I didn’t really expect to find wineries in the North Carolina mountains. But, on my many trips and vacations to the region, I’ve managed to find and try three of them with a few more that I have yet to explore. Searching for wineries near me, I found a handful of wineries within 30 minutes from the Blowing Rock/Boone area. I decided I would try them all. First, I decided to look up a little bit about the region.
The Appalachian Viticultural Area was officially recognized in November 2016. What does that mean? This defines the high country region of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southern Virginia that typifies the grapes and growing season for the 21 or so commercial vineyards in the area. The growing season is only about 139 days long and the vineyards range between 2200 – 4600 feet in elevation. As follows with the high altitude, these vineyards are subjected to intense sun and somewhat cool temperatures. Cold grape varietals with a short maturation time are an ideal match for the short season. As the quality of wine improves and interest grows in the region, so should the commercial availability. For now though, you pretty much have to get it where it’s made or order it online. And on to the wineries…
My first stop was Grandfather Vinyards and Winery. It’s located just off NC 105 right
around the Seven Devils area, on the opposite side from the road to the Hawksnest resort. We had worked up an appetite (or thirst) from hiking Otter Falls and a wine tasting was just the ticket. Bringing your own food is allowed and in fact encouraged. As you pull into the winery you are welcomed by the sound of rushing water. The winery is located right on the Watauga river and view is amazing. But more on that in just a bit.
There are a few options in the tasting room. There are wines available on tap; just bring your growler and fill up. There is a 4 wine tasting, 2 oz pours each, with no souvenir glass and an 8 wine tasting, 0.5 oz per pour, with souvenir glass included. You can also reserve a tasting for large parties. I chose to go with the 8 wine tasting to sample the full range of their offerings. The wines were good, short of great, with my favorites being the Viognier and the sparkling white. The best part about the tasting at Grandfather Winery, though, is the location. There are benches, tables and Adirondack chairs lining the bank of the Watauga river as it passes by the winery. You can bring your purchased wine out to the seating area and wish your cares away as the river hypnotizes you. There are three dogs on the property that are fun and entertaining as they play in the water and around the property. Definitely worth the trip and I hope to go back soon.
Linville Falls Winery was the next stop on my itinerary. We visited this winery after a tour of Linville Caverns. The ambience of this place was also amazing and hit me right as I pulled in. There’s a charming old red barn with the vineyard and garden behind it beckoning you to run through it. The tasting room is well appointed, has ample seating and the owners and servers are very welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and experience. Ask them about Appalachian viticulture and the High Country Wine Trail. They’ll be happy to inform you and answer any questions you may have with lots of patience, charm and southern hospitality.
The wines here were all very tasty. The overwhelming majority of these wines are made with grapes grown in the local region. My favorites are the Petit Verdot and Trillium, a light and refreshing white. Not to be missed is the Cherry Bounce, a fortified wine. It has quite a kick, at 19% ABV. It is said to be an homage to a recipe from Martha Washington herself and is a time honored tradition throughout the South. There are also some fruit wines which were good but mostly too sweet for my palate. There are local cheeses available to sample or purchase with your wine tasting.
Banner Elk Winery was the last winery I visited and it was a highlight of a summer trip to the North Carolina high country. We stopped here after a tour of Apple Hill Farms and a scenic drive down NC 194. On entering the property, your attention is arrested by the imposing driftwood sculptures of elks and the well manicured landscaping. There’s a giant firepit in the front yard; I will have to remind myself to visit when that is set ablaze. The tasting room is large, comfortable and well appointed. The artwork in this location stands out more than the others with a combination of contemporary, pop art and abstracts.
The wine in Banner Elk Winery left me a bit puzzled. I liked the wines, but they tasted nothing like the varietals they were supposed to be. The Merlot is very light and a little spicy. The Sangiovese is a little sweet and at the same time has extra tannin flavor, full of stems and skin. But I don’t hate it, in fact I think I may love it! It’s bottle aged, so beware if you are tannin averse. But, the best wine at this stop was a bit of a surprise. By far, my favorite was their Blueberry wine. I don’t think I’ve met a blueberry wine I’ve liked until I tried this one. It’s not too sweet and has quite a complex and herbaceous note to it. I bought a bottle of it and I think I may have to go back for some more.
Overall, I’ve liked my tour of vineyards in the High Country so far. I have about 3 or four more on my list to try next and I’ll keep the blog updated on my progress.
Incidentally, the closest search result in the area that came up is Peabody’s Wine & Beer Merchants. I visited their store. While they’re definitely not a winery, they are certainly worth a visit. If their selection wasn’t so great I would call them wine and beer hoarders. This store has quality choices in and a product density ratio that leaves you just enough room to walk around. This is definitely a compliment. The staff is very knowledgeable and will help you find just the right wine or beer for every occasion.