History and Experimentation Unite North Carolina Winemakers

Wineries in North Carolina combine the state's history, tradition and modern frontier spirit to create bottles for every palate. You'll also discover what is perhaps the oldest cultivated grapevine on the continent.
Illustration by Kavel Rafferty

On Roanoke Island, in the outer banks of North Carolina, stands the Mother Vine. At more than 400 years old, this Scuppernong, a native Muscadine variety, is said to be the oldest cultivated grapevine in North America.

Today the famed vines occupy the front yard of a suburban house, but nearby Duplin Winery developed a vineyard from its cuttings and once used it to produce a single vintage of a sweet Scuppernong wine called The MotherVine. Duplin, founded in the early 1970s, is North Carolina’s largest winery. It sells 450,000 cases of wine per year, mostly made from Muscadine and other native grapes.

North Carolina Wine Industry

Annual Economic Impact
$1.97 billion

Number of Wineries
186

American Viticultural Areas
Yadkin Valley, Swan Creek
Haw River Valley,Upper Hiwassee Highlands
Appalachian High Country

Before they reach the Outer Banks, beachgoers who drive along the Caratoke Highway can stop at Sanctuary Vineyards and stock up on superb wines. Seven generations of the Wright family have farmed here, though vinifera vines are a recent addition. Varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Albariño and Viognier, along with Norton and Muscadine. These grape varieties do well thanks to cool ocean breezes that moderate the intense summer heat.

“Steady winds and sunny days are a vineyard manager’s best friend,” says General Manager John Wright. Hurricanes can complicate harvest, though. “Once we start to see Weather Channel trucks passing by the vineyard, we know to expect some tropical drama.”

Acres Under Vine
2,300 among 525 individually owned vineyards

Leading Wineries
Duplin Winery, Cypress Bend Vineyards
Lu Mil Vineyards

But most of North Carolina’s 186 wineries enjoy mountain views. In the Yadkin Valley, declines in the tobacco market led many farmers to switch to grapes, and the region became the state’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2003 (there are now five). Top Yadkin Valley wineries include Childress Vineyards, Herrera Vineyards, Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery and Shelton Vineyards.

Near Asheville, the Biltmore Estate’s winery is one of the country’s most popular tasting rooms, though it also uses grapes from other states in its wine. Burntshirt Vineyards, in Hendersonville, casts a more casual, fun-loving vibe.

Wineries to Watch
Addison Farms Vineyard, Biltmore Estate Winery, Burntshirt Vineyards
Cellar 4201, Childress Vineyards
Grove Winery, Herrera Vineyards
JOLO Winery & Vineyards, Jones von Drehle
Vineyards & Winery,Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery
RayLen Vineyards & Winery
Sanctuary Vineyards, Shelton Vineyards, Silver Fork Winery
Surry Cellars, Westbend Winery and Brewery

Most Popular Grapes
Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot

Experimentation is key in the young industry. “At Raffaldini, we have planted and pulled up more than 30 Italian varietals and clones,” says tasting room manager Thomas Salley. “Sagrantino and Nero d’Avola currently show promise,” he says.

Other budding varieties in the region include Riesling, Albariño, Vermentino and Petit Manseng among whites, and Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Petit Verdot among reds.

Published on March 7, 2018
Topics: Cabernet to Chambourcin



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