Tobacco fields once dominated Yadkin Valley, a swath of northwestern North Carolina that sweeps through seven counties from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the edge of the Piedmont region. But today those fields are being replaced by vineyards. In 2003, the federal government designated Yadkin Valley an American Viticulture Area, meaning the majority of grapes used to make wine in this region must be grown in the area. About 70 percent of the grapes used by wineries in the Yadkin Valley area are French vinifera; muscadines make up most of the rest.
Today more than 35 wineries call Yadkin Valley home. And where there are wineries, there are tasting rooms, tours and cultural events such as concerts and festivals designed to attract visitors to the area.
One of the reasons Yadkin Valley scored its AVA designation is because of Charlie and Ed Shelton, co-owners of Shelton Vineyards in Surry County. After the duo opened in 2000, they hustled to pursue that AVA badge of honor. They have received some honors of their own, having recently won awards at the Charlotte Food & Wine Festival for their merlot and riesling.
The 33,000-square-foot winery, which uses a gravity flow winemaking process, offers a variety of tours and tastings, starting at $5 for a tasting of five wines. For $140, guests can sample reserve wines, along with a selection of cheeses and fruits, at the gazebo. At the Harvest Grill (open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday and brunch on Sunday) visitors can enjoy their wines paired with dishes such as cornbread crab cakes and braised short ribs. Overnight guests can stay at the Hampton Inn at Shelton Vineyards, which has the distinction as the only hotel in the chain boasting a wine bar. Hiking trails, picnic tables and a lake provide a perfect backdrop for al fresco fun.
A slate of events are on tap at the vineyards. A summer concert series features the Tams on Aug. 17 and Band of Oz on Sept. 21. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the gate. A 13th anniversary celebration and Mercedes car show is Aug. 24, and the annual Harvest Festival is Oct. 12-13.
In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a patch of Surry County once dubbed Burch Station, is Carolina Heritage Vineyard and Winery, the area’s first certified organic winery. Founded by Clyde and Pat Colwell in 2005, the 35-acre vineyard has the perfect combination of soil, air flow and altitude to make it conducive to organic grape growth. The Colwells focus on three varieties of muscadines and six American hybrids that best fend off disease and pests. Tours and tastings are $5 per person, 1-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, and by appointment. Visitors can purchase bottles on site, including the Burch-Bleu, a recent addition to the Carolina Heritage roster that combines Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid grape, and blueberries.
In the Yadkin County towns of East Bend and Boonville are five wineries that make up the Yadkin River Wine Trail. On the first Sunday of every month through October, a different winery hosts a festival featuring tastings, tours and entertainment.
Located in a Tuscan-style villa in Lexington, N.C., the southern gateway to the Yadkin Valley region, is Childress Vineyards, a product of famed NASCAR driver Richard Childress’ other passion. Tastings ($12-$14) and free tours are offered daily. The Bistro serves lunch daily.
Side trip to Mount Airy
While in Yadkin Valley, fans of “The Andy Griffth Show” will want to make a side trip to Mount Airy, the basis for the fictional town of Mayberry. Mount Airy is an interesting case of art imitating life and vice versa. While the town inspired many of the show’s businesses, the fictionalized landmarks created by the program’s writers have now come to life in Mount Airy. Visitors can get their hair cut at Floyd’s Barber Shop, nosh on a pork chop sandwich at the Blue Bird Diner and step inside the Mayberry Courthouse. For $35 per carload, guests can get a custom tour of the town’s sites in a replica Mayberry squad car. The Andy Griffith Museum features artifacts and memorabilia related to the show, and Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou on the series, signs autographs there the last Friday afternoon of every month. Fans can stay overnight at the Andy Griffith Homeplace, the actor’s childhood home. Rates for the two-bedroom bungalow, operated by the Hampton Inn, are $175-$200. The town plays host to Mayberry Days, an annual festival, Sept. 26-29, when former cast members and lookalikes mill around town. And wine lovers need not fret. Uncorked in Mayberry is a tasting room and wine bar serving a variety of wines from the region. For details, go to www.visitmayberry.com.
If You Go
Shelton Vineyards. 286 Cabernet Lane, Dobson, N.C. 336-366-4724, www.sheltonvineyards.com
Carolina Heritage Vineyard and Winery. 170 Heritage Vines Way, Elkin, N.C. 336-366-3301, www.carolinaheritagevineyards.com
Yadkin River Wine Trail. www.yadkinriverwinetrail.com
Childress Vineyards. 1000 Childress Vineyards Road, Lexington, N.C. 336-236-9463, www.childressvineyards.com
Go to www.yadkinvalleywineries.com.