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

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

Hanging out by the vines at Shelton Winery

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

What You Should Know

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

The is home to more than 100 wineries and 400 vineyards. The number of wineries has more than quadrupled since 2001. The industry has two focuses - native muscadine grapes and European-style vinifera grapes.

Commonly planted vinifera grape varieties include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. They are planted in the Western and Piedmont regions of the state.

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

Noteworthy Vineyards and Wineries

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

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

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

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

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

shelton 007

Mapping Out Local Vineyards

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

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10 Places to Sip and Nibble In California's Napa Valley. #7 Is A Hidden Gem.

Northern California's wine country is a magical place. Each and every time I visit I feel like I am in a dream -- perhaps it's the wine that has this effect! There is a never ending list of wineries and tasting rooms to visit while in Napa or Sonoma. So, how does one go about choosing? That's the dilemma. Napa Valley contains well over 200 wineries, and most welcome guests with tours and tasting rooms. While enticing, the wealth of options can be overwhelming for all but the savviest of insiders. I'm breaking it down for you, the best places to sip on wine tastings and nibble on small pairings.

1. Sip Tiny Bubbles at Domaine Chandon

Domaine-chandon-greenpoint-roomDomaine Chandon

Chandon is one of the few Napa Valley wineries permitted to have a restaurant, the excellent Étoile. For the tasting lounge, chef Perry Hoffman created dishes to go with Chandon sparkling wines. chandon.com

2. Experience Wine and Olive Oil tasting at Long Meadow Ranch

Long Meadow Ranch 2 Long Meadow Ranch All of the tastings here include samples of the estate's wonderful olive oils, too. Reserve a spot for a Farm-to-Table Experience ($85), which culminates in a three-course lunch at Long Meadow's Logan-Ives House. Dishes from chef Tim Mosblech are tailored to the wines, from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet. longmeadowranch.com

3. Explore 20 Small Wineries at Ma(i)sonry

Charles Rovegno House, 6711 Washington St., Yountville, CAMa(i)sonry

Twenty small California wineries offer tastings at the Ma(i)sonry collective. Guests can taste from whichever wineries they choose in whichever setting they prefer, from a steampunk-art gallery to a contemporary sculpture garden to a blanket on the lawn. maisonry.com

4. For the Cabernet drinkers, you'll love O'Shaughnessy

O'Shaughnessy Everything about Paul and Betty Wooll's secluded, Cabernet-focused winery is state of the art, from the glass-and-stone cellar to the 11,000-square-foot cave drilled into the side of Howell Mountain. Yet the building manages to blend into its natural surroundings. oshaughnessywinery.com

5. Taste one of the oldest producers, Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard One of the oldest producers in the valley, BV offers tours of the original winery building, which dates back to 1885. These are followed by barrel samples of Cabernet and a stop in the new Heritage Room, which chronicles the history of wine in Napa. bvwines.com

6. Wine Taste in the Louis XV-styled Château that is Domaine Carneros

Domaine CarnerosDomaine Carneros 2 There’s no better way to soak in Carneros than by sitting on the terrace of Domaine Carneros with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. The winery, set gracefully on a hill, was designed to evoke the 200-year-old, Louis XV-styled Château de la Marquetterie, which Champagne’s Taittinger family has owned since before World War II. The tableside service on the patio allows visitors to sit back and feel the signature Carneros breezes while sampling Domaine Carneros wines by the glass, flight or bottle. Munch on the complimentary almonds or dig into the well-priced selections of cheeses or caviar. The intimate Balcony Package for two is a private tasting of top cuvées overlooking the vines, for $250. Inside, a painting of Madame de Pompadour dominates the foyer leading to the marble-floored, high-ceilinged tasting room. www.domainecarneros.com

7. Relax in the unpretentiousness of Scribe

ScribeScribeWinery_Web-12 Just a short drive away from San Francisco, Scribe Winery in Sonoma provide an exceptional setting for an enjoyable wine tasting while nibbling on snacks in Wine Country. Andrew Mariani's two hundred acre farm/winery is certainly an outstanding experience. harming, rustic, and indie are three words to describe Scribe. The tasting room? Simple. A few out door rugged tables to the view of the vineyards, not scripted, down to earth wine servers that willing to have conversations with you and not there to clean your wallet or forcing you to join their wine clubs. The kind of service that make you come back to buy more wines and worth-of-mouth to promote their wines on social media without anything more. Scribe is by appointment only.

8. Enjoy a glass in resort style at Ram's Gate

rams gatejpeg Ram's Gate Winery is something pretty spectacular and worth checking out. Located at the entrance to the Carneros region of Sonoma just across from Infineon Raceway. The facility and tasting room just opened about in 2012, offering an excellent hospitality experience, amazing wines from some of the best vineyards in Carneros and Sonoma County, stunning architecture and views, and excellent food pairings to complement our wines and round out the experience.

9. Try the Cheese and Wine Pairings at Far Niente

Far NienteFar Niente 2 Far Niente is one of Napa’s most elegant estates, with beautiful grounds and a deep history. A visit includes a winery tour and tasting of current release and library Cabernets and Chardonnays, with a seasonal cheese match. Not bad for $50. The 40,000 square feet of wine-aging caves are spectacular, as is the carriage house, where you’ll get to peek in on founder Gil Nickel’s car collection. www.farniente.com

10. Plenty of photo opps at Peju Province Winery

Peju Province Winery 1 Peju Province Winery 2 Outside, a long line of sycamore trees, gardens, fountains and sculptures offer plenty of photo opportunities. Inside Peju, there is plenty more to look at—an art gallery, an antique stained-glass window and shopping—and multiple tasting spaces; be sure to make a reservation if you want a tasting of older library wines. It all has a quirky, colorful, friendly vibe, and the staff is very accommodating. www.peju.com

Have you been to any of these? Share your favorites!

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