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Carolina wines making strides
Regional vineyards gaining recognition and following as local industry develops

by Jack Kirven . Q-Notes staff

The Yadkin Valley is the first region in the Carolinas to receive Appellation.
In the last issue of Q-Notes, the health benefits of resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in wine, was discussed in the Health & Wellness column. It turns out that the muscadine wines from North and South Carolina are the best source of this nutrient in the world. Not only does a glass of wine each day have health benefits, it also bolsters the region’s economy by providing jobs, farmland diversification (away from tobacco) and tourism.

The first vineyard in the Carolinas was the Medoc Vineyard of Halifax County, which was founded in 1835. Over the course of several decades the wine industry expanded to over 20 vintners, making North Carolina the largest producer of American wine in the 19th century. All this came to an abrupt end with the introduction of Prohibition. Since the revocation of that misguided constitutional amendment (sound familiar?) the farming, harvesting and pressing of grapes has once again become an expanding market in our region.

North Carolina
North Carolina is 10th in the nation for wine production. As of press time, there are over 60 wineries in the state, as well as more than 350 vineyards, making up 1,350 acres. The combined impact of the grapes, wine, employment, tourism and taxes generated by the industry was over $800 million in 2005 alone. The Biltmore Estate is the most visited winery in the entire nation, registering over one million guests every year. Another interesting piece of trivia is that the oldest vine in the country is a 400-year-old North Carolina mother scuppernong, which has been used for grafting throughout the state.

Although there are a variety of grapes used in the western part of the state, including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the eastern region of North Carolina is the native home of the muscadine. Muscadine grapes are heady and almost intoxicatingly floral. They make a syrupy, fragrant wine that packs a double punch of flavor and antioxidant protection. Interestingly, both the red and white wines produced from muscadines provide high levels of resveratrol, whereas white wines from other places contain only trace amounts.

In 2003 the Yadkin Valley became the first region in the Carolinas to earn the right to use Appellation. The American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation allows a winemaker to use the label “Yadkin Valley AVA” and this in turn is a signal to wine drinkers that the fruit used meets particular standards and that the wine from that region will have variations upon expected regional qualities inherent to the soil, climate and experience of the wineries there. It is a major step towards quality control and recognition on a larger scale.

The Yadkin Valley covers 1.4 million acres and includes all of Wilkes, Surry and Yadkin counties, as well as parts of Davie, Davidson, Forsyth and Stokes counties. In 2003 there were 14 vineyards in the Yadkin Valley. In 2005 that number increased to 23. The conditions of the Yadkin Valley are similar to France’s Burgundy region and are capable of producing quality merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. The Yadkin Wine Festival is held annually in Elkin, N.C.

The 2006 North Carolina State Fair Commercial Wine Competition had 244 entries with 169 medals awarded (11 of which were double gold). Childress Vineyards (pictured) took the most accolades home that year, earning 19 medals.

The 11 double gold wines of 2006
• Banner Elk Winery (Cabernet Sauvignon)
• Biltmore Estate Winery (B.E. Château Reserve Cabernet Franc)
• Biltmore Estate Winery (Syrah)
• Childress Valley (Syrah)
• Dennis Vineyards (2005 Double Sweet)
• Duplin Wine Cellars (Beaufort Bay)
• Duplin Wine Cellars (Hatteras Red)
• Duplin Wine Cellars (Magnolia)
• Hinnant Vineyards (Strawberry)
• Old Store Vineyard (Blackberry)
• Silver Coast Winery (American Oak Chardonnay)

South Carolina
South Carolina’s wine culture has not yet developed to the same scale as her northerly sister state’s; however, this does not mean that wine making is absent from the area. Although there are fewer than 10 wineries in South Carolina, several of them produce award-winning creations.

The most common grapes in South Carolina are the Muscadine, Chambourcin, Cayuga, Catawba, Suwannee, Vidal Blanc, Blanc du Bois, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and de Chaumac. South Carolina is a challenging environment for wine making, some years being too wet and others too dry. Sandy, acidic soil is quite common. For these reasons the most successful wines tend to be blends.

Some of the more prominent producers in South Carolina include Aiken Winery, Carolina Vineyards, Irvine-House Vineyards, Montmorenci Vineyards and Valentine Sagefield Vineyards. Of particular note are the flavors concocted by Montmorenci, Carolina and Irvine-House.

Award-winning S.C. wines
• Montmorenci Vineyards: Blanc du Bois, Estate; Savannah White, Estate (Cayuga); Melody, Estate (Blend); Chambourcin, Estate
• Carolina Vineyards: 2002 Crescent Moon (Catawba); Chardonnay; Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon; 2000 Chambourcin; 1999 Vinter’s Red; Merlot
• Irvine-House Vineyards: Magnolia (Muscadine); Tara Gold (Muscadine); Live Oak Reserve (Red Muscadine); Mullet Hall Red (Red Muscadine); Palmetto (Red Muscadine)

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