Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


Surry County’s New Wine Trail Makes It Easier to Visit the Yadkin Valley

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.