Rockhouse Vineyards, the Charlotte-owned winery in Tryon that was one of the early successes in the North Carolina wine industry, announced Friday that it will close in October.
Marsha Cassedy of Charlotte, who built the winery with her husband, Lee Griffin, said the winery will close Oct. 7 after 20 years because of an illness. Griffin’s radiation treatment for tonsil cancer damaged his ability to taste wine. In addition to a job that involved frequent travel, Griffin was the business’ wine maker.
“As a winemaker, nothing could be more frustrating,” Cassedy said in Friday morning’s announcement. “It is what it is, however, so we move on.” She says Griffin is currently cancer-free.
Cassedy and Griffin have always said they stumbled into wine-making, before North Carolina’s wine industry really took off in the late 1990s. They bought a small farmhouse near Tryon, not far from Asheville, as a weekend retreat 20 years ago and decided to plant a few grapevines. The grapes thrived and they started making wine that quickly got critical praise, particularly for the winery’s Meritage.
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A visit to the winery on the way to or from the mountains was a unique treat: You drove back through the vineyards and entered the house through the 1950s-style kitchen that still had knotty-pine cabinets. The tasting room, presided over by retired professor Jay Adams, featured a mantel made of rocks from the vineyard’s fields.
Justin Furr, the wine-marketing manager for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, expressed surprise and disappointment at the news about Rockhouse. Despite the economic slowdown since 2008, Furr says North Carolina’s wine industry has held its own. A few wineries have closed, but that’s been offset by more that have opened.
The state currently has 115 wineries with tasting rooms, he said. You can get information on the wineries at www.ncwine.org.
While some wineries are struggling to get more visitors, others have done well, particularly driven by tasting-room visitors on day trips or weekend excursions.
“For a lot, the business has stayed steady,” Furr said. “I hear all across the board.”
That fits with the numbers nationally that show wine sales are up, he said.
“People haven’t traded off having a glass of wine.”