Sunday, July 14, 2013

North Carolina Wine Country

There  was  a time in my young life when I  used to marvel that there were wineries outside the fabled grape fields of Northern California's fabled Napa and Sonoma Counties, and less fabled Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. Since those na├»ve days I have come to understand that grape growing goes on everywhere in this amazingly diverse country and excellent wines are being produced all over the place. If you have been reading this blog for a while you will have read of wines tasted everywhere from New Mexico to Virginia, and also previously here in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. 

Today is Bastille Day in France, that country which prides itself on producing the best and most famous wines in the world, so I suppose that today when the fall of the infamous prison is celebrated it is a good day to celebrate the wines of North Carolina, an up and coming source of the grape.

We left Geeta and Bob's home in Celo, near Burnsville, in two cars and made our way across the state for an hour or more winding down the foothills and away from the incessant rain for a little while. Cheyenne is not much of a wine drinker but she likes grass and vineyards have grass so this was for her a last day in the cooler air Up North before my wife and I started our two day trek back to South Florida. Cheyenne enjoyed her time in the cooler air Up North and I was glad of her company for she is the quintessential Good Dog, always patient and no trouble at all. I never cease to be amazed by the callous fools who dumped her at the pound.
Geeta had planned a very military  circling maneuver around the Yadkin area taking in five of her favorite wineries. That was quite a feat as there are 43 such wine makers listed in North Carolina and they are scattered across miles of rolling hills. My brother-in-law Bob pointed out this wine making region is far less compact than Napa Valley.  

Stony Knoll is a smaller operation much revered by Geeta and Bob who take pleasure in talking to the owners and discussing wines in dizzying depth and detail. My style of tasting is to belly up to the bar, figure what I like, order a few bottles and move on. Its a bit the way I do all my shopping. All this "hail fellow  well met!" stuff is for the birds...
My wife and I had pretty much run our wine cooler dry so we were looking for decent modestly priced reds and a few whites to get us back on track. we like wine with a meal every now and again and we enjoy opening a bottle that reminds us of an occasion or place. It's easy enough to get decent wine at the supermarket (in Florida, some states have old fashioned bans on "liquor" in supermarkets!)  but opening a bottle with a memory attached adds to the pleasure. We got a mixed case of this lot most of them with prices around twelve bucks.
The nattering went on for a while. The owner was actually quite interesting. He got a career in banking "Nothing more boring than approving loans," he said while he ached to return to his native land.  Instead of growing tobacco as used to be the norm around here he got into wine making which he loves. He has a real businessman's instinct, pricing his small vineyard correctly and working on the quality of his wines. Bob loves this place and he has a good nose for wine.

The light was crappy and I hate taking pictures of people as poses look so stiff but here he is, Van Coe running his place, Stony Knoll.

Outside the storm clouds were barely visible in the distance as Cheyenne, my wife and I took in some fresh country air and marveled at the greenery. You do get to miss this stuff sometimes when surrounded by salt water and mangroves,  amber waves of grain are hard to come by in  the Keys:

 From Stony Knoll our precise itinerary landed us here for lunch:

This bottle of white came in at $24 so we treated ourselves for lunch as they charge tasting room prices in the restaurant but we didn't take any of their wine home.

As usual Geeta was making friends with the help and apparently the old chef at the winery had gone since their last visit so we were waiting to see what the new man could whip up.

The dining room was quite busy and no surprise as this was the day after the Fourth and the holiday mood was upon a nation not used to taking an extra day when the holiday falls on a Thursday. I am not much of an adherent to the puritan work ethic as advertised by corporate America (hence this weeks' vacation!) but I am not in the majority on that. I like my time off and away from even thinking about 911 calls. this was a great way to do that.

Fried artichokes were not enticing to me on the menu but they were amazing. Crispy batter filled with flavor and I couldn't get enough of them.

Geeta hovered over the crab and shrimp dip which was also perfectly delicious without being salty. Naturally I dived into the friend green tomatoes and they were  a horrid disappointment. Sliced thick and with flavor-free coating it  was  odd considering how  good the other appetizers were..

The dining room is built with timber harvested at the vineyard and it imparts the air of dining in a Viking hall which is okay, especially when the risotto main dish my wife and I shared was perfect. I forgave them the fried tomato fiasco and took another glass of wine while checking out the joinerwork.

I went out to take a walk while the others tasted the plonk, but my dog was tired already and had no desire to get out of the car so I deployed my Kermit chair and took twenty winks in the shade of the magnificent oak trees. This was turning into a splendid end of vacation tour.
This lot call themselves "Chianti in the Carolinas" and  Raffaldini is my brother-in-law's favorite. Certainly the place looks lovely and all Italian and everything but there is something rather over the top about the forced Italian-ness of the place. 
The landscaping is lovely, the vioews are tremendous as the winery sits on a slight hill overlooking an endless valley...

...and the winery  takes advantage of their excellent location to put on a show. I saw a calendar of events and they celebrate Italian food and wine in the italian-American way with pizza and sausage and funicoli music and tarantella dancing and all the sort of folksy stuff that makes my skin crawl. we sat out for a while and lsitened to the jazz duo inbetween wine tasting.
I played with my camera for a while and fiddled with the settings. Bob bought an ice cream, hereabouts called a gelato to stsay in keeping with the theme and we admired the scenery.

I guess the wine is good if it gets Bob's seal of approval. I left the tasting to my wife who made the decision that the wines were too expensive to be worth buying especially as we had one more winery to visit before we split. One more...and we had only seen five out of 43...I was flagging. 
Dobbins Creek was more my speed. Here we found a building at the end of a dirt road on a little knoll and there were no signs forbidding walking here or there as the Raffaldini crowd likes to do. We could walk on the grass cheyenne and I so we did and we inspected the grapes and admired the view after we ambled down a quiet lane through the fields. Sometimes I need peace and quiet to recharge my internal batteries.
Cheyenne was a good companion, wandering with me almost as though she had figured her mountain vacation was about to end and she wanted tot ake advantage of every minute. Perhaps she was just sick of the car.

I liked the winery, unpretentious and quiet, so much so a visitor had bought a glass of wine and was sitting on the proch reading a Ken Follett novel, and he even admitted to not minding my dog who sniffed his ankles and curled up next to his chair, not mine! 

Bob and Geeta struck a gothic pose and tasting began.
My wife liked these wines so much she inveigled me into giving my seal of approval to a few of them and we ended up taking half a case home. Thats part of the fun of travel by car instead of travel by plane- you can load the trunk at will with no interference from anyone least of all "security" inspections. 
The owner was happy to chat and so I listened as he told Bob about his encounter with a california wine writer who was astonished by the quality of wines not originating in California. The vintner told his story with some quiet pride and Bob got all North Carolina proud in turn as he listened to his adopted home state get the kudos.

It was agood last stop as the Geeta pulled out picnic fixings and we sat on the porch unmolested and wathced a storm brew to the south of us. Clearly it was headed our way and though the owner who by now had gone home, had invited us to stay as long as we liked, it was obvious it was time to go.

I could have stayed for quite a while longer. Cheyenne had had her water and was quite content to sit as was I, feet up, idly listening to conversation that boded the end of our North Carolina vacation.
As the big cold drops of water splattered we ran for our cars, the Prius returned to the mountains and more rain while we headed south on I-77 for a night in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and then on home to south Florida. Loaded with wine.