Though Stony Knoll Vineyards' first harvest didn't take place until 2002, the winery's 48 acres of cropland have been part of the Coe family since 1896, making it a North Carolina Century Farm. For most of that time, the land yielded tobacco, but now, under winemaker Lynn Crouse, its two vineyards grow grapes for 12 wines. That selection ranges from two cabernet francs to the signature SKV Plantation White, a dessert wine fashioned from handpicked chardonnay grapes.
Samples abound inside Stony Knoll's tasting room, which is nestled high in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, overlooking the scenic vines below. Elsewhere on the picturesque estate, Stony Knoll hosts weddings and overnight guests in its Wine Lodge. The lodge, which was built in 1860, was originally a rural homestead, but it now offers modern amenities for its guests, including a two-person jacuzzi and flat-screen TVs.
Creeping across a 5-acre swath of the Haw River Valley, 16 varieties of grapevines sprout from fertile, sandy soil, twisting their leafy arms around trellises and soaking in the lush, grape-growing climate. Benjamin's artisan enophiles hand pluck each of the muscadine, french, and hybrid grapes that blanket this vineyard. The grapes are escorted into the afterlife inside fermenting barrels where they live on as red and white wines for every taste—from dry dinner varietals and sweet country classics to seasonal bouquets. The whole creative process is observed by spectating visitors who wind through the idyllic facilities on self-guided tours—often including picnics on the winery’s covered porch, or perusals of of local art at the gift shop.
As an ecofriendly facility, Benjamin Vineyards & Winery employs sustainable practices, such as composting agricultural products, recycling bottles and other reusables, and growing plants with nightly bedtime reading instead of pesticides.
While in Sonoma on business in 1992, tech entrepreneur Max Lloyd fell in love with the fermented grape. Though his father and grandfather had been in the business of winemaking, it wasn't until his encounter with California-grown, European-style varietals that he resolved to dabble in the family trade himself. Launched as a part-time project in Virginia and transplanted to its current location in 2001, Grove Winery and Vineyards culls its grapes from two estate vineyards that span more than 70 acres in addition to a handful of local vineyards. The staff meticulously handpicks the grapes and gently presses them with a basket press to yield their fresh milk.
Fair Game Beverage Company, like the ingredients of its wines and spirits, grew from the soil of Chatham County. The vintners and distillers that founded the company loved North Carolina's agricultural flavor and wanted to create beverages that showcased the unique local grapes and other crops. They craft their dry Two Step white from a blend heavy in Haw River Valley seyval blanc grapes, and sweeten their county fair-style cordial, Tipper, with scuppernong grapes. They grow sorghum, a long grass similar to sugar cane, in-house, then ferment and distill it into a rum-like cane spirit.
They also make fortified wines, halting the fermentation process at the height of flavor by introducing a bit of brandy into the mix. The tradition began as a way to make wines endure long travels across oceans in oaken barrels, but these days the casks and bottles don't have nearly so far to travel. Rather, the distillers suggest just dragging them out to the front porch to share with a friend or two while enjoying a gentle breeze, the sway of a rocking chair, and the sight of the sun's jealous stare.
Studio 91’s elegant gallery space and boutique wine selections combine the passionate products of both artists and vintners, regaling the eye with fine art and the palate with fine wine from family-owned vineyards. Budding oenophiles get to tipple a 3-ounce tasting from a batch of four boutique wines, served in a combination of either two white wines and two red, one white and three reds, or all reds. To match each sip with sustenance, Studio 91's servers will raid the Mouse King’s treasury and bring forth a cheese plate of gourmet brie, aged sonoma jack cheddar, sliced apples, olives, walnuts, and fresh bread. Gourmet chocolate toffee almond truffles, accompanied by fresh raspberries and whipped cream, dance out with the last glass of red wine. The Studio 91 crew's guidance for properly tasting a vino will sharpen your senses to such nuanced flavors as black currant and democracy.
Six Plates Wine Bar minimizes customers’ food indecision with a concise menu that pairs six upscale small plates with six wines by the glass. Despite the menu's diminutive size, there's no lack of variety—the foodies in the kitchen constantly swap out dishes to make use of as many local ingredients as possible, while a clipboard bears a list of more than 150 wines, and 30 beers, sold by the bottle. Mentioned in the New York Times for its use of local food, Six Plates Wine Bar puts an upscale take on comfort foods with its plates, which are about half the size of a traditional entree.
Six Plates Wine Bar's resident wine lover, Matthew Beason, curates a wine list that hails from around the globe—from behind the bar, he'll recount the tale of his first wine love, a 1995 JL Chave Hermitage Blanc that broke his heart when it eloped with a bottle of Boone’s Farm. Each glass romances tongues beneath crystal-drenched chandeliers in the warmly lit dining room, where eclectically framed vintage photos and mirrors share space on exposed brick and deep-amber walls. Diners can recline on red-upholstered armchairs, at the bar, or at intimate, candlelit tables flanked by backed barstools.