The North Carolina
Got wine? We do!
By Joyce Lavene
The rolling green hills of Stanly County have always shared their rich abundance with farmers. From sweet potatoes to tobacco, agriculture has always been an important industry. It's no surprise that a new breed of farmer is making his mark on the county. Vineyards are changing the landscape with their signature lines of grape-bearing trellises. Muscadine crop reports are replacing tobacco news and wine tasting has become big business.
North Carolina led the nation in wine production before Prohibition hit. It’s still home to the oldest, cultivated grapevine in the U.S. The Mother vine's 400-year-old roots run deep in the soil of Manteo on the coast and now, more than 80 vineyards have grown across the state in the last 30 years to join her.
Four of those vineyards are located here in Stanly County; Dennis, Uwharrie, Stony Mountain and Rocky River. They are also in the top-ten producers in the state. Native Muscadine grapes have gained a new popularity as wine-lovers have come to appreciate their sweet, robust flavors. But many people are surprised to learn that growers here are also producing the European-style vinifera wines. Vinifera varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier.
Uwharrie Vineyards features a beautiful 14,000 square foot facility, spacious visitor's center, tasting bar and gift shop, all of which is surrounded by 45 acres of beautiful vines. Their motto is: life, as with great wine, should be enjoyed to its fullest. There are currently 84 acres in operation, with 45 acres planted in vineyard. It is the largest horticulture farm in Stanly County's history. Chad Andrews is your host at the vineyard. Uwharrie features vinifera and Muscadine wines like Chardonnay, White Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and sweet red Noble. There is also a very pleasant peach wine, delicious on a hot summer day.
Pritchard and Sandon Dennis own Dennis Vineyards, two men with a never-ending love for wine. They experimented with hobby winemaking for years before taking the plunge into opening their own vineyard. This quiet, beautiful vineyard hosts dozens of events from weddings to Murder Mystery Dinners each year. They continue to prosper and have grown from making 2,500 bottles of wine a year in 1997 to 75,000 bottles of wine. The vineyard features Muscadine wines including varieties of Carlos, Noble and Ison. They also have delightful berry wines; blueberry, blackberry and strawberry. They have continued to win awards for their wines since 2002.
Stony Mountain is a family-owned winery dedicated to the passion of winemaking. It was started with a simple thought: Make the best wine possible. The winery/vineyard sits atop Stony Mountain with a panoramic view of the ancient Uwharrie Mountains and the lower Yadkin Valley. Owners Marie and Ken Furr take pride in producing varietals like Reisling, Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot. They also offer their guests blackberry and strawberry wines. Stony Mountain crafts their own very special red and white Muscadine wines.
At the other end of Stanly County, the Elliott family planted a dream in their hearts and worked hard until they finally planted their first grapevine at Rocky River Vineyards in 2003. They chose to plant the Muscadine grape to produce sweet table wines. Big Meadow Creek, close to the site of the first gold found in the United States, flows through the vineyard to meet Rocky River in a picture-perfect setting. The Elliott family chose a butterfly logo for their wines to represent their new lives. With colorful names like Sweet Sara and Bob’s Rocky River Red, this vineyard is a favorite with locals and tourists. You can sit on the Elliott’s front porch and watch the wildlife in the woods or spend some time at one of their many festivals held in the large pavilion with a full view of acres of grapes basking in the sun.
A 2007 national survey, sponsored by the Travel Industry Association (TIA) in partnership with Gourmet magazine and the International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA), cited North Carolina as one of the top five state destinations for wine and culinary tourism activities in the United States.
A visit to a Stanly County vineyard is a culinary experience in the ambiance of wine country. Sip the fruit of the good earth and see the grapes ripen slowly in the sun. It's a great way to relax and unwind.
*** The Uwharrie Visitor Center thanks to Chris Lambert, Executive Director of the Stanly County Convention and Visitors Bureau for submitting this article. For more information, please visit www.visitstanly.com ***