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.

Burgundy vs. Bordeaux Tasting

At a dinner attended by the Wine Wise Guys, a discussion on French wines led to a Burgundy vs. Bordeaux Tasting arranged by Brian Thomas, which was held on March 19, 2014, at the Klapetzky’s. Food was ordered from Bad to the Bone BBQ in Williamson, New York.

Eight wines were blind tasted—four Burgundy and four Bordeaux—with and without food, and the ratings were entered onto individual scoring sheets. In the Burgundy grouping, the tasters were asked to identify whether the wine was a Pinot Noir or Gamay. In the Bordeaux grouping, tasters were asked to identify the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blends and the Merlot-dominant blends.

Wines and food were great, the companionship was excellent, and all had fun as the wines were unveiled and tasters learned how accurate they were in identifying grape types.

The final ratings reflect the top three picks from each taster. Results are below.

Burgundy vs. Bordeaux Tasting final ranking

1st: Jean-Paul Brun Ter Dor Cote de Brouilly 2011 (#3)

2nd: Ch Cap de Faugeres Cotes-de-Castillon 2004 (#6)

3rd:  Gevrey-Chambertin (Frederic Esmonin) 2005 (#2)

3rd:  Chenas Quartz Dom Piron-Lameloise 2010 (#1)

3rd:  Caronne Ste Gemme (Haut-Medoc) 2009 (#7)

3rd:  Ch. Larose-Trintaudon (Haut-Medoc) 2009 (#5)

7th:  Ch Vrai Canon Bouche (Fronsac) 2003 (#8)

7th: Emotion de Terroirs Pinot Noir Vincent Girardin (2005) (#4)

Tasting “Value” Bordeaux Wines

By Laura Wayland-Smith Hatch

The Wine Wise Guys gathered on a cold winter night and held a blind tasting of “Winter Reds.” The theme was “Value “Bordeaux Wines,” although you can see by the results that a California red-blend ringer was snuck into the mix and actually won.

All the wines were brought to the tasting in brown bags and then numbered for the tasting. Each wine was tasted and rated on score sheets, the results were tabulated, and then the wines were revealed.  The unanimous winner was the non-Bordeaux, Mazzocco’s 2011  Fascination –  a blend of 40% Zin; 30% Cab Sav and 30% Merlot from Sonoma County!

None of the bottles were finished at the tasting, so they were resealed with the vacuum cork system and tasted later in the week. It was interesting that many of the wines that received low ratings at the initial tasting improved dramatically over a couple days.

1st             2011 Mazzocco Fascination
2nd           2009 Chateau Haut Sociondo Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux
3rd            2009 LaTores Seguy Cotes de Bourg
3rd            2000 Chateau Mayne-Viel Fronsac
5th             2009 Chateau La Bedouce Bordeaux Superior
5th             2009 Cazat – Beau Chene Bordeaux Superior
7th             2009 Chateau Jacquet Bordeaux
7th             2009 Chateau Martinon
9th             2009 Chateau DuPin Bordeaux
9th             2003 Chateau La Croix de Roche

Exploring the Wineries and Inns of Prince Edward County

A Guest Blog by Cynthia Weber, Interior Decorator


Kent and I took a few days to tour into the fantastic Prince Edward County Region of Ontario. Always a wonderful destination if you love visiting wineries, enjoying great food and beautiful scenery.

The first night we stayed at the

Merrill Inn located in Picton Ontario. Nestled amongst Picton’s most elegant and historic mansions, built in 1878, this stately Inn is architecturally significant for its striking gingerbread and bargeboard trimmed gables.

It has all the characteristics I look for in an Inn, Independently owned and run, historically interesting and well appointed.

We were greeted by the owner upon arrival and given the tour. Our room was located up the wonderful main staircase, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the details of it, so fascinating.


Another lovely feature were the front door grills, both beautiful and functional with the hinged door for venting.

I don’t mind admitting, I was very envious!

This framed collection of antique salts caught my eye… what a great way to showcase these little treasures.

Served on a lovely patio, our breakfast the following morning was well presented, fresh and delicious. Featuring local cheeses, baked goods and a hearty vegetable strata.

Full of energy we headed out to explore …

Prince Edward County is one of Canada’s precious wine regions, a tiny gem of lush beauty, lovingly cultivated by some dedicated and talented winemakers.

I had no idea that wine was made in this region more than a century ago and that the industry disappeared until a group of wine industry pioneers rediscovered the area in the 1990′s.

We stopped in at Closson Chase a real treat…

Kent and I were taken right away with the setting, right up our alley with perfectly untended gardens, just wild enough to be interesting.

The staff were informative, knowledgable and attentive yet not pretentious… a refreshing combination to be sure!

We took our selections out to enjoy in the back gardens.

Although we enjoyed all on offer, the hit for us was the 2008 K.J. Watson vineyard Chardonnay… Superb. It came home along with the 2010 Chardonnay.

Being somewhat preoccupied with presentation I was enamoured with their branding.

Inspired by Prince Edward County’s maritime tradition, the Closson Chase label makes reference to international signal flags, incorporating an original painting for Closson Chase by master painter and printmaker David Blackwood.

Taking the theme further, these amazing windows echo  the feeling of flags moving in the breeze, coaxing the sensual play of light to dance throughout the barn…

I loved it!

Our stop here was greatly enjoyed!

The next night was spent at the Auberge Victoria Rose Inn located in Gananoque Ontario.

Victoria Rose Inn

It is lovely! Our room was spacious and clean. The grounds are wonderful and so well kept… a meander around with a glass of wine in hand was a must!

The Victoria Rose Inn

Finally we made our way to the Warring House Inn and cookery school located in Picton.

the Warring House

Here again, the grounds are lovely. We enjoyed our evening meal looking out over the gardens. The vineyard cottage is where we lay our heads. It is charming and boasts a private patio.

the patio at vinyard view cottage

So, if you are thinking of exploring this beautiful area I hope you got some ideas of places to go and things to do!

We will definitely head back that way soon… it is picture perfect.

If you would like help making your home everything you want it to be please contact me. We now offer e-design packages for distance clients and our shop carries a delightful selection of beautiful items to enhance your home.