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Yapa - Are North Carolina wines any good?

On ABC World News there was a report that North Carolina tobacco farmers are starting to plant wine grapes. ABC said "North Carolina's wines are winning awards domestically and holding their own against the world's best."

So what are respected North Carolina wines?

The report only mentioned Boonville's RagApple Lassie Vineyards owned by Frank and Lenna Hobson who christened the wine-growing Yadkin Valley, "Yapa".

Boonville. That would be where they make ... nah.

The ABC World News report

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  1. I haven't had that many -- Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Chatham Hill and, of course, some sparkling wine from the Biltmore Estate. Think of California in the 1950s and you might have a close approximation. If you aren't old enough to recall wines that old when they were young, think of Chile in the 1970s, or perhaps Eastern Europe.

    In other words, although North Carolina claims to be 12th in total U.S. wine production, don't forget that California (which is, obviously #1) makes approximately 90 percent of all wine inthe U.S. Twelfth sounds a lot more impressive than it is.

    1. RW... all I can say is, I hope they are better than Illinois wines.

      1. Childress wines from the Yadkin valley are worth a try. One think to note about the Biltmore Estate wines, a lot of the grapes they use are grown in California.

        1. Biltmore makes a few decent wines, but I haven't had any others that are worth much.

          1. Ooh, one of my favorite new obsessions... There are plenty of good NC wines, especially from the Yadkin Valley. (Yadkin Valley is currently our only certified appelation.) RagApple Lassie is one of my personal favorites, although for consistency and variety I'd say West Bend is the best (it's also one of the oldest, old being around 20-30 yrs here). I also recommend Raffaldini, and Buck Shoals Vineyards has several good lighter table reds. In general, Viogner and Sangiovese do well here and you'll see a lot of those, as well as the usual Chardonnay, Merlot, Cab, etc.

            I wasn't terribly impressed with Childress, but he's pretty new and has a lot of money to throw at it, so give it 5 years. Biltmore has a lot of cheap swill but some decent estate-grown wines. They sell an awful lot of wine, and it can't all be good. And yes, they do ship grapes from California.

            1. Almost entirely swill. All the Biltmore wines grown at the state are crap. They do produce a drinkable "American" Cab, but its insanely expensive for the quality produced.

              The Grove Park Inn just released a very solid cab and excellent chard, but they are available only through the restaurants there and are Sonoma ava. The climate just isn't right for any grapes aside from a few native american ones, which are not known to produce fine wines.

              3 Replies
              1. re: SixMileDrive

                I'm ressurecting this thread because....

                My brother went on a tasting/buying trip into the Yadkin Valley, and I've got to agree with SixMileDrive above. There's something "off" about every single bottle. Call it terrior, call it young vines, I don't know, but he bought about 30+ bottles from all over Yadkin, and I can't get past the first mouthful. No matter the grape variety- they all have it. I want to say it smells "foxy", but that's not quite it. And the effervescent mouthfeel is surprising.

                1. re: cheesemonger

                  Something "off" is a kind explanation of NC wines. How can GA and VA produce some wonderful wine examples, but NC vines have yet to mature into unique tastes that one would wish to return to this area for further explorations? A winery that we gave up hope on near Clayton, GA almost ten years ago surprised us by a recent visit with very interesting new wines. Hopefully the same will occur in NC in the years to come.

                  1. re: rhodies

                    Quality of fruit + Climate (humidity) + Quality of winemaking = (feh!)

              2. OK, since this topic has been ressurected, there is always one thing to keep in mind . . .

                "ABC said 'North Carolina's wines are winning awards domestically and holding their own against the world's best'." Almost every wine-producing state has some form of wine competiton, if only so they can encourage their own state's wine marketing with handing out some gold Medals. So I would say, "Of course they are winning awards domestically."

                And whenever someone says, " . . . against the world's best," you have to ask what constituted "the world's best," and who were the judges?

                1. Two years ago my wife and I went on a bike tour with Carolina Tailwinds to the Yadkin Valley. Excellent cycling, and we thought RayLen's Carolinius red was a good wine, and subsequently when i was in Raleigh and went to the Carolina Wine Company looking for NC wines, the only one they had was the Sangiovese from Raffaldini (which we hadn't visited). It's pretty good.. I suspect that if you're out there having lots of fun like we were on the bike tour, any decent wine is good and any good wine is great. I'd compare the NC wines to those from Virginia and Maryland (where I live), which means I buy them infrequently except when passing a winery and feeling like a taste and then taking a couple of bottles with. You could do worse, but it ain't the West Coast.

                  1. Well, we took a road trip to Duplin Winery and the wine was not good. We went to the Seafood Festival in Morehead City and the few wines we tasted at the Festival were not good either. They use a grape called the Muscadine in the eastern part of the state, and it produces a very sweet wine, like Mogen David or Manishevitz. Not to my liking at all.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: shugga

                      Muscadines are actually a group of varieties from the Vitis rotundifolia genus/species.

                      Though both brands actually produce many different wines, when people say "Manischevitz" or "Mogen David," they are usually referring to wine made from Concord grapes -- a cultivar of the Vitis labrusca species

                      Norton is a grape variety from Vitis aestivalis.

                      The grapes most commonly associated with winemaking in California, Washington State, Europe, Australia, South America, etc., etc. are members of Vitis vinifera.

                      1. re: zin1953

                        biltmore makes the most horribly imaginable wines. if that is a sign of NC wines, they should stick to tobacco.

                      2. re: shugga

                        In defense of Muscadines, they have tremendous natural sweetness and a unique flavor, that isn't easily described, and make the most gorgeous magenta-colored juice. I like to make it into vinaigrette and pancake syrup. But it's true, I've never had good muscadine wine.

                      3. I was born and raised in NC, live here still, and I've love to tell you that we're a great developing center of wine...

                        oh well.

                        There are people who are working on it, in 30-40 years we might see some progress if people can find some varietals that actually pan out in these growing conditions. I remember back in 1966 when a fellow in NC ordered champagne plants from France, and half of them died in quarantine before he got them, so folks have been "trying" for some time now.

                        There is some that is *drinkable*, but nothing I can recommend beyond the novelty factor, really. The closest thing I've found to "decent, cheap wine" produced locally would be:


                        Biltmore Reserves occasionally pop up something acceptable as well.

                        Yeah, I love catawba wine, and muscadine or scuppernong wine, mostly to put in my Artillery punch recipe, or for that rich sweet grape juice flavor that takes me back to my childhood. But I can't really "recommend" it to people as "wine". Of course, I love triple distilled blackberry moonshine too....

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: fussycouple

                          I've had a few very nice NC wines, with some of my favorities coming from Hanover Park and Benjamin. I think the quality of NC wines is coming along rapidly. Visited the Rioja Wine bar in Greensboro this last week. A great, friendly place. Had two wines from Grove. A very surprisingly solid Nebbiolo, and a 2007 Cab Sauv that was the best NC wine I've ever had. Best wine I had that night.

                        2. Here's one to try that may change everyone's perception about the potential of NC wines:

                          Shelton Vineyards Kudzu Block Syrah ... smoke, pepper and robust dark fruits. It is the Rhone varietals like Syrah, Mouvedre (Try Hanover Park), and Viognier that are the future of NC wine. Give them a try and lay off the Chardonnay, Cabernet, etc.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: BogTarheel

                            I love Mourvedre and hope it works out for them. I've had Shelton by the glass at a restaurant in that area, and it was pretty awful...a red (Cab, I guess), and as sweet and unpleasant as any cheap grocery store wine.

                            1. re: danna

                              Why are we the only two people who think Shelton wines are bad? My friend poured a glass of the Chardonnay into my kitchen sink when he thought I wasn't looking. Come on people. Get real.

                          2. There are a few... the french guy at Frugal MacDoogals (I think he is the wine manager) introduced me to West Bend (near Winston-Salem) about 11 yrs ago. He recommended their Chambourcin... which was a varietal I was completely unfamiliar with. My SO and I visited the winery 11 yrs ago and it was a wonderful experience. hey take u through the harvesting & bottling processes and, of course, there is a tasting. A great tour, compared to some that I've taken at other wineries around the country. They have a lovely area to sit outside and drink a bottle and have a picnic if you so choose.

                            My experience has been that Biltmore should be avoided. Most of their juice is from elsewhere anyway.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: lynnlato

                              My wife and I just did a two-day tour of the Haw River wineries and the Yadkin River wineries. We hit 9 wineries in two days and lived to tell the tale.

                              We found NC wines can be very good. They can also be awful or a really acquired taste. You have to start with a distinction between the wines from muscadine/scuppernon grapes and those from French varietal grapes.

                              The muscadine/scuppernon grapes are native to NC and their wines are ALL sweet. You have to like that kind of stuff. But only a few of the wineries do much with these grapes any more (avoid anything ffrom Duplin County). Although some of the wineries are doing interesting things with dessert wines from these grapes that can be very good indeed for that limited purpose.

                              There are more and more plantings of French varietal grapes. Some of these wines do have the strange foxy taste that cheesemonger refers to. I have no idea where that comes from, but increasingly NC is producing wines from French varietal grapes that do not have any trace of that taste. Many are really very good. They definitely do not all have that "foxy" quality.

                              We found really good chardonnays at Grove (Haw River) and Shelton (Yadkin River). We found good reds at WestBend and Sheldon, also Grove. We really liked all the wines at Raffaldini. We agree that Childress needs work and that RayLen has more of the "foxy" taste than is good for it. Biltmore is best avoided at all cost. As is Rockhouse.

                              In Virginia, Villa Appalachia also makes really good wine. They've all got a long way to go before they can compete with Napa, and the prices need to come down overall. But the product, tasted selectively, can be very satisfying, and is definitely no longer a novelty.

                              1. re: jnwall

                                oh rats! Rockhouse is about 1/2 hour from my house and I keep meaning to get by there (more difficult than you'd think w/ a busy schedule and a non-drinking husband) Really? it's just awful? not even worth dropping in for a tasting? Did you actually go to the vineyard, and if so, was it an interesting tour? Thanks.

                            2. Though this is a rather old posting, I'd like to thank all that were so honest with their North Carolina findings. My wife and I have been on a Norton wine kick tasting some 52 Norton's to date with the best coming from Missouri and one from Virginia so far. We are currently trying 33 Deep South vineyards in seven states (TN, KY, & NC being guest Deep South states). We typically pick up a rather "sour" taste in many Southern wines due to, in my opinion, the clay based regional soils. A comment like that may tell on possibly our lack of wine knowledge, but we know what we like to taste. We found really rather good examples of Norton wines at White Oaks (AL), Three Sisters (GA), Elk Creek & Lover's Leap (KY), but the two Norton wines from North Carolina have been more than a bad disappointment. Words cannot poperly describe the tastes without being obviously very caustic. I'm looking forward to finding just one good NC wine, but in the past four years that just has not happened.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: rhodies

                                Give them time. There was a time about 40 years ago when Oregon's best wine was rhubarb, then came along fruit wines, now we have Pinots and Syrah. Washington had beer, now they have Cabernet and Syrah. In both cases some of the best in the world.

                                1. re: dgris

                                  I live in Northwest North Carolina and have physically been to at least 12 of the 30+ vineyards which are situated in the northern Yadkin Valley. I feel a few people here are a bit misguided by what is really going on here.
                                  First of all, Biltmore Estates winery is not comparable to any winery in the Yadkin Valley. First of all, its nearly 150 miles West and over the Blue Ridge Mountains- big difference in soil and, historically, in climate.
                                  The soil in the Yadkin Valley area has been recognized for its composition- rich in iron, very thick red clay- almost everyone who moves to this area from out of state remarks how unique this "dirt" is.
                                  That being said, some wineries use their resources well, some do not. I can't go one by one and say which ones use their resources well- but I do know the best grapes (especially for red wines) are grown on south-facing slopes. McRitchie Winery in Thurmond, NC has some very good wine, although their vines are fairly young. When I first sampled their wine, I was in Virginia and the person I drank with didn't initailly tell me where it was from. I mentioned how impressed I was and asked who made it. My friend said it was from NC, I didn't believe it until I read the bottle myself... Because some of the previous posters here are right- a lot of the wines are just a little "off."
                                  I think ultimately, some of these wineries may make one or two good types of wines- mostly in the chardonnay category or similar- but you have to know what you're looking for. I highly recommend McRitchie- they have chosen to grow for quality and not quantity and I believe that is the primary difference between them and other nearby wineries.
                                  All-in-all I believe it will take another decade or two for some of these wineries to come around, but who knows. Like any good product, its all who is running the business. I wish I could say the best wine in the world is made in my back yard... but I'm too honest and like wine too much. Unfortunately, it is "hit and miss" here. However, the "hits" can be just as good as Western European wine.

                                  1. re: dgris

                                    FWIW Oregon's fruit wines are STILL some of the best in the country, if not the world . . . .

                                  2. re: rhodies

                                    Three years later, not much has changed in our NC wine experiences. After now trying over 120 Norton grape wines in 17 states, it is interesting that there are currently five Norton wineries in NC. Since NC now has 104 wineries and we have only tried 16 of these, there will need to be some sincere searching to find unique winery examples in this beautiful state. I'll admit that we found recently a winery in a man's basement, Cerminaro Vineyard in Boomer, NC near Lenoir, NC, which finally brought out a few smiles accompanied with a few purchases. My brother-in-law found Shelton-Badgett Center for Viticulture and Enology on the campus of Surry Community College in NC and he states 'don't give up on NC, things are changing with a couple nice white wines I found here'.

                                  3. Raffaldini makes cosistently between good and very good wines. Few other NC wineries do that. Biltmore makes mostly poor wines.
                                    A few of the others make at least one good wine.