Bounty Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Award-Winning Wineries in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley

by Paris Wolfe

The best part of vacationing along the Blue Ridge Parkway is the detours.

At the northern border of North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge foothills about 30 minutes east of the Parkway, is Surry County. Part of the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), Surry County is home to nineteen wineries. It’s a great place to detour for a day or two; a great pause for Ohio snowbirds traveling Interstate 77 south to Florida for the winter.

I was circumspect about the quality of wines made in North Carolina. I shouldn’t have been. Some of the wines are truly great. Vineyards in the area grow both European vinifera and French-American hybrid grapes. And two-thirds of the wines they make are dry.

It’s difficult to categorize the region’s wines by exact style, because production is still young and emerging. In a recent interview, Ken Gulaian, co-owner of Round Peak Vineyards in Mount Airy, N.C., and immediate past president of the North Carolina Wine Growers Association, talked about the evolution of vineyards and winemaking in the area.

“North Carolina is a hotbed of experimentation,” he said. “Wineries are planting many different varietals to see which grapes do best here; from the traditional (Merlot, Chardonnay), to the more obscure vinifera (Petit Manseng, Tannat), to hybrids (Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Norton).”

And that variety, he said, is what makes the region so interesting. Right now, every winery is producing different wines.

“Over time, this will probably sort itself out, as we see which grapes grow best,” Gulaian said. “North Carolina and the East Coast, in general, are very different from the West Coast, primarily because of our rain and humidity, soils (mostly clay) and temperature.”

Those who travel to the region will find wineries small and large. Round Peak Vineyards, which Gulaian and his wife started in 2008, comprises 12 acres of grapes. Their award-winning wines are hand-harvested and estate-bottled, using estate-grown grapes. Shelton Vineyards, owned by Charlie and Ed Shelton, is one of the largest vineyards on the East Coast. Established in 1999, the Estate comprises 300 acres of grapes – including 70 European vinifera – and has produced many award-winning wines. Travis Dale serves as Shelton Vineyards’ general manager and COO.

Like many wineries in the area, both Round Peak Vineyards and Shelton Vineyards accommodate lodgers. And both wineries are now home to Ohio natives. Ken Gulaian grew up in Mayfield and earned a mechanical engineering degree from Case Western Reserve University. Travis Dale hails from Ashtabula.

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