McRitchie is not only gaining national attention for its wine, but this Yadkin Valley producer also is a pioneer in North Carolina cider.
A North Carolina Harvest
With the winemaking pedigree of Sean McRitchie, and his business location in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, you’d assume that he is all about the wine. That, however, is only half the story.
Sean’s father was a winemaker and Sean began working in vineyards and wineries in the Willamette Valley. His skills and experience were honed at wineries in some of the world’s top wine regions: Alsace, Napa Valley and Australia. He and wife Patricia moved to North Carolina where he helped establish the Shelton winery and vineyard.
After years of growing grapes and making wine for others, the couple planted its first vines in 2004 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The doors of the McRitchie winery opened in 2006. During the recent North Carolina Wine Bloggers Summit, we had the opportunity to visit the McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks tasting room and get a behind the scenes look at the operation.
Along Came A Cider
Apples grow well in North Carolina, where more than 4 million bushels are produced annually. Soon Sean and Patricia noticed an unfilled niche for cider. McRitchie then began producing cider, becoming the first hard cider producer in the state.
“You turn the apples into pulp,” explains McRitchie. “Once you have the juice, it’s just like making white wine. Cider is fun.”
He points out that the ciderworks doesn’t get “too crazy” with its cider. The main ciders are a dry and a semi-sweet (1.5% residual sugar), each is lightly carbonated. Both are made with North Carolina heritage apples.
First-time visitors to Yadkin Valley are surprised to learn that North Carolina produces a full range of wines, from deliciously sweet to bone dry. McRitchie focuses on European-style estate wines with a dry finish – that’s something that suits our palates perfectly.
A number of years ago Sean replaced the Chardonnay vines with Traminette, a French hybrid grape that is more suited to the hot and humid climate. The 2016 Fallingwater White is a dry Traminette blend with crisp acidity and floral notes. Also on our tasting list was the 2016 Muscat Blanc, an outstanding wine with orange blossom and lemon flavors.
The 2017 Petit Manseng Petillant Naturel sparkling wine was a rare treat. This wine is produced using the Ancestral Method, an ancient way of creating sparkling wine by bottling before fermentation is complete. The pet-nat is gloriously cloudy with sediment and a yeasty flavor. This is a bottle that would delight the most jaded wine lover!
We explored the reds via the 2013 and 2014 vintages of Ring of Fire Red. The 2013 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This is an outstanding wine with great balance and a good backbone of tannin. The formula was flipped in 2014 with the blend being Merlot and Sangiovese. It is more fruit forward although closed on the nose.
The wine and cider is reasonably priced, ranging from $14 to $26. The tasting fee is $7 for four wines and two ciders. The tasting room is comfortable and the staff friendly.
The grounds include great outdoor seating areas and are perfect for families with children and/or pets. You may not want to leave! McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks is a great destination for your next North Carolina Wine Country visit.