Friday, September 18, 2020

FireClay Cellars: North Carolina Winery Visit

FireClay Cellars VineyardsNorth Carolina wineries have reopened, providing a delicious diversion.

Fire Alarm

This is an odd location for a winery, I thought to myself as I pulled into a parking lot in downtown Siler City. To my left were the city’s police cruisers and to the right a shiny fire engine.

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“Are you certain this is the right address?” I asked the Green Dragon. My wife doublechecked her phone. Oops! She had use voice recognition to set our coordinates and instead of heading us to FireClay Cellars in Siler City, we ended up at the Siler City Fire Department!

We speedily turned around and zipped back down the highway. Soon we were surrounded by vines and eased our SUV into a parking spot at FireClay. Our friends Arthur and Mary Barham and Natalie and Kyle Hampton were already on the front porch with filled wine glasses.

Andrei Mitran, FireClay Co-OwnerRocking The Porch

In the days of COVID, you are left guessing when visiting a restaurant, store or winery. Will there be a lot of people? Is there enough space? Is everything safe?

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At FireClay Cellars, any pandemic anxiety quickly dissipated. The inside of the tasting room is spacious, with a soaring ceiling and plenty of room for social distancing. There are a number of tables out on the deck with a great view of the vines. We staked out the front porch, which not only offered a sturdy roof (it was a rainy day) but comfy rocking chairs.

The days of squeezing in, elbow to elbow, at the tasting bar are over for the time being. Instead many wineries are offering flights, which minimizes face-to-face interactions and the handling of wine glasses. At FireClay, you can get a flight of four wines for $8 or a glass of white or red for $7 and $8 respectively.

Wide-Ranging Wine

We were greeted by co-owners Andrei Mitran and his wife Sue. Their son Erick is the winemaker as well as being a co-owner with another couple, Steve and Bonnie Thiedke. The winery grows an interesting mix of vinifera grapes and hybrids, which are well suited to the North Carolina climate. The wines on the tasting list include those made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat. Hybrid grapes include Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, and Chardonel.

FireClay Cellars 1Andrei says that FireClay wants to eliminate “chemical warfare” by minimizing the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. That means using sustainable farming practices and also planting varieties that do best in the unique red clay soils of the vineyard. A good case in point is Chardonel, which is a hardy hybrid grape that derives from Chardonnay. We tasted two versions, a 2019 Chardonel with pleasing green apple notes, and an oaked Chardonel, which could easily pass as a Chardonnay. The wine is aged in a combination of French and Austrian barrels.

Tasting Notes:

  • 2018 White Blend – Made with Chardonel, Seyval Blanc, and Traminette, this is a zippy, dry white wine.
  • 2019 Rosé – This was a refreshing glass, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat. For $19, this is the equal of just about any domestic rosé you can find.
  • 2016 Red Blend – My favorite taste of the day! A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tannat and Chambourcin. The Chambourcin gives it a nice twist. This is fresh and fruity. SRP $20.
  • 2016 Chambourcin – We love this grape, which produces wine with a lovely raspberry flavor. It gains complexity from 18 months in French oak barrels.

FireClay Cellars Reserve And Beyond

As if these wines weren’t enough, Andrei provided a taste of FireClay’s yet-to-be-released Reserve Red. This is a robust red that benefits from the inclusion of Tannat, a highly tannic grape. Our band of wine tasters loved this wine. It’s not ready yet for release, but when it is, we’ll certainly need to pick up a bottle or two. There are layers of flavor building that will be delightful with time.

There are other exciting developments at FireClay. They have planted Crimson Cabernet vines becoming, as far as is known, the first in the state to grow this unusual grape. Crimson is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Norton. Norton is a native American grape known for hardy vines. Paired together with Cabernet Sauvignon, you get vines that are disease-resistant and produce flavorful grapes. This could result in some exceptional wines.

White grapes aren’t forgotten either. While 50% of new vines are Crimson Cabernet, the other 50% are Cabernet Doré, a white grape with lineage that includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Norton (yes, two reds can make a white). The grape produces golden yellow wine with tropical notes. This is a rare variety and this is believed to be the first planting in the state.

FireClay Cellars is just a 45-minute drive from Raleigh and offers a great assortment of wines and plentiful hospitality. Be sure to visit soon (just check that your navigation isn’t set for the fire department)!

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