Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Celebrating NC Wine Month With Raffaldini 2015 Grande Riserva

Raffaldini 2015 Grande RiservaMay is now North Carolina Wine Month. There’s a lot to celebrate – here’s why…

Drink NC Wine

There are several good reasons why you should be drinking North Carolina wine now. Especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, NC wine is a tasty treat that can elevate your day and make it something special. Not only that, but this is North Carolina Wine Month – a time to celebrate the fruits of the vine in the Tar Heel State. Your support is more important than ever as local wineries face daunting financial challenges.

Last week we participated in Open That Bottle of North Carolina Wine Night – NC Wine Month Edition with the NC Wine Guys. The event took place on Zoom and was live-streamed on Facebook Live. It was a splendid chance to hear from North Carolina winemakers and an industry representative as well as taste some great NC wine with other wine influencers.

NC Wine Month ZoomWine Is Big Business In North Carolina

Tourism is big in North Carolina, but people aren’t just coming to visit the mountains, rivers and beaches. The most recent industry figures estimate the number of tourists coming to visit NC wineries at more than 1.9 million. They’re spending money too, with $319 million spent in 2016.

There’s plenty to see and experience. There are more than 400 vineyards and 200 wineries in the state. It’s a big business with $375 million spent in wine-related wages, according to the latest figures. All that is at risk right now, a result of the travel and business restrictions during the current worldwide health crisis.

Why Your Help Is Needed Now

According to Whit Winslow, executive director of the NC Wine and Grape Council, winery sales have dropped more than 80% as customers and tourists have restricted travel under stay-at-home orders. A large percentage of NC wineries depend on tasting room sales – and those tasting rooms are currently closed. Even the wineries with wholesale distribution are feeling the bite as restaurants remain shuttered or are limited to take-out.

Wineries have been creative in dealing with this unprecedented situation. More than 90% of state wineries are offering some sort of reduced pricing, 80% have curbside pickup and 70% have special direct-to-consumer deals. Even so, wineries and wine lovers are itching for the reopening – safely – of wineries and tasting rooms.

Raffaldini In DecanterWhen Will NC Wineries Reopen?

Winslow says the reopening date in uncertain, but appears to be at least a month away. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order expires May 8 and he is hopeful that the state can begin a cautious reopening thereafter. All the metrics need to be pointing in the right direction, however.

Phase I of the reopening will look much the same as the current state of affairs, except more businesses can open with reduced capacity and other restrictions. Phase II might follow two or three weeks later. That’s when winery tasting rooms could reopen, but the capacity of tasting rooms will be limited and social distancing spacing will be in force. The specifics of these requirements have yet to be defined.

Some normalcy, albeit a “new normal,” will return under Phase III. Wineries are intently focused on this phase because it might mean that festivals and special events will return. The ups and downs of the coronavirus tragedy shows that nothing is certain about how and when Phase III will take place.

Vintage Of The Decade

There’s never a good time for a lockdown, but this restriction is happening during what many NC winemakers and grape growers consider the vintage of the decade. Winemaker Jeff Frisbee of Addison Farm Vineyard says wine lovers should try to collect 2019 vintage wines from as many NC wineries as they can – the growing year was that good.

For our wine discussion, I reached back to the 2015 vintage with Raffaldini Vineyards Grande Riserva. Due to the price tag ($55 for the 2017 vintage), we were unable to taste this wine in the tasting room during our last visit. So, untasted, we purchased a bottle and laid it down. The wait was worth it.

Raffaldini, a destination winery in the Swan Creek AVA in Yadkin Valley, has a tagline of “Chianti in the Carolinas.” Their focus is on Italian varieties and the Grande Riserva is a bold blend of 44% Montepulciano, 34% Petit Verdot and 22% Sagrantino. This is a big wine with 16.2% ABV.

The wine is lush with deep, raisinated berry flavors and savory sour cherry. It’s an expansive wine, requires decanting and evolves in the glass.

So too the situation with NC wineries is evolving. The NC Wine Guys have compiled a database of NC wineries, meaderies and cider producers showing their current status (discounts, curbside pickups, online shopping) during the COVID-19 crisis.

We hope to see you at an NC tasting room soon, but in the meanwhile, celebrate NC Wine Month by buying a bottle or case. Your support will help ensure that your favorite local winery will be there after the pandemic is over.

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