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.
Under the tutelage of Merlot & Van Gogh’s talented local artists, students of all skill levels daub canvases and clink glasses in two-hour BYOB painting classes. Between sips of wine, beer, or fizzy lifting drink, painters utilize a provided inventory of brushes and vibrant acrylic hues to re-create an image or fabricate a new one based on the night’s given theme. Step-by-step instructions guide the class through creative discovery, and provided aprons safeguard participants from paint smears incurred while hugging especially well-rendered self-portraits.
The Yadkin Valley Wine Tours travel among the vineyard rows and through the dark cool of barrel cellars, letting guests get up close and personal with the wineries of the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills. Chauffeured excursions by van or bus roll along back-country roads and scenic highways and make stops at wineries along Swan Creek, Shallowford Trail, Yadkin River Trail, and others.
At each winery, the guide unveils a little piece of North Carolina's winemaking heritage, explaining why the area's grape-growing climate is considered similar to that of Burgundy and the Italian Piedmont, just with much, much more distant views of the Alps. Afterward, a wine tasting lets everyone drink in the local flavor and learn proper tasting technique. Tours often follow the themes of the season, combining wine tasting with mining for gems in the summer, taking in the changing foliage in the fall, and stops at toasty fireplaces in the winter.
Inspired by a trip to the wine-producing hills of Italy, Joe and Joyce Neely were determined to start a winery of their own once they returned to North Carolina. Since 2000, they've worked with winemaker Steve Shepard to produce RayLen Vineyards & Winery's impressive roster of award-winning varietals. Visits to the winery typically start with a tour that explains the process from start to finish and includes some surprising revelations, such as the fact that wine is made from grapes. The finish, of course, is the best part; inside RayLen's tasting room, guests can sample up to 16 wines.
At RagApple Lassie Vineyards, Frank and Lenna Hobson till land that's been owned by three generations of the Hobson family. As a result, they've transformed a rustic North Carolina estate into a sunny vineyard full of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Guests sip local vintages during tours and tastings, or mingle over sandwiches and cheese plates at the Back Door Cafe.
Taste Carolina Wine Festival's ninth annual installment fills swirling goblets with varietal wines and ears with the dulcet tones of talented musicians. Aged grape spirits hail from wineries such as Native Vines and Cellar 4201, filling complimentary commemorative stemware and the cupped hands of feral connoisseurs with samples of their signature blends. As evening descends, musical headliners The Grey Street Band jam and wail through popular Dave Matthews Band covers such as "#41, " and "Warehouse." Bottled wines are also available for purchase, and a pick-up area prevents customers from having to tote their selections around and provides bottles with one last chance to fraternize with their friends.