by Vanessa Infanzon | images courtesy Sam Dean, Bill Russ, and Shelton Vineyards
An easy 90-minute drive up Interstate-77 takes you to Yadkin Valley and the Surry County Wine Trail with more than 15 vineyards to visit, each with a distinct style and atmosphere. Tucked away among fields of green with a view of mountains is Shelton Vineyards, the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina.
Shelton Vineyards was the brainchild of brothers Charles and Ed Shelton. Originally from Yadkin Valley, their careers took them to Charlotte for their general contracting company, Shelco. When they purchased a 260-acre dairy farm from a land auction in 1994, they envisioned a vineyard. They built a 33,000-square-foot winery and planted Vitis viniferous grapes or European varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Tannat, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Shelton Vineyards was the 12th winery in the state, and only the second in Yadkin Valley. Today, North Carolina boasts 189 wineries, and the Yadkin Valley is one of the fastest growing wine producing regions in the country, says Christina Clark, vice president of sales at Shelton Vineyards.
This year, Yadkin Valley celebrates 15 years as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), a federal government designated wine-grape growing region. The Shelton brothers were instrumental in obtaining this distinction, as an AVA designation recognizes the distinct soil conditions of a geographical location and allows for the vineyards in the area to include it on its labels.
Since 2001, Shelton Vineyards’ wines have won numerous awards. Most recently, the 2006 Yadkin Valley Port was awarded 90 points by James Suckling and the 2013 Two Five Nine Tannat was awarded 91 points. Bin 17 Chardonnay, Unoaked; Estate Cabernet Franc; and the Yadkin Valley Riesling are most popular with guests.
Shelton Vineyards’ new winemaker, Ethan Brown, was trained through the Surry Community College’s Viticulture and Enology program, a curriculum established with seed money from the Sheltons.
“I think it was important for establishing that regional knowledge for winemaking and grape growing in the area,” Brown says. “The region is growing very quickly, and I’m seeing a lot of people moving in from out of state. This is the destination now to establish a winery. We’re starting to be recognized by potential winery owners and grape growers. Now we are starting to get recognized outside of the state for wine quality too.”
Various wine tours and tastings are offered throughout the week in a spacious atrium. A guided tour with a view of the wine-making process and a tasting of six wines is available every day, on the hour, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours and tastings with Reserve Wines require reservations. For a special treat, reserve the Gazebo for a tasting and a 360-degree view of the vineyards.
Last year, Shelton Vineyards’ on-site restaurant, Harvest Grill, was rated fourth in USA Today’s Top 10 Best Winery Restaurants. Chef Paul Lange’s farm to table philosophy guides his menu, creating seasonal menu items focused on fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients. Burgers of the week made with Apple Brandy Beef, crab cakes with a lemon marmalade, fin to fork fish and shellfish, and a field to fork option for dinner are always on the menu. The house made yeast rolls come warm straight from the oven. A three-course wine and food pairing menu is also available to guests.
“When I first got here 13 years ago, we didn’t really have the concept of farm to table,” Lange says. “In those 13 years, things have changed so drastically that not only is it the in thing to do, it’s the responsible thing to do.”
In the early years, it wasn’t unusual for Lange to drive around looking for the ingredients he needed for his menu. These days, he procures lettuce and spinach from a nearby hydroponic farm and mushrooms and microgreens from local farms. Cheeses and beef are locally sourced; fish is driven in from the coast. Lange’s most recent find in Asheville is a mustard made by Lusty Monk, and it’s featured in the Artisan Meat and Cheese Board and the Pretzel Crusted Salmon.
Shelton Vineyards owns and operates an upscale Hampton Inn & Suites about two miles from the winery, complete with its own wine bar (the only one of its kind in a Hampton Inn & Suites), plus, they offer a shuttle to and from the vineyard. Plan your visit during one of the concerts or events at the covered amphitheater. Local and regional bands feature beach, blues, funk, and rock music—an admission cost is associated with some of the shows. Look for British, Corvette, and Mercedes Benz car shows and specialty dinners throughout the year.
286 Cabernet Lane | Dobson, NC
by Catherine Rabb • images courtesy Sam Dean, Craig Distl, Travis Dove, Bill Russ
For wine lovers looking to explore North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, planning a trip just got a bit easier. The new Surry County Wine Trail launched in January, featuring 15 wineries and five breweries and distilleries in and around Surry County.
Visitors to the region often comment on how supportive the wineries are of each other, as they regularly direct visitors to neighboring vineyards. In that tradition of partnership, the new trail has a handsome brochure map featuring locations and contact information for all trail stops. Lodging info is included, too, making it even more convenient for visitors.
This is good news for Charlotte-based visitors, as the drive to Surry County is about an hour and a half north of the city. North Carolina wineries are particularly fun to visit, as many are family owned and operated. You often meet the owners and winemakers, who generously share their interesting stories and enjoy pouring their wines. It’s just good fun to visit these beautiful properties and taste a bit of the excitement (and terrific wine) in this lovely part of the world.
“The personal stories behind the wineries are interesting,” says winemaker Dr. Tim Wahl, who co-owns Adagio Vineyards with his wife, Jan, a classically-trained violinist. “We try to be there in person to give them a tour of the production facility and go through, step by step, how we make the wines and let them know why our wineries are unique.”
Wine has been made in North Carolina for centuries, and the state boasted a thriving wine business in the 1800s. That ended, however, in the early 1900s when Prohibition forced a shift in agricultural focus to tobacco production. Today, you may be surprised to learn North Carolina has rebounded to become the seventh largest wine-producing state in the country.
It’s easy to have missed what is really a wine revolution in North Carolina, as it began just a couple decades ago with intrepid growers and winemakers planting and tending vines, and making delicious vintages. Wine—and wine tourism—is back in North Carolina, and many wineries on the Surry County Wine Trail have been pioneers in the journey. Visit and hear their stories—you’ll enjoy not only the wine, but the interesting people who craft it.
Be sure to include Shelton Vineyards in Dobson on your next trip. Brothers Charlie and Ed Shelton were instrumental in spurring the wine renaissance. They had a tremendous vision for their property in the Yadkin Valley, and for North Carolina wine in general. I still remember how exciting it was when their winery opened in 1999, and also remember being blown away by the property and their plans for the future.
Since the beginning, the Sheltons have been huge supporters of wine education and training. North Carolina cheered when they spurred the creation, in 2003, of North Carolina’s first federally-designated American Viticultural Area, the Yadkin Valley AVA. In many ways, Shelton Vineyards is the anchor of the region. The property is gorgeous with a pretty and professionally-staffed tasting room. Shelton Vineyard’s upscale restaurant, The Harvest Grill, serves lunch and dinner and is an important part of the wine trail.
An interesting trail option is a visit to Surry Community College. The college has a Viticulture and Enology Program that trains growers and winemakers for the 180-plus wineries in the state. Students and faculty actually grow grapes and make wine under the Surry Cellars label. I took a summer class in viticulture there in an effort to better understand grape growing for classes I teach, and it was a blast. This past year, the college’s crisp sparkling wine won big awards at the North Carolina Fine Wines Competition. While not a traditional tasting stop, it’s very interesting to get a peek behind the curtain at the $5 million winemaking school. Do call ahead for appointments, which are available on weekdays.
A visitor really can’t go wrong on any trip. All 15 wineries have so much to offer. Several vineyards are near Elkin, south of the county seat in Dobson. Carolina Heritage Vineyard & Winery is committed to growing grapes organically, and are real pioneers in this area. Stony Knoll Vineyards is located on a beautiful piece of land that has been in the family since the 1800s and is rich in history.
Herrera Vineyards in Dobson is a lot of fun to visit, and often has outdoor concerts on its 140-acre property. Herrera Vineyard’s Riesling took top honors in the North Carolina Fine Wines Competition last year, and it is just excellent. Elkin Creek Vineyard and Winery is owned by former members of the Blue Man Group, and conversations there are always fascinating.
A visit to Jones von Drehle Vineyards and Winery is a must—their award-winning wines are a big hit in wine stores and restaurants, receiving a great deal of critical acclaim. A few miles from Jones Von Drehle is McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, pouring some amazing wine as well as hard ciders.
The charming town of Mount Airy is home to Round Peak Vineyards, which pairs award-winning wines with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mount Airy’s offering of spirits also includes Thirsty Souls Community Brewing, along with White Elephant Beer Company, pouring fun and interesting beers including a really tasty ginger and grapefruit-y Wit beer. The sole distillery on the trail, Mayberry Spirits, promotes itself as “the first legal distillery in Mayberry since Prohibition.”
And those are just a few stops along the journey. There is much more to discover! Each stop has a story to tell, wines or beers to pour, and welcoming, friendly Southern hospitality. As the weather warms, each will have music, picnics, festivals and special events to enjoy.
The brochure for the trail makes planning a breeze. Just check websites for hours of operation, and, if you are a planner, it never hurts to call ahead, especially if you’re bringing a group. There are plenty lodging options available along the trail for a more extended visit. Several wineries have on-site accommodations in the vineyards.
“We’ve heard for years there is not one brochure or map that provides a comprehensive list of wineries in and around our county,” says Jessica Roberts, executive director of the Tourism Partnership of Surry County. “That was the main reason for creating the trail.”
To receive a free copy of the Surry County Wine Trail brochure/map via mail, or to download a copy, go to www.YadkinValleyNC.com.
by Catherine Rabb • images courtesy Clinneam LLC
Wine has been made for centuries in North Carolina, and in the 1800s, North Carolina had a thriving grape growing and wine making business that essentially ended with Prohibition. During Prohibition, agricultural focus turned away from growing grapes for wine and toward growing tobacco. In the last few decades, intrepid growers and winemakers have brought wine back to North Carolina, carefully planting and tending vines, crafting wines, and nurturing a vision of a vibrant industry.
Today, grape growing and wine making are back in North Carolina, and back in a big way. Wines are made in all parts of the state, from the mountains to the ocean. The wines are delicious, and wine tourism is a jewel in North Carolina’s crown. North Carolina is now the seventh largest producer of wines in the country.
For wine lovers, it’s been both inspiring and exciting to see the industry begin to flourish. And, in case you haven’t noticed, there are stunning wines being made right here in our state that can challenge the quality of wine produced in any fine wine region around the world.
One of the challenges for any emerging business is to have the quality of their product recognized by others. In the competitive world of wine, carving out space on wine store shelves and restaurant menus, and getting recognized in wine publications, is a huge challenge. In 2016, a group of producers formed an organization called the North Carolina Fine Wines Society as a nonprofit with two goals. The first goal is to promote the quality of North Carolina fine wines. Passionate advocates for North Carolina wines, this organization has had monumental success through hard work and vision.
In 2017, they hosted the inaugural North Carolina Fine Wines Competition. The wines were judged blind, using rigorous tasting standards, by a group of Advanced Sommeliers. More than just a competition that rewarded participation, this competition was a serious and professionally executed event that showcased the diversity and quality of North Carolina Wines. Professional competitions aren’t easy to create and execute. Just the glassware alone needed for a competition is daunting, much less crafting the rules, and creating a competition that is inclusive, yet challenging. Forty producers submitted 146 wines, all 100 percent grown and produced in North Carolina from vinifera, or hybrid, grapes.
The top 12 wines (12 is the number of wines in a case), were showcased at a recent event held in Charlotte at the Duke Mansion. And they were stunning.
I started with a crisp and refreshing sparkling wine from Surry Cellars, made even more impressive by the fact that the wine was made by students enrolled in the Viticulture & Enology program at Surry Community College. There was a lovely, lilting dry Riesling from Herrera Vineyards that was one of the most food-friendly, drinkable wines I’ve tasted recently. Raffaldini poured an intensely flavored and delicious Montepulciano that was awarded not only the best Red Vinifera medal, but also Best in Show. Cellar 4201 showcased a gorgeous unoaked Chardonnay. Jones von Drehle, producers of three wines in the top 12, had a complex, and interesting Petit Manseng, and Shelton Vineyards a rich and luscious Port.
Want to try them? Five wines from the winning vineyards will be featured at the Society’s Annual Gala, to be held Saturday, February 17th, in Winston-Salem. Or you can always visit their vineyards.
The second goal of the Society is to fund a scholarship for North Carolina students attending North Carolina colleges or universities pursuing careers in Enology, Viticulture, and wine related hospitality and Agrotourism programs, and in partnership with the Winston-Salem Foundation, aim to support the industry in the future by helping to develop future industry partners. Perhaps a donation to that fund in the name of the wine lover in your life might be a terrific holiday gift (www.ncfinewines.com)!
For a fledgling organization, their debut year was an impressive one. With their goals to inspire excellence among producers, create opportunities for wines to be recognized for their quality, and to continue to invest in the future of the wine industry, there is little doubt that this organization will help make the wines, and the wine industry of North Carolina not only better, but better known and recognized. Cheers to the North Carolina Fine Wines Society, and to all their members who seek to make North Carolina a vibrant and exciting place to make and to drink wine.
North Carolina Fine Wines Top 12
Best in Show & Best Red Vinifera
Raffaldini Vineyards &
Winery 2014 Montepulciano Riserva
Best Rosé Vinifera
Jones von Drehle Vineyards
2015 Rosa Dia
Best White Vinifera
Herrera Vineyards 2015 Dry Riesling
Best Dessert/Port Vinifera
Shelton Vineyards 2006 Port
Surry Cellars 2013 Specialty
Lot 152 Sparkling
NC Fine Wines Case
Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery 2014 Sangiovese Classico Reserve
NC Fine Wines Case
Cellar 4201 2015 Chardonnay, Unoaked
NC Fine Wines Case
Grove Winery & Vineyards
NC Fine Wines Case
Jones von Drehle Vineyards
2015 Petit Manseng
NC Fine Wines Case
Shelton Vineyards 2013 Two Five Nine Tannat
NC Fine Wines Case
Addison Farms Vineyard
2014 Five Twenty-Nine Barbera
NC Fine Wines Case
Jones von Drehle Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay, Unoaked