North Carolina Winery Reviews
Childress Vineyards - WOW! Just a short drive south from Winston-Salem, this Lexington, North Carolina winery is a great destination for veteran wine drinkers, novice wine enthusiasts and race fans alike. One could easily spend the day taking-in a tour and tasting, dining in the bistro and listening to live music from the balcony or the patio. And I haven't even mentioned the wines yet...which are certainly top-of-the-line with enough of a variety to please each and every visitor.
We arrived at opening time on a Sunday, and plenty of visitors had already arrived. From the parking area, the Tuscan-style building beckoned us to come inside. I had a feeling before we had even stepped in the door that we were in for a treat. Upon entering, we found ourselves in a grand entranceway complete with high ceilings, a fountain and ornate furnishings. All the visitors seemed to pause when they entered the building to take-in their surroundings. The Bistro was open for brunch, but the tasting room and gift shop didn't open for another 10 minutes. We had an appointment when the tasting room opened to meet with Kathleen Watson (Childress Vineyard's Director of Marketing) and we took a seat in the foyer and waited for the large tasting room doors to open.
When the doors opened, we entered and asked for Ms. Watson. While they were letting her know we had arrived, we took time to browse through the Childress gift shop. As far as winery gift shops go...this is one of the biggest and best we have seen. They offer a ton of wine-related items, gourmet foods and Childress Vineyards souvenirs. One could spend quite a while looking through their wide array of merchandise. My son loves the color blue, and I discovered a bag of blue chocolate covered blueberries and decided to take them home to him. Gary's a big racing fan and he found a Childress Vineyards Christmas ornament he wanted to purchase for his tree.
Kathleen Watson arrived and introduced herself to us. While talking with her, we found ourselves happy to be partaking in a private tasting with her. She was so friendly and charismatic...and she truly loved the winery and the wines they produce. We soon realized that we couldn't have a better hostess during our visit to Childress. She guided us to the tasting counter and set us up for a Signature Tasting complete with large, crystal glasses. 28 wines are offered for sampling and we couldn't possibly taste them all. We were confident that our hostess would be pouring the wines that we shouldn't leave without sampling.
Our tasting led us through many of the varietals, the reserve wines and the signature wines (each signature bottle is personally signed by Richard Childress and winemaker Mark Friszolowski). Even though I was quite impressed by the quality of all of the wines we sampled - I had some clear favorites. I'm not known for my love of dry whites...but they are growing on me. I liked the Trio very much - a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Semillion - dry, but light enough for summer sipping. I also enjoyed the Pinnacle - a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon - it had a wonderful, lingering aftertaste. I found the 2005 Merlot to be very good - balanced and silky. I also loved both the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - the latter had a longer finish. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc was also right up my alley with a finish of oak, cocoa powder and sweet chocolate. Childress Vineyards offers one rose wine - Rose of Cabernet Franc. I loved this light wine - completely dry with flavors of strawberries. I also need to mention their 2006 Late Harvest Viognier. I think the Viognier grape makes one of the best late-harvest wines...and this one reminded me of Canadian Ice Wine.
After our tasting we were taken on a tour of the entire facility. I've been on many tours, and the winemaking and bottling areas were the cleanest I have ever seen. We could tell that Childress Vineyards takes great pride in every aspect of the winemaking process. In the back of the building, we were taken out onto the deck with a view of the vineyards. Plenty of seating was available on the deck and the patio. There was live music playing below and many people had already gathered for the entertainment. I found myself wanting to grab a bottle of the Rose of Cabernet and join them for the festivities, but it was our first stop of the day and we still had three more wineries to visit.
We had a fabulous time while visiting Childress Vineyards. This winery certainly has it all - a gorgeous Tuscan-style building, a beautiful tasting room, on-site bistro, state-of-the-art winemaking facility, wonderful outdoor seating with vineyard views, a friendly and knowledgeable staff...and the icing on the cake...their wines are exemplary. We plan to stop by Childress again next time we're in the area so that we can stay awhile longer and enjoy everything they have to offer. Favorites: 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Trio, Rose of Cabernet Franc, Pinnacle and 2005 Merlot.
Flint Hill Vineyards - This charming winery is located on a quiet, country road in East Bend, North Carolina. The tasting room and restaurant (Century Kitchen) are located in a restored farmhouse on land that has been in the owner's family for over 100 years. The family farm has recently become a vineyard and the tasting room opened its doors in 2005. Flint Hill currently offers seven wines - five varietals and two blends.
Flint Hill is such a charming little winery...and their restaurant is outstanding. With so very few dining options in the area, we felt grateful to have made reservations at The Century Kitchen and enjoyed such a wonderful meal served with some excellent North Carolina wine. When visiting the Yadkin Valley Wine Region, be sure to make dining reservations here so that you can enjoy all that Flint Hill Vineyards has to offer. Favorites: 2005 Syrah and 2006 Chambourcin.
Hanover Park Vineyard - Before visiting the area, we hadn't heard much about Hanover Park...but our visit to this Yadkinville winery was an unexpected treat. This warm and inviting family-run winery is situated in a beautiful country setting. The tasting room is housed in a charming 1897 farmhouse that sits at the front of the property. Even though they've been producing wine for less than ten years, they offer a unique variety of 13 different wines sure to please any taster that comes to visit.
As we were walking toward the farmhouse tasting room, I felt like I was visiting an old friend as opposed to a winery. We immediately felt welcome and at-home when we walked in and were greeted by the woman behind the tasting counter. The counter was small (only enough space for 4-5 tasters), but as more customers walked in, our hostess was very good about getting tastings to others throughout the room. Being our last stop of the day, I wasn't sure if I could sample 13 wines, so I picked seven from the list that I thought I might enjoy.
While sampling my third wine, the wonderful aroma of Michael's Blend really caught my attention. It's a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend and I wasn't surprised when they told me it was one of their more popular reds. The last wine I sampled, Vin D'Orange, was truly unique - a dessert wine made from oranges. I'm not sure what the alcohol content is on this one...but it certainly packs a punch.
Though not one of the bigger names on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, Hanover Park Vineyards is a stop well-worth making. Their selection of dry whites, dry reds, semi-sweet, dessert wines and even a Port is enough of a selection to please anyone. Let's not forget that yummy Vin D'Orange too. Everyone will be able to find a wine they like and it's a wonderful place to spend the afternoon sitting outside the tasting room or strolling the vineyard. Favorite: Michael's Blend.
RagApple Lassie Vineyards - You'll find cows, cows, and more cows at this Boonville, North Carolina winery. The owner, a former 4-H member as a child, named the winery after his Grand Champion show calf - RagApple Lassie. Once a dairy farm ...then a tobacco farm....and now a vineyard and winery, our visit to RagApple Lassie was one of the most unique stops we made when visiting the Yadkin Valley wine region.
Walking into the winery itself is not the typical winery experience. The building is entered via a catwalk high above the fermenting tanks. It's impossible not to stop and look around from this high perch. The winery operations are immediately below the catwalk, and from where we stood we could see the tasting room and gift shop in the rear of the building. The tasting room had two smaller tasting counters and the large area also served as a storage facility for cases of bottled wine. Since all the cases feature a cowhide design on them, it added a rather decorative and fun atmosphere to what would otherwise be a warehouse. At the end of the catwalk were stairs leading to the lower level, and we were anxious to get downstairs and sample some wine.
There were only two other samplers in the tasting room, so we approached the first tasting counter where they were. The young lady behind the counter handed us a tasting sheet and we looked over the six wines that we would be sampling. Three of these wines really stood out to me. The first was a surprise to me because it was their Chardonnay. Chardonnay has never been one of my favorite wines, especially when oaked, and RagApple Lassie's Chardonnay is done 100% in oak. I really enjoyed this full-bodied wine and loved the vanilla and spice finish. I also enjoyed their Merlot - medium bodied with a great, smooth finish. My favorite was the First Blush - a blend of Traminette, Marsanne, Semillion and Malbec grapes. It was light and fruity, with floral notes...great for summer sipping.
Even though this winery seems to host many events, we didn't see an outdoor seating area. We did see a large lawn and figured visitors must bring their own seats for special events. It was our last stop of the day and we would have loved to sit somewhere and have a glass before heading to our B&B, but that didn't seem to work out for us. We did make a few purchases (I don't think anyone one can resist the adorable wine drinking cow on the bottles) and headed on our way. Favorite: First Blush.
Round Peak Vineyards - I was so excited as we were driving to this Mt. Airy winery. We had just crossed the Virginia state border entering North Carolina where a new state full of adventures were waiting for us. Our visit to Round Peak was going to be our first sampling at a North Carolina winery. We were so eager as we anticipated a new region full of winery adventures when we entered the Yadkin Valley. We crossed a huge mountain...traveled down a few small country roads...and we finally arrived early on a Saturday morning.
Being that is was 10:00 on a Saturday morning, we were the only brave wine tasters at this early hour. When we arrived, we were the only car in the parking lot, but before we could unfasten our seatbelts another car rapidly pulled in and a woman hurried inside. We realized that we had even beat one of the tasting room employees to work. The lot was partially wooded and though there were plenty of shady spots, we didn't see an outdoor seating area. It was a very pretty setting and the wood building with a red door looked warm and inviting - beckoning us to come in for some wine.
Once inside, we found the tasting room very cozy. The two women behind the counter welcomed us, but asked if we could wait 2 or 3 minutes because they were still setting up. We took this time to look at all the bottles for sale around the tasting room to see what varieties of wine they produced. Most surprising to me was a Niagara...which we don't see very often in the southern states...but mostly in Ohio and New York. Since Niagara is one of Gary's favorite wines, he was disappointed that the bin was empty. It's a different type of wine for the area, and evidently it sold out rather quickly.
After a few minutes we were able to step up to the tasting counter for some sampling. We tasted through most of their wines, but were told very little about them. The employees were friendly enough, but wanted to converse about where we were from and where we were going....I would have liked to hear a little about each wine being poured, especially since we were the only customers there. Before leaving, Gary did purchase a bottle to take home. As I stated before, we didn't see any seating outdoors, and no seating was offered indoors for on-site consumption...so we were glad that this was our first stop of the day. We always like to stay for awhile for a glass at the end of the day.
Shelton Vineyards - Along the lengthy driveway leading to this Dobson, North Carolina winery, markers are placed at the end of each row of vines alerting visitors to the types of grapes being grown. I thought this was a very nice touch...even though I thought the markers sort of resembled tiny tombstones. Once we were at the end of the driveway, we arrived at our destination and a "theme-park" feel took over. Most of the parking was rather far away from the entrance, a band was playing on the lawn and a tractor was parked in front of the winery loading passengers for hayrides through the vineyards. It was Memorial Day weekend and I figured this wasn't typical for the winery.
We trekked up the small hill from our car to the winery and entered the tasting room. There were customers on each side of the entrance talking to employees at registers. On the opposite side of the room, we could see the large tasting counter directly in front of us. We were confused about where to go, so we stood back for a few moments to listen and take things in. I gathered that the employee on the right was ringing up customers that were buying wine to take home, and the employee on the left might have more information for us because I heard her talking about tours. We walked over the lady on the left, and she asked us if we wanted to go on the next tour. We've been to so many wineries, that unless there is something spectacular, we normally don't go on the tour. We told her we only wanted to do some wine tasting. She told us wine tastings started every 15 minutes...so we paid our fee and she gave us two glasses.
We walked over to the tasting counter and stood behind the sign that told us to wait there for the next tasting to begin. Several people gathered behind us as we waited. After a few minutes, one of the girls behind the counter asked if she could help us with something. Confused, I told her we were waiting for the next tasting to begin. She told us that there was space at the counter, so we could go ahead and come up. Shelton Vineyards chooses daily wines for sampling...and we were told about the five wines that we would be tasting that day. I was disappointed because I probably would have only picked one from those five if I were choosing myself. Thankfully, the girl behind the counter told us that since they were not too busy, we could exchange any of the wines on the list for any samples of our choosing. I went over the list and picked myself out two dry reds (Cabernet Franc and Merlot), a blush (Salem Fork Blush) and two whites (Riesling and Madison Lee White). We had already tried the Madison Lee Red - which was offered at the restaurant we had dined at the previous evening and we enjoyed it very much.
My favorite of all that I sampled was the Salem Fork Blush - a non-traditional blush made from Merlot grapes. It had a distinctive taste and was so light and refreshing. I thought it was the perfect wine for a warm weather day. We ended up purchasing a chilled bottle and going outside to enjoy the sunshine. We found a cozy little spot on a rock ledge near a small pond. From there we were able to do some people watching and still listen to the band that was playing...without being too close to the music to talk.
Shelton Vineyards is one of the larger wineries in North Carolina. They offer scheduled tours, tastings, a large gift shop, live musical entertainment and plenty of room to roam. They also have a restaurant and hotel: The Shelton Vineyards own Hampton Inn. Shelton isn't just a winery...but a destination. If you're looking for the total package in a winery experience, you should definitely stop by.
Stony Knoll Vineyards - WOW! Every time I walk into a winery, I hope I will be able to give the "wow" rating when I leave. Even though wine travel has become a side-line profession for me, I do want to have a good time and an experience to remember. I am happy that I was able to give the "wow" rating to this smaller family-owned winery in Dobson. Smaller wineries are great for personal service...but often they don't have the resources to provide an all-around experience. But, sometimes things just come together to make for a wonderfully enjoyable experience - and that's what happened for me at Stony Knoll Vineyards.
Stony Knoll is located in a peaceful, rural setting and their lovely tasting room sits high on a hill overlooking the vineyards below. Inside, the tasting room is quite spacious and offers comfortable indoor seating and a large tasting counter. One of the things I really liked about their tasting counter was that it had hooks underneath for hanging purses, umbrellas and anything else one might have carried in. Since I didn't have to plop my purse on the tasting counter or keep it on my shoulder (it's really heavy when I travel) it made for a nice tasting experience...I thought it was a nice touch.
One young lady was working behind the tasting counter - and there were approximately ten tasters. I was very impressed with the way she made everyone feel comfortable - regardless of their wine-tasting experience. She was also very good at working the entire counter making sure everyone's needs were met. Four of their wines really stood out to me including the 2006 Viognier (a crisp wine with a bit of a lingering banana taste), the 2005 Chambourcin (North Carolina certainly produces some great Chambourcin, and this one is no exception), the 2004 Cabernet Franc (a medium-bodied dry with a port-like nose), and the 2005 Syrah (dry and extra smooth).
Before the tasting, I had noticed what a beautiful vineyard view there was from the tasting room. It was such a pretty day, so I decided to get a glass of wine and go outside to take advantage of the gorgeous surroundings. It was very warm outside, so I opted for a glass of the 2005 Ardella Blanc - a sweeter white wine that was served chilled and perfect for the weather. I went outside, found a nice table and relaxed while I watched someone working in the vineyard below.
I had an absolutely wonderful experience at Stony Knoll Vineyards. It's a smaller winery, so you still get that personal touch...as well as exceptional wine, a gorgeous tasting room and a beautiful view. It's everything you want from a winery all rolled into one experience. Favorite: 2005 Syrah.
Westbend Vineyards - Located on a lovely piece of property in Lewisville is the exceptional Westbend Vineyards. Their name comes from the fact that the Yadkin River takes a bend to the west in the area. The winery touts 60 acres of vinifera vineyards and the wines here have received rave reviews from Robert Parker. He refers to Westbend as "One of the South's best kept secrets". I was anxious to arrive, check out the winery and taste the wines for myself.
When I first arrived in the parking lot, I noticed a couple carrying a cooler towards the winery...then I saw another couple carrying one back to the parking lot. As I got a bit closer, I realized why. Westbend has an absolutely gorgeous outdoor patio - beautifully landscaped and with plenty of seating. Visitors were taking advantage of the patio area with bottles of chilled wine and a picnic lunch they had brought from home - hence the coolers. It was so pretty I wished I could stay and enjoy the patio myself...but I knew we were still too far away from the B&B to do more than a simple tasting.
Once inside the tasting room, I paused for a few minutes to look around. The cash register was right inside the door, all the bottles of wine for sale were displayed in the center of the room, and the tasting counter was on the opposite side. I have to say that I was expecting the interior to be a little "grander". The outside of the building is so lovely and the patio area is so beautifully landscaped...I thought the inside of the tasting room was a little plain. This is probably the only area where they could possibly make an improvement.
At the tasting counter,
our hostess for the occasion was Pat. She was a very friendly woman who
seemed to know a great deal about the wines she was pouring. I looked
over the tasting sheet and picked out several wines to sample. Of those
I sampled, I very much enjoyed the Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Chambourcin....and for those liking something a little
sweeter, the semi-sweet Lucky Lucci was also very tasty.