Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


North Carolina Fine Wines Society

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

Best Hybrid
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
2013 Nebbiolo

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