Saturday, December 18, 2021

Exploring The Wine, Food, And Wonders Of Hendersonville, North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina have an abundance of natural beauty, wine, and dining.

When our planned trip to visit family in Ohio got COVID-canceled, we had to do some quick juggling of plans. We had already arranged for a dog sitter, not an easy feat, so we decided we’d travel elsewhere. Our first thought was a trip to Washington, DC. However, with the uncertainty of whether museums and when museums would be opened, we charted a course for the western part of our home state. Here’s what we discovered…

High Mountain Wineries

We were able to visit four wineries in the Hendersonville-Flat Rock area. Most of our North Carolina wine adventures have been in Yadkin Valley or even closer to our Raleigh stomping grounds, so we really anticipated the opportunity to see when wineries in this scenic area. Point Lookout Vineyards, Marked Tree Vineyard, and Stone Ashe Vineyard are all in the Crest of the Blue Ridge AVA, while Parker-Binns Vineyard & Winery is located in the Tryon Foothills. Each has a spectacular setting near the Eastern Continental Divide.

Parker-Binns Vineyard & Winery, 2275 Whiteside Road, Mill Spring, NC

We arrived at Parker-Binns on a chilly and wet afternoon, so we didn’t have the chance to fully enjoy the beautiful grounds and outdoor seating area at the winery. As we say, it’s always sunny in the tasting room and found great hospitality and super wine inside.

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Parker-Binns is a multi-generational winery founded in 2007. Their focus is growing traditional European grapes and they offer a wide selection of estate wines. They are also well known for The Burger Barn, their onsite kitchen. The burgers will have to wait until our next trip, but we got our share of liquid refreshment as we enjoyed their wine tasting ($15 pp).

I was impressed with the 2020 Reserve Chardonnay which has a deft touch of oak and sur lie aging. It has a creaminess thanks to malolactic fermentation with nice vanilla and coconut components. Petit Manseng is a white grape really gaining traction in North Carolina, and Parker-Binns offers a great one, with intense flavors of apple, tropical fruit, and brioche. We took home a bottle of 2019 Pea Ridge Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

Point Lookout Vineyards, 408 Appleola Road, Hendersonville, NC

This winery gets our vote for most dramatic setting for a North Carolina winery. Its slogan is 30-mile views and even longer memories. The vineyard and tasting room are on top of the southeast slope of Point Lookout Mountain. We find that grapes grown in mountain vineyards have an extra level of intensity and complexity, and that certainly is the case here.

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Point Lookout has a beautiful lodge-style tasting room and banquet facility, but honestly, the prize seating area is outside gazing at the panoramic view of the mountains. Point Lookout has expanded beyond wine to include World’s Edge Meadery. The cost of a tasting is $12 for five wines and one mead (or five meads and one wine).

The property has been in owner Mike Jackson’s family for three generations. He piloted the transition from apple growing to grapes, with vineyards planted in 2008. The tasting room opened in 2018. There’s a lot to like here, in particular, we were taken by the 2019 Riesling with pretty floral notes and the 2018 Bliss Cabernet Franc, which offers cranberry notes, smooth texture, and a long finish. This is a premier destination wedding venue.

Marked Tree Vineyard, 623 Deep Gap Road, Flat Rock, NC

This upscale winery located on the Eastern Continental Divide with views of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Tryon opened in 2020. The stylish tasting room has floor-to-ceiling windows and the winery features some prime sitting areas outside, furnished with Adirondack chairs and an assortment of tables. The view of the hills and the vineyard is relaxing and inspiring.

Marked Tree is a premium experience, so you should plan on making reservations for your tasting. Unfortunately, picnicking isn’t allowed and there is an upcharge for bringing in outside food. Offsetting that, there is a wide choice of really cool food trays including smoked salmon, hummus, and pimento cheese.

The wines are some of the best we’ve had in North Carolina. From our perch outside in our armchairs, we thoroughly enjoyed the tasting ($15) flight. Highlights include the peppery Lemberger and the rich and rocking 2018 Petit Verdot. On the white side, the Chardonel was crisp with a touch of honeysuckle. The sparkling Vidal Blanc added a festive flair to our gorgeous day tasting.

Stone Ashe Vineyard & Winery, 736 Green Mountain Road, Hendersonville, NC

Stone Ashe was our last winery stop of the day, the sun was dropping below the mountains, and the temperatures began to dip. We circled a heating tower on the patio and ordered a tasting flight ($15 for five or $18 for six). According to owner Craig Little, he and his wife Tina sought hillside vines in order to focus on Bordeaux grape varieties. The terrain is similar to the Graves region of Bordeaux.

The winery is brand new (opening in 2020) with a stylish tasting room and inspirational views. The Cab Franc Rose and Sauvignon Blanc are tasty, but where Stone Ashe truly over-delivers is on its elegant reds. The 2018 Petit Verdot is a good example of why this grape is taking center stage in North Carolina.

This is the first in-state winery I’ve seen where they have both Right-Bank and Left-Bank style Bordeaux blends. The 2019 Davenport is a Merlot-driven blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc. Our favorite was the 2019 Coppedge Hill, the Cabernet-led (Left Bank) blend with Petit Verdot. This is a deliciously dark wine with deep cherry and chocolate notes.

Hendersonville - Flat Rock Restaurants

I visited Hendersonville once before, for the USTA state tennis tournament. After our matches, we stopped in town for dinner. I was impressed by the beautiful downtown and the abundance of eateries and bars. That really gave me the spark to return and this time we had a chance to enjoy three highly recommended restaurants.

Never Blue, 119 S Main St, Hendersonville, NC

Never Blue is a crazy creative tapas restaurant on Main Street. After hunting for and finally finding some street parking, we enjoyed one of the best dining experiences we’ve had since COVID reared its head. We have mostly been dining outdoors, but in Never Blue, we felt comfortable in the high-ceilinged area off the main dining room. Plenty of elbow room and social distancing.

Our dishes were prepared to perfection: 1) Malbec-brown sugar roasted red beets, chardonnay-ginger pickled golden beets, goat cheese mousse, Marcona almonds, balsamic gastrique, 2) Hand-made, colossal 5 cheese ravioli, smoky chipotle asiago cream sauce, baby spinach served with garlic toast, and 3) Lamb Kofta: Zah'taar spiced, house-ground lamb patties, warm pita, baby greens, feta cheese, champagne pickled onions, house-made dill-mint garlic toum sauce, spiced curry mustard, and house-made lemon garlic hummus. Each sauce and each bite was a masterpiece. Our wines were Prosecco, Sauvignon/Semillon, and Petite Sirah.

Beautifully presented food with an intriguing wine list make this a new favorite for us.

Shine, 202 N Main Street, Hendersonville, NC

Shine is a creative American bistro right in downtown Hendersonville. The décor and friendliness of the staff really do shine, just perfect on the chilly night we stopped.

There's a warm laid-back ambiance and a cool bar scene. The service is outstanding and the food is beautifully crafted. I opted for the short ribs, but they were sold out. I recalibrated to a cup of chili and a savory, comforting French Dip sandwich. My wife got the delectable Mahi Mahi with some Pinot Gris. Shine also provides excellent craft cocktails and rooftop dining is available.

Honey & Salt, 2730 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, NC

Honey & Salt is located in the Rainbow Row in Flat Rock, a grouping of restaurants and shops a short, scenic ride from Hendersonville. It serves up locally sourced and organically-grown farm-to-table breakfast and lunch dishes.

This restaurant has a small dining room and is popular with locals and tourists alike. There is locally-ground coffee and fresh-baked goods. We stopped for breakfast and loved the vibe and the vittles. The cheddar grits were amazing and the French toast and hash cake filling.

Outdoor Adventures

Cruising around Hendersonville and environs, you are swept up by the natural beauty all around. Two top picks are Chimney Rock State Park and the Park at Flat Rock.

Flat Rock Park, 55 Highland Golf Drive, Flat Rock, NC

This park was a delightful find as we did a windshield tour of the area. the 66-acre park has a flat, open green space and a 1.3 mile perimeter trail that you can walk or run. The park is wonderfully developed with a variety of trails, a picnic pavilion and two playgrounds. We really enjoyed “the Quiet Place,” a small shelter near the wetlands area, a great place to chill and reflect. There is also an open-air nature center with plenty of info on the animals, plants, and history of the area.

Chimney Rock State Park, 431 Main Street, Chimney Rock, NC

The tiny village of Chimney Rock, with its shops, cafes and even a winery tasting room, is the gateway to even more fun. Chimney Rock State Park is a paradise of spectacular views and incredible hiking trails. The main attraction is Chimney Rock, a 315-foot towering rock formation that is 535 million-years-old. From its peak you can see 75-mile views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.

You can hike to the top or, as we did, you can take a state-of-the-art elevator inside the rock up 21 stories to Chimney Rock. The view from the windy rock is awe-inspiring. We climbed even higher, to the Opera Box overlook in order to snap an iconic photo of Chimney Rock with Lake Lure in the background. There are trails for all levels of fitness, so don’t hold back.

We hiked down the 200-plus stairs and then marched to Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot waterfall that was featured in the movie, “The Last of the Mohicans.” After our day of hiking and climbing, we truly had earned a few glasses of wine. Don’t miss this landmark!

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