Corks were popping in celebration several weeks ago as the Swan Creek region received its designation as North Carolina's newest American Viticultural Area (AVA).
An AVA is a region formally designated as unique for grape growing. The designation is federal, awarded by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the Treasury Department.
Swan Creek is the second AVA in North Carolina. Yadkin Valley was the first, in 2003.
The Swan Creek AVA falls within the boundaries of the Yadkin Valley, although it is much smaller, about a twelfth of the size of the overall Yadkin AVA. Swan Creek winemakers will have the option of using Yadkin Valley or Swan Creek on their labels.
The concept of a small AVA nestled within a larger AVA is hardly unique. The larger Napa Valley AVA has a dozen smaller AVAs within its boundaries, each recognized for its special climate and the unique character of wines made there.
Wineries have to formally petition to be recognized as an AVA. Raffaldini Vineyards, a principal sponsor of the petition, hired climatologists and geologists to help highlight the special attributes of the area.
Swan Creek is in the foothills of the Brushy and the Blue Ridge mountain ranges, and gets cooling breezes from the mountains and the Yadkin River. The area has unique soil full of rich minerals, a higher elevation, and a slightly longer growing season than surrounding areas.
The designation has been years in coming. Thomas Salley of Raffaldini says they are very satisfied with finally being awarded the designation. “It is good for the region and good for all winemakers.”
The Swan Creek area is an easy day trip from Charlotte, and the perfect way to spend a pretty afternoon. It's nothing like the more marketed wine trails of Napa and Sonoma, but it's loaded with charm, friendly people and tasty wine. Follow the purple and green signs, and each of the wineries will direct you to the next one. All are within a few miles of each other and each has its own style.
Laurel Gray Vineyards is on a farm, with a charming red milking parlor converted into a tasting room, oodles of roses, and pond that is a perfect sight for a picnic.
Buck Shoals is near the site of an old gristmill. The tasting room is a converted log cabin, staffed by what may be the friendliest folks in the wine world.
Raffaldini Vineyards is on a hillside overlooking the Blue Ridge, and the views are among the prettiest in North Carolina. Raffaldini just opened its two-story wine room, styled like a Tuscan villa. It includes a display of the soils in the area that make the region special.
Shadow Springs Winery is just getting started, but you can adopt a grapevine, a fun way to feel a part of the excitement. And Dobbins Creek Vineyards is on family land with gorgeous views and a beautiful tasting bar carved out of 100-year-old cherry wood harvested from the property.
North Carolina's grape growers and winemakers have been working hard to make terrific wines and to have their wine taken seriously.
Congratulations to the folks in Swan Creek for taking N.C. wines another step forward.