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Three Cheers for North Carolina’s Wine Country

Watch out Napa Valley: North Carolina is home to numerous firsts in the wine industry

North Carolina’s wine country may not be as well known as California’s, but it’s just as impressive. The state has more than 400 vineyards and 185 wineries; it’s all centered around the Yadkin Valley, less than two hours from Charlotte, which is often referred to as the “Napa of the East.”

When captains Philip Amadus and Arthur Barlowe led Sir Walter Raleigh’s first expedition to the New World in 1584, they discovered an island “so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the seas overflowed them.” Today, Roanoke Island’s Mothervine is regarded as the oldest cultivated grape vine in America, and more than 20 varieties of muscadine are made from this vine.

The valley’s contribution to the industry was so vast that in 2003 it became North Carolina’s first federally approved American Viticultural Area—it encompasses more than 1.4 million acres and three dozen vineyards. The 6,200-person strong Elkin is considered the soul of the wine-making industry here, and it’s the starting point for a handful of Yadkin Valley wine trails.

Cabernet grapes Yadkin Valley
Cabernet grapes are among the many varieties grown in the Yadkin Valley. (©Bill Russ/Visit NC)

Destination winery Elkin Creek Vineyard sits on the site of a historic grist mill that was built in 1896. Its four rustic-chic cabins offer creekside accommodations and offer all the modern conveniences of home, with a waterfall and vineyards as its backdrop. Its kitchen, currently available only for special events, was named by Southern Living magazine as “the best in the valley.”

Former NASCAR driver Richard Childress’ Childress Vineyards is the headliner among the four wineries on the Southern Gateway Wine Trail. Within an hour’s drive of Charlotte, the Southern trail takes you through 15 miles of Lexington’s barbecue country. On its 72 acres, Childress Vineyards makes a broad range of white and red wines from its 11 varieties of European vines; since it opened in 2004 the winery has won more than 750 medals in competitions from New York to California.

Other notable wineries on this trail include Junius Lindsay Vineyard, which has the state’s only open-air tasting room and Native Vines Winery, the first American Indian-owned-and-operated winery in the United States. 

The Swan Creek Wine Trail is also 60 minutes from Charlotte and features six wineries within close proximity to each other at the foothills of the Brushy and Blue Ridge mountains. Because of its rocky, mineral-rich soil, vinifera wine grapes thrive here, and the growing season is longer due to its higher elevation.

Raffaldini Vineyards Yadkin Valley
Raffaldini Vineyards sits on the land where poet Virgil spent his youth. (©Bill Russ/Visit NC)

The poet Virgil has long influenced the practices of Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. For centuries, the family has owned and lived on the farm in Italy where Virgil lived in his youth. Its founding principles are thus guided by his philosophies: that a harmonious relationship to the land is key to producing outstanding wines.

Raffaldini’s commitment to these agrarian principles has created a space for wildlife to thrive—it’s home to an official Certified Wildlife Habitat with birds, butterflies and frogs.

The Yadkin River Wine Trail takes you to five wineries along one of the longest rivers in North Carolina. Wine growers here were the first to cultivate the Scuppernong, a Native American grape variety which produces sweet wine. At an hour and a half from Charlotte, the miniature horses, organic vegetable farm and an historic Century Family Farm make this a delightful day trip.

Soak in nature and get a unique perspective of the wines at the aptly named Treehouse Vineyards. Three treehouse rentals are available, but the newest, Horsefeathers Hideaway, is nestled in the woods next to a running creek with bird’s-eye views of the vineyards.

Venture a little further to live it up like a Vanderbilt at the Biltmore Winery in Ashville—located on the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, it’s considered to be one of America’s most-visited wineries.

Silver Coast Winery
Friends enjoy a glass of wine at the Silver Coast Winery. (©NC Brunswick Islands)

And those who wish to pair their wines with a dreamy, beachside destination will find Silver Coast Winery a relaxing experience. Ocean Isle Beach is home to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands’ first winery; wines here are modeled after traditional European styles, but a number of the winery’s signature selections are made from hybrid grapes. Its labels features works of art from local Brunswick Islands artists.