Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Following the Surry County Wine Trail Yields Top North Carolina Wine Discoveries

North Carolina Is becoming a favorite destination for wine and culinary experiences. Join us as our travels explore Yadkin Valley and the outstanding wineries of the Surry County Wine Trail.

Round Peak Vineyards, Mt. Airy

Round Peak Vineyards is the northernmost winery in Yadkin Valley, North Carolina’s acclaimed wine country. Round Peak also holds another distinction as the first winery we visited in North Carolina.

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We were scouting to find a new home and Round Peak was close to the interstate as we travelled to Raleigh. As we walked through the doors, we thought, “If all the wineries in the state are like this, it will be fantastic.” Panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains added to the experience.

Owners Ken Gulaian and Kari Heerdt strive to make the winery a relaxing retreat. Indeed, sitting on the covered porch and looking out at the manicured vines is quite a peaceful experience. It’s certainly a change for the couple, who were introduced to California wine country while working jobs in the Bay area. The pair bought the winery just off Interstate 77 west of Mount Airy in 2008.

Today the winery produces estate wine from 12 acres of grapes and 13 grape varieties. Ken, led us through a tasting starting with the surprising Sparkling Elderflower wine. Eight hundred elderberry flowers were harvested from the vineyard, making the perfect summer quencher. It is a blend of 40% elderflower and 60% Vidal Blanc.

Round Peak produces Vidal Blanc in three styles: dry, sweet, and sparkling. La Petite Vendange (little harvest) is the dry version and is crisp and fruity with luscious pear notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a challenge for any North Carolina winery, so Round Peak focuses elsewhere. Ken is known for his Nebbiolo, an Italian grape that is grown by only one other winery in the state. The 2013 vintage is a tasteful experience, with leather, tar, sour cherry, and licorice notes. It is his signature wine.

Round Peak does small lots of wine, often in the 28 to 75-case range. Changes are afoot in the vineyard. Coming soon will be the first harvest of Petit Manseng and Chardonel, a hybrid with Chardonnay attributes, which will be planted this year.

After tasting the Petit Verdot and a robust Merlot, we closed with the 2019 Tannat. Tannat is the national grape of Uruguay but has soared in popularity in the Tar Heel State. The Round Peak Tannat is intense, with dark fruit flavors, pepper, and plentiful tannins.

Round Peak has something for everyone. In addition to the wide range of wines, it is also home to Skull Camp Brewery (with a tasting room in Elkin too). There are two cabins overlooking the vines, plus a one-of-a-kind disc golf course going through the vineyard featuring baskets constructed from retired barrels and recycled bicycle wheels.

Wally’s Service Station and Mayberry Squad Car Tour, Mt. Airy

Fans of the Andy Griffith Show may know Mt. Airy, Griffith’s childhood home, as the inspiration for TV’s town of Mayberry. Mt. Airy fully embraced it with the Andy Griffith Museum, Floyd’s Barbershop, Aunt Bea’s restaurant, and Snappy Lunch. Griffith’s grade school is now the Andy Griffith Playhouse. His childhood home is an attraction that’s available for nightly rentals.

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Wally’s Service Station is a popular attraction, an original service station built in 1937 and operated as a Gulf Station and then later as a Standard Oil Station or Esso. It has old-fashioned candy, bottled drinks, and a wonderful variety of unique gifts and souvenirs.

Nearby are the Mayberry Courthouse and Otis' Jail Cell and other replicas of the set of the show. The big attraction is the Squad Car Tour. The cost is $50 per car-load (we had three) and the tour with our knowledgeable guide was fun and memorable. He covered highlights of Mt. Airy (incorporated in 1885) and Andy Griffith as we tooled around in a vintage 1965 Ford Galaxie.

A surprise highlight was a mammoth granite quarry located east of town. It is the world’s largest open-faced granite quarry and produces what many consider the purest, densest, and most white granite available. The site covers 60 acres and has enough granite for at least another 500 years.

Stony Knoll Vineyards, Dobson

Stony Knoll Vineyards has a family history that is six generations long. It didn’t begin with the fine wine and grapes produced today, but rather in 1896 when Joseph Coe purchased a tract of land in Surry County. In the 1940s the land was cleared with hand tools and cultivation began. The cash crop then was tobacco and remained so until the late 1980s when a switch was made to hay and cattle.

In the late 1990s, Van Coe had a vision of changing to a new crop to preserve the family farm and way of life. Grapes were planted in 2001 and the tasting room opened in 2004. Today Stony Knoll grows nine grape varieties on 10 acres.

When Van decided to step back from running the day-to-day operation, son-in-law Jonah Hoosier stepped in to keep the family-led operation rolling. He certainly has the touch. The 2022 Viognier grabbed the 2023 NC Fine Wines Best in Show and Double Gold.

“Viognier is a finicky grape,” said Hoosier. “There was a lot of uncertainty about the vintage. In the 2021 season, there was frost damage causing some vines to be replaced. In 2022 there were heavy rains in July and August, threatening to disrupt the timing of harvest. The results were unexpectedly good. The wine has a soft aroma of floral notes. On the palate, it has delicious light pear, grapefruit, and honeysuckle – an all-around winner!

The portfolio of reds includes some tasty selections. The 2018 Cabernet Franc flows with black cherry and chocolate flavors. This medium-bodied wine finishes with velvety tannins.

A special treat for red wine lovers is the Master Exquisite Black Oak Stick reserve line which includes Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Bordeaux-style blend. The Black Oak moniker came about when an oak stave was found floating in the wine barrel. The flavor was distinctive so the practice has continued.

The 2014 MEBOS Cabernet BVC Parts is an equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. This notable wine has a silky mouthfeel and integrated tannins. There are rich fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla.

Stony Knoll has Old World winemaking and hospitality. Soon you can expect to see wines from Corot Noir and Arandelle vines planted in 2020.

JOLO Winery and Vineyards, Pilot Mountain

Nestled in the shadows of North Carolina’s iconic Pilot Mountain stands another landmark. JOLO Winery has established itself as one of North Carolina’s premier wineries – and one that is garnering national acclaim.

At this year’s Rosé Competition, judges selected 2022 JOLO Pink as the best of show, outshining more than 150 other wines. Judge Sunny Fraser remarked, “When a wine from North Carolina is the Best in Show, it is reminiscent of a Judgment of Paris moment.  There are no preconceived ideas in a blind tasting; you’re just judging what’s in the glass.”

JOLO Pink is primarily Chambourcin, with smaller amounts of Vidal Blanc, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Traminette.  It has lip-smacking flavors of strawberry candy and watermelon. This is a perfect match for goat cheese.

The allure of JOLO is readily apparent. The estate showcases the natural beauty of the foothills with stunning views of Pilot Mountain. JOLO has wonderful grounds and a tasting lodge to tickle the fancy of any wine lover. The estate is a wine and food experience, with on-site restaurant End Posts being one of Winston-Salem’s top-rated Open Table dining establishments.

The wines range from refreshing, fruit-forward whites to powerful, award-winning reds. JOLO also stands out from many wineries for its use of French hybrids and lesser-known grapes. Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, and Traminette are featured alongside better-known Bordeaux varieties. JOLO also features Cynthiana (also known as Norton) prominently. It is used in one of my favorite wines, Pilot Fog.

JOLOTAGE is the winery’s most famed wine. The 2022 vintage blends 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.5% Chambourcin, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10.5% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Aged in French and American oak, it has a smooth and mellow body with fine tannins and blueberry and vanilla notes. It’s a bargain at $42.

JOLOTAGE Reserve is a blend of the 2020 and 2021 vintages, which receive extended aging. There are more extracted flavors with dark fruit flavors of blackberry and pie crust.

There are plenty of high-end bottles to explore with Pilot Shadow, Cuvee Selection, Carolus XII, and Devil’s Hill.

A wonderland for wine lovers, JOLO should be in your plans for your next trip. Its wines are also available online in 38 states.

Yadkin Valley and the Surry County Wine Trail offer friendly people, picturesque scenery, and wine that is elevating North Carolina’s reputation nationwide. To read the first part of this article, click here.

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