In early September, judges for the annual North Carolina State Fair wine competition sipped and evaluated more than 400 wines, selecting the best submissions.
I’ve had the privilege of judging for several years, and this year, the quality of the wines was excellent. The state wine scene is growing, and wines produced here are getting better and better.
North Carolina has more than 160 wineries and 525 commercial growers, says Whit Winslow, executive director of the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council. A recently released economic survey shows a $1.7 billion contribution to the state’s economy. Ranked 11th nationally in wine production, North Carolina is experiencing an exciting period of growth and development.
Wines are judged blind, meaning that judges do not know who produced the wines. We also evaluate them in flights of similar wines. North Carolina produces wines made from native American grape varieties like scuppernong and muscadine, as well as European vitis vinifera varieties, and hybrid grapes that combine both characteristics. Some wines also are produced from fruits other than grapes, showcasing the pretty fruit grown in our state.
The highest awards at the state fair are the N.C. Winegrowers Cup and the N.C. Muscadine Cup, both requiring that a minimum of 80 percent of the grapes used to produce the wine are grown in North Carolina.
Misty Creek Farm and Vineyards in Mocksville, just west of Winston-Salem, was the big winner this year, awarded Best in Show as well as the N.C. Winegrowers Cup for a rich and complex Syrah. Adams Vineyards in Willow Springs, just outside Raleigh, took the Muscadine Cup for its lovely, balanced “Ellis.” This wine has a great backstory; it’s produced on a heritage farm by eighth-generation farmers who now grow grapes instead of tobacco and cotton.
Cypress Bend Vineyards was awarded Best White for the muscadine wine “Catherine.” The rose/blush category was competitive this year, and the winner, Childress Vineyards’ “Classic Blush,” was excellent. Biltmore Estate Chateau Reserve Sparkling Blanc de Blancs took Best in Show in the Sparkling category.
One of my favorites was the lovely blueberry wine from Linville Falls Winery, which won the fruit-wine category.
It was a tough year to judge, as the quality of the wines submitted was impressive. Winslow says he had more positive feedback from the judging panels about the wines this year, and heard many times over the two-day competition that it was a challenge for the judges to select just one wine for the major awards. Many of the medal winners were so good, I was scribbling their assigned numbers down to find out what they were after the judging.
You can find the full list of medalists at www.ncstatefair.org.
Catherine Rabb is co-owner of Fenwick's and a senior instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Email: Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.