yadkin Valley.

Raffaldini Facts:
Latitude: 36o 10’ 42.78”N
Longitude: 80o 53’29.45”W
Elevation: 1243’
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and Brushy Mountains.
Winemaker: Kiley Evans Owners: The Raffaldini Family

The Raffaldini family dates back to 1348 in Mantua, Italy located in the Northern Provence of Lombardy. The family purchased the current setting and began growing Italian grape varietals and producing Italian style wines. The Tuscan style villa is breathtaking, along with the surrounding views of the mountains.

They purchased the land in 2001 and erected the villa in 2008.

The absolute theme of this winery is Italian wines. They offer Pinot Grigio, Vermentino, Girasole (free run juice of Sangiovese and Montepulciano), Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Moscato d’Asti. The staff was plentiful and polished at the beautiful villa. We were greeted upon arrival and given a detailed overview of the operation. Tasting bars were manned and at the ready, however, we chose to visit the beautiful patio first where they were hosting a local artist show (one of the reasons we chose  that day to visit). The views are beautiful and a great place for the show although we were a little disappointed in the number of artists, only a handful. Their talents were apparent, just wished there were more of them!

We headed back in to do the tasting. There was plenty of room so we approached a young man who  was eager to help. A tasting is $7 which allows you to taste 9 wines and keep the commemorative glass. We started with a 2012 Pinot Grigio which was very light with a dry finish. Next was a 2013 Vermentino that was also light but ‘flatter’ then the Pinot Grigio. The 2012 Vermentino Riserva is an oaked white (18 months) with a smoother buttery finish. Moving toward the reds we had a 2013 Girasole. This rosato was not sweet and you could taste fruit and watermelon flavor.

The reds started with a 2011 Sangiovese. This is in the Chianti style and was very pleasant. A 2012 Montepulciano followed. They consider this their flagship red. A little lighter that some I’ve tasted, but good well balanced. A 2011 Sangiovese Riserva was next. This had light tannins and a cherry finish. We were told it was aged 18-20 months. We then had a 2011 Montepulciano Riserva. This was a very big wine, three years of aging and features appassimento fruit (dried grapes). This wine has won numerous awards and was very good.

Prices range from $15 – $29 per bottle (with quantity discounts). These were a bit high in my opinion. The experience was well worth the time and effort. The setting is beautiful, the gardens very attractive and the surrounding countryside stunning.

Our next visit took us just around the corner to Laurel Gray Vineyards. They are located in Hamptonville. They make it clear they make wine in the French tradition. I believe this is stated to alert the taster that if you’re looking for more crowd friendly ‘sweet wines’ you’ll not find many of them here and they will direct you to their newest venture The Yadkin Valley Wine Company that markets Fruit Crate Wines (I’m not kidding). Laurel Gray planted vines in 2001, opened their tasting room in 2003 and have 10.5 acres under vine. They grow Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Pinot Gris.

Off in the distance is the Yadkin Valley Wine Company building. Below is YVWC welcome

Laurel Gray Facts
Latitude: 36o 08.035’N Longitude: 80o 50.349’W Elevation: 1149’
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and Brushy Mountains.
Winemaker: Charlie Kidd Owners: Ben & Kim Myers

Laurel Gray Vineyards is the oldest vineyard in the Swan Creek AVA. The land has been in the Myers family for 10 generations. The tasting room is a renovated milking parlor and is very cozy. The tasting fee is $7 for nine wines. They also supplement the tasting with a few of their many Laurel Gray sauces available for purchase (such as Chocolate Cabernet Wine Sauce).

We started with a 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay. This award winning wine was aged 11 months in stainless steel. It is light with citrus notes. Next up was a 2012 Viognier. This wine was very nice, crisp with peaches and apricot notes. It was not sweet, yet full bodied. Moving to Chardonnay we tasted an award winning 2011 Barrel Fermented chard. Aged in French oak for one year, it was fruity but I didn’t consider too buttery. Moving on to the reds we started with 2012 Estate Cab Franc. Another award winner, this was their first attempt at an Estate Cab Franc. Being most familiar with Cab Francs of the Finger Lakes, this one was a little lighter with less tannin on finish. The 2012 Estate Merlot was also a first bottling and Best of Show at NC State Fair. Very fruit forward and pleasant. The 2010 Scarlet Mountain is a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Chardonnay. It is a combination of berries and smooth finish from the chardonnay.

They provide a ‘Fun & Creative Wine’ selection as well. Their Black Diamond is produced from NC mountain blackberries. This is a sweet wine. Their Encore is Laurel Gray’s Cabernet infused with natural black raspberries and a hint of chocolate. The Cheri is a late harvest wine that uses honey from bees that pollinate and orange grove.

The price of the traditional wines ranged from $17-$25 (with quantity discounts). These prices were a bit high in my opinion. The staff and the quaint feel of this winery made it well worth the visit. The ladies in the tasting room were very knowledgeable and sincere in their delivery of service. Since Yadkin Valley Wine Company was so close, we went over there to investigate. We are not much into fruit wines, but YVWC produces fruit ‘infused’ wines. They use Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot and white varietals and infuse them with pomegranate, cherry, raspberry, pear and other fruit juices to produce Fruit Crate Wines. They explained they are a favorite on a hot day while sitting on a front porch in North Carolina! The prices are all at $16 per bottle.

Our next adventure happened a few weekends later when we went up to Stone Mountain State Park to do some hiking and fishing. Unfortunately, the steams were designated ‘late harvest’ so legal fishing was out. Not deterred, we focused on hiking this beautiful park. The park is located in Roaring Gap, NC.



The park surrounds Stone Mountain, an enormous stone outcropping that is impressive. Note that the mountain towers above this fully grown forest. The wall is used by rock climbers who are able to scale to the top (at their own risk). The top left photo is the view from the top, we hiked all the way to the top and over the mountain. This was not for the faint of heart, as you are literally walking on the top with absolutely nothing to stop you if you happen to start sliding off. The falls were next, there are 330 (counted them on the way up) stairs from the top all the way to the bottom. Easier going down then heading back up! Needless to say, we were quite winded by the time we emerged from the trek. These pictures do not do the park justice, it is a massive geographic sight.

Fortunately, on the way out of the park and back home we saw the McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks sign! Without hesitation we steered the car in the right direction. McRitchie is located in Thurmond, NC. The winery is located on about 30 acres in the Yadkin Valley. The owners are Sean and Patty McRitchie. Sean was raised in the Oregon wine country and has made wine in Australia and the Alsace region of France. They moved to NC from Oregon to help open Shelton Vineyards (more on that later). They knew they wanted to stay in NC and raise a family and make wine. They chose Thurmond due to its higher elevation and rocky soil and slopes. Sean also consults at several other local wineries.

McRitchie Winery Facts
Latitude: 36o 22’ 02”N
Longitude: 80o 56’ 43.68”W Elevation: 1359’
Located in Yadkin Valley.
Winemaker: Sean McRitchie Owners: Sean & Patty McRitchie

We were greeted by a four legged welcome wagon, a beautiful black lab. It led us into the quaint tasting room where two other guests were already enjoying a taste. The tasting fee was $7 and you are able to take home the glass. We started with 2012 Fallingwater White. This is a Traminette blend with Chardonnay and Riesling. The wine was a little dry, but very refreshing. We then moved to the 2012 Pale Rider Dry Rose. This rose is made with Sangiovese grapes and had a very nice, dry finish, light tannins.

The 2013 Adhoc Nouveau Red is a Chambourcin and Merlot blend. You could taste the bright fruit from the Merlot influence. Next we tasted the 2011 Ring of Fire Red a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. I tasted dark fruit spice but it had good mouth feel and balanced tannins. The 2011 Merlot showed the fruit forward Merlot style yet had a very smooth finish that was quite nice.

We also tried one hard cider. They make their hard cider from North Carolina apples. We tasted a Dry Hard Cider, and it was dry and slightly acidic yet we were told it was at 2% RS.

This visit was a very nice finish to a long day of hiking. The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable. The wine prices ranged from $12-$22 per bottle. I thought this was reasonable for the quality of the wine we tasted.

The North Carolina adventure has begun! I will send in the next update soon.

Salvaging Corked Wine

By Jan Klapetzky, Winemaker & Wine Wise Guy

It seems that much too often, the bottle you held onto for a special occasion turns up corked. I personally have experienced this a couple dozen times or more, either my own wine or friend’s wine. And naturally by that time, it’s way too late to take it back or even complain to anyone who might care (at least in the supplier end of the chain).

At an impromptu Wine Wise Guys meeting last month, a pricey New York State (Seneca Lake) Merlot about five years old was heavily corked. A brief memorial was conducted with words of sympathy for the contributor, then on to a lot of other great wines. As the host, I ended up with the bottle and thought of a number of suggestions that Saran Wrap could remove TCA. I’d seen it tried several times, stuffing Saran in a glass of wine and waiting an hour or so but nothing conclusive.

Obviously a semi-controlled experiment was in order. I took about 30” of normal width Glad Wrap and stuffed it loosely in a carafe. I poured the wine in, flushed the air out with a good inert gas wine preserver, and covered the carafe with more Glad Wrap. The next morning I decanted the wine back into the cleaned bottle.

The effect was impressive. The musty TCA smell was almost gone. While I didn’t have an uncorked bottle of the wine for comparison, I did sense the fruit aromas were muted, the mid palate a little thin, and there was a slight bitterness on the finish. None the less, the wine was pleasant and I finished it over the next couple days whereas  the corked wine was terrible. Obviously there’s a lot more that could be optimized like contact time and Saran area, but for resurrecting a ruined wine, it was a neat trick.