If a wine lover is on your holiday gift list, the shopping is pretty easy. Most of us are thrilled with a pretty decanter or a nice bottle or two. But if you are looking for a gift that has more of a local connection, here are some homegrown ideas.
If it's been a while since you've visited North Carolina's wineries, you might be surprised at our state's growing wine scene. Many of these wineries offer holiday events, tours, seminars and packages that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
The easiest way to get information is www.visitncwine .com , which features maps and travel information and has updated contact information. Or check your favorite's Web site or contact them for upcoming packages and events. A sampling:
Biltmore House near Asheville boasts the nation's most visited winery, and is always beautifully decorated at the holidays with a variety of packages available. (Prices vary; www.biltmore.com.)
Childress Vineyard's Signature Package includes a private winery tour, a tasting for two, two entrees from the winery bistro and a special bottle of wine. ($100; www.childress vineyards.com .)
The Yadkin River Wine Trail holiday tour includes five wineries, Rag Apple Lassie, Cellar 4201 (don't miss their terrific un-oaked chardonnay), Divine Llama, Flint Hill and Sanders Ridge. Besides a tasting at each stop, you get a handcrafted grapevine wreath with an ornament from each winery. (Ends Dec. 20; $65 per couple; www.yadkinriverwinetrail .com .)
Lots of local wineries also have wine clubs, with memberships that offer an array of perks from wine shipped regularly with case discounts to free admission to special events. RayLen Vineyards and Winery (home of the much-loved Category 5 red blend), offers three bottles shipped quarterly along with winemaker's notes. ($65 or less per shipment, www.raylenvineyards .com .)
Charlotte has some of the best wine stores in the country, with terrific products, friendly and knowledgeable staff and all supportive of our community. Here are a few things they're carrying:
Vino 100 is offering this year's hot new wine toy, the Ravi wine chiller. It's designed to serve red wine at the appropriate (not too hot) temperature. $52.
Winestore (near SouthPark, with a new location in Ballantyne) has one of those cool Enoround tasting machines that allow you to sample a number of different wines. A tasting card is a great gift for someone who likes to try before they buy.
Wine Shop at Foxcroft began last year to offer little gems of multi-course dinners with selected wines. Intimate setting, stellar food and lovely wine. Stop in to check out next year's possibilities.
Play with your wine locally
Wine Island Village. This Charlotte-based producer sends a party in a box directly to you - wines, tasting notes, and an interactive DVD with pros tasting the wines along with you and your guests. Prices range from $59.95 for four wines to $159.95 for a full party for 10. www.wineislandvillage .com.
Ambercrest Winery offers the chance to design your own wine label or create your own wine online. Prices vary. www.ambercrestwinery.com.
Carolina Wine Club. It's inexpensive to join (only $25) and hosts fun gatherings and tastings each year. Folks who attend regularly adore the format and rave about the experience. www.carolinawineclub .com.
Drinking locally means you just might be able to make a difference globally. Across the country, folks are throwing wine parties to attract attention and donations to the need for clean drinking water: www.turningwineintowater .com.
Get serious locally
For those wanting to take their wine knowledge to the next level, area colleges host international certification classes. Central Piedmont Community College ( www.cpcc.edu) hosts the International Sommelier Guild certifications, and Johnson & Wales ( www.jwu.edu) hosts the London-based Wine and Spirits Education Trust classes. Johnson & Wales is also a testing site for those brave souls sitting for the Society of Wine Educators certifications, www.societyofwineeducators .org . (Disclosure: I teach for both the International Sommelier Guild and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.)