North Carolina has made huge strides in wine over the last decade.
Our state is now home to 115 wineries and ranks 10th nationally in the production of wine and grapes. Yet North Carolina wines don’t get the attention of many “serious” wine drinkers.
Recently, a panel of judges met to taste and evaluate wines for the N.C. State Fair Wine Competition. The panel included viticulturalists, fermentation scientists and professional beverage buyers. And me.
My goal was not only to be a good judge, but also to find some wines I could show to North Carolina naysayers and convince them to change their minds.
For two days, the panel sipped (and spit, of course) almost 500 wines. The report from the front line? N.C. producers are not just making some good wine; they are making some great wine. Wines I wanted to put in a lineup in front of skeptics. Wines I wanted to buy.
There are several categories that reflect the variation in types of grapes grown across the state, as well as winemaking style. Native grapes like scuppernong and muscadine grow beautifully here and are beloved for their fruity, mainly sweet styles.
Cypress Bend Vineyards in Wagram swept this category, winning best in category with both red and white entries, earning the N.C. Muscadine Cup for the second year in a row.
Another type of grape, called vinifera, indicates grapes of European origin. The winery 1861 Farmhouse in Valle Crucis won for its white wine, while Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery’s delicious and elegant red blend took both the category and the impressive Best in Show.
Hybrid grapes are of both native and European descent. While the names are a little less familiar, hybrids grow very well. Shadow Springs Vineyard in Hamptonville won best of the red-hybrid category, with a fruity chambourcin.
There is even a fruit wine category. I lost my heart to a lovely, lilting blackberry wine from Stephens Vineyard & Winery in Lumberton. In the sparkling category, Biltmore Estate took top honors; Laurel Gray Vineyards in Hamptonville crafted the award-winning dessert wine Encore.
But these wines are just a few of the terrific wines that won medals, including 37 double gold medals (meaning every judge awarded gold), 22 gold, 103 silver, and 145 bronze medals.
One of these pretty fall weekends, you really should take the time to drive to a pretty wine region, meet some of our excellent winemakers and drink local. Check out the excellent information and maps at www.visitncwines.com.