By Karen Holbrook |
Thousands of wine lovers showed up Saturday for the 14th annual Yadkin Valley Wine Festival held at the Elkin Municipal Park. Sunshine, wine and music were in abundance as festival goers raised their glasses and learned more about the wines of the Yadkin Valley appellation.
“I think it was an amazing day, an amazing festival,” said Myra Cook, president of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event each year. “The weather was perfect. Everyone was happy.”
Visitors to the festival hailed from all across the state as well as Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland and even as far away as California.
Volunteer Holly Lamm, who worked at the check-in tent, said she had an attendee who came all the way from the Bahamas.
The festival serves as a showcase of all the Yadkin Valley Wine region has to offer. There are locals and visitors who attend the event every year and there are always newcomers as well.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity and quality of the local wines at the festival,” said Jerri Kallam, who came from Charlotte to attend the festival for the first time. “NC wines aren’t only some basic muscadine wines and the festival is a fun and affordable way for people to become more familiar with what the area has to offer.”
The organized and welcoming atmosphere at the festival also delighted first time visitors, like K. Royal from Durham.
“A dear friend of mine has for years been the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival’s number one cheerleader and has repeatedly invited me to join her. I’d been reluctant because festivals are often crowded and not well organized,” Royal explained. “Well, lucky for me, my friend is getting married this year and wanted to celebrate her bachelorette at the festival and I’m now one of the festival’s biggest fans.”
Royal said she and members of her group made new friends on the shuttle ride from the Fairfield Inn to the festival and the fun didn’t stop there.
“The festival was the perfect setting to celebrate my favorite bride-to-be,” Royal added. “It was so festive, fun, and stressfree. There was such a feeling of warmth and community and our group could not have had a better time. I’m already counting down to next year. We are all so appreciative to the event organizers and our fellow festival-goers for making a special day even more special.”
Royal said her favorite wines of the day were RagApple Lassie’s Boonville Blanc and Grassy Creek’s Guernsey Red and White Barn Breeze.
Cook said there were several bachelorette groups celebrating at Saturday’s event and she has heard stories of married couples who met or had their first date at the festival.
The musical entertainment for the festival, both bands brought back by popular demand from last year, was once again a hit. Cook said that they received many calls after last year’s festival asking that blues band Blues Deville and soul and motown band Carolina Soul Band be brought back for the festival.
“We enjoyed both bands. Carolina Soul Band got people up and dancing and they left you wanting more,” said Kathy and Paul Petras, first-time visitors to the festival.
Another big draw for the Petras family was the chance to sample wines of the Yadkin Valley that are not typically found in their local grocery stores.
“Slightly Askew is one of my favorites,” said Petras. “They are hard to find in stores so I am always happy to see them at venues.”
Along with the wines, this year’s festival celebrated the addition of craft beer into the mix. Elkin’s Skull Camp Brewery made an appearance, offering a sampling of their beers including Tr’ale B’red red ale, Tongue Tied rye IPA and Beam Me Up Scotty session scotch ale. The addition of beer appeared to be a hit with festival goers as the line continued to stay long.
Cook said the addition of beer at this year’s event was a trial run and they would be evaluating the feedback on it. She said a future goal for the chamber is to offer a beer festival with music during the fall of the year.
“I loved the fact that there was a vendor that had wine and beer,” said Katherine Stanley. “I was open to trying the different wines and did indulge, but there is nothing like a nice cold beer on a beautiful sunny day.”
Cook said a lot of the credit for the festival goes to the committee members and volunteers who help run the event.
“I don’t know what we would do if it wasn’t for the volunteers and the amazing job they do,” Cook said. “They were there before 7 o’clock that morning setting up and still there at 7:30 p.m. helping to clean up after the festival.” She also said the folks at All-Star Rentals deserved recognition for going above and beyond in helping with event set-up.
“The committee works yearround on this, so I just feel privileged to be part of this committee and this group that makes this such as success for our Yadkin Valley,” Cook added. “We hope every year we can add something new to make it fresh and bring back the favorites for the people that attend the festival.”
By Sherry Matthews
ROSE HILL — A forklift laden with white cardboard boxes makes its way across the shiny floor of a production facility in this small eastern Duplin County town. The driver backs up, adjusts his load and moves forward again, positioning the dozens of boxes next to row after row of like products, all emblazoned with the beach-themed insignia synonymous with the Duplin Winery.
One room over, fewer than a dozen workers are overseeing a production line, where empty glass bottles are dumped onto a conveyor belt and channeled through an elaborate maze that sees those bottles filled with wine, corked, labeled, packaged and boxed before being carted to the distribution room.
An hour after the process begins, 7,000 bottles of “cool, sweet and easy” sipping wines, products of Duplin Winery, are ready to be shipped to one of the 13 states that carries one or all of the Fussell family’s 45 or so varieties.
Some might end up just down the road, on Sycamore Street in Rose Hill, at the winery, where it might be served with lunch in the facility’s bistro or sampled by travelers pulling into the facility from Interstate 40. Sometimes, it seems, as many crates of wine head out the door to waiting cars as come in the winery from the production facility.
And that’s just what brothers Dave and Jonathan Fussell want to see as they continue the successful wine business started back in the mid-1970s by their father, David, grandfather, Daniel “Big D” Fussell Sr., and their uncle, Daniel Fussell Jr.
“We have been very, very blessed,” Jonathan Fussell said, pointing out the rich history, and rich heritage, that has made the winery — and the Muscadine grape — a familiar name in eastern North Carolina and beyond.
It is, he pointed out, the oldest winery in the state of North Carolina, a point of pride for the Fussell family, who readily credits all of their success to great customers and blessings from God.
“We have some wonderful, loyal customers who have helped make this family venture a tremendous success. The Lord has richly blessed us … more they we deserve,” said Fussell, who heads up retail operations at Duplin Winery and serves as vice president. Brother Dave is president and CEO, but the two basically swap titles in the other business, Dupline Wine Family.
Those blessings began in the 1970s when the Muscadine grape was considered, Jonathan Fussell said, “a wonder crop.”
A company in New York was paying big money for the North Carolina grapes, and the elder Fussells began growing them for that company. When the price bottomed out a few years later, it was time, the younger Fussell noted, for his father, grandfather and uncle to find a way to salvage their livelihood.
Getting into the wine-making business themselves seemed the logical solution, and that’s just what they did.
“My grandfather contributed the building and my dad and my uncle began making wine right here in Rose Hill, using the grapes we were harvesting.” It was, Fussell said, “a true family operation,” with in-laws, aunts, uncles and grandchildren pitching in to do what they could, be it stomp the grapes or help bottle the wine.
Using a converted hog trailer, the Fussells began to peddle their product to distributors and soon the family and Duplin Winery were making a name for themselves.
“At one time, I can’t remember the year, we made up about 57 percent of all the tax collected for wine in the state. I’m not sure where we are now, but it’s probably still a good number,” Fussell pointed out.
It wasn’t always easy at the winery, however. When the Fussells first began their venture, the town and its citizens didn’t want a winery in their midst and, in fact, the governing board had voted not to allow it. But because there were some 72 families growing grapes in N.C. at the time, all in need of a place to sell their crop, the state intervened.
In 1976, the winery opened for business; one year later bottling began at the Sycamore Street facility. As its popularity increased so did the need to move the bottling operation into its own facility, paving the way for more retail space at the winery, which now features a large tasting room, The Bistro restaurant, where the wines are featured, and an area where clothing and accessories are sold, along with specialty items.
“My dad came up with the idea of opening the Bistro,” Fussell pointed out. “He was trying to give customers a reason to keep coming back to the winery. Offering them a restaurant with great food and providing entertainment through our dinner shows was what he came up with. It has been a real asset and it’s done exactly what he thought it would.”
Coupled with entertainment and food was the Fussell family’s mantra of treating people well. “That’s something that has been instilled in all of us over the years: it’s important to build good relationships, offer people the best and treat them nice, always treat them nice. If you do those things, they’ll keep coming back.”
It didn’t hurt that along with following those powerful rules, the Fussells were providing a sweet tasting wine that was tempting the palates of more and more people every year.
“We had tremendous growth from 1996 through 2011,” Fussell said, admitting that there was a downturn in 2011, when the winery went from double-digit sales to single digits.
“Let’s just say 2012 was our wake-up call, and we answered it with a vengeance. We recognized that we had to put ourselves into making this business a success every day. Doing that and having such good, loyal customers allowed us to build back our success. Today, wow, it’s just amazing how well the business is doing.”
In 2015, the winery produces 1.6 million gallons of wine a year, making it, Fussell noted, the largest winery in the south. More than 100,000 visitors experience the Rose Hill winery and production facility each year, and Duplin wine is distributed in 13 states. The winery is involved in some 210 events a year, 50 of them at the winery and another 160 at venues and festivals across the state.
Their wines are award winning and include such favorites as Black River Red; Magnolia, which was featured in Martha Stewart Living as a favorite summertime wine; Hatteras Red, a North Carolina favorite; and Scuppernong, the oldest wine in America. A new favorite is becoming the Duplin Sangria, which is growing in popularity now.
“We are very proud of our wines,” Fussell said. “We believe our commitment to excellence shines through with every sip.” The winery’s continued success has allowed the Fussell family to take their winery on the road, with plans to open a second facility in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this summer. The 15,000-square-foot facility, located beside Barefoot Landing, will offer guided wine tours, bottling by hand and retail space.
Fussell said the facility should be able to accommodate some 200-plus guests for guided wine tastings at one time, making it the largest wine-tasting station on the Grand Strand. The location also will include more than 5,000 square feet of retail space featuring Duplin wines, as well as specialty drinks, foods and merchandise.
“We will be bottling about 1,000 bottles per hour by hand at the Myrtle Beach facility, and people will be able to watch it being done,” Fussell pointed out, noting that there would not be a restaurant in the South Carolina facility.
Those taking the tours also will see cooking demonstrations accompanied by a presentation about the early days of the winery when Duplin first sold its wines in mason jars before moving to more traditional wine bottles.
“We want this to be a real attraction, and we think it will be,” Fussell said.
And it will have the Fussell mark of excellence written all over it. “It has taken us a long time to get here but we are excited to be doing this in Myrtle Beach. It’s a dream come true.
“I said it once, but I’ll say it again, we have been very, very blessed, richly so, and my family is very, very thankful.”
By Kitsey E. Burns
WINSTON-SALEM — A Yadkin County chef recently claimed the victory in a live dining competition featuring North Carolina products. Chef Christian Froelich of Hearth Restaurant at Sanders Ridge winery in Boonville took on Chef Anders Benton of Gia in Greensboro in a culinary battle designed to showcase the state and provide an entertaining experience for food lovers.
“Our mission of Competition Dining is to create emotionally inspiring dining experiences connecting the chef and the farmer to the diner,” explained event founder and host Jimmy Crippen. “Everybody’s a foodie. Everybody loves to eat good food and people love to be entertained.”
Not only do diners get to enjoy the dishes prepared by the competing chefs, but they are also the judges, which brings an even greater level of excitement for food lovers, Crippen said. Chefs Froelich and Benton were told the secret ingredients that they must use in their dishes around 11:30 a.m. the day of the competition. By 7 p.m. that evening the diners were seated to begin sampling six different courses prepared by the chefs.
Froelich said they couldn’t even have their cell phones with them in the kitchen and all the menu items had to come straight from their heads. Preparing signature dishes from their respective restaurants was also against the rules. The chefs had to pull out all the stops to put together creative, visually pleasing and, of course, tasty dishes to wow the diners who would be voting on their favorites.
The primary sponsor of the Competition Dining Series is the the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the secret ingredients for each competition are items that are made, grown, raised, caught or made in North Carolina.
“The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has been supporting the Competition Dining Series since in started in 2005 and they have helped me along the way by providing product and promotion and even a little grant money to help us do what we do,” Crippen said. “What we are doing is getting North Carolina agriculture into the hearts and and minds of the people in North Carolina.”
Using locally grown produce has been a big part of Froelich’s mission at Hearth Restaurant so he felt right at home continuing to use local products during the competition. Hearth Restaurant gets much of its produce from the organic farm at Sanders Ridge as well as other local growers. Froelich said the number of other locally grown and made products available to them during the competition amazed him and he discovered new products he planned to bring back to his restaurant.
Nestled well off the beaten path in Boonville, Hearth Restaurant is not a place diners would just stumble upon. Many visitors to the area’s wine region do find the restaurant which is also the tasting room for Sanders Ridge winery, but Froelich hopes his recent win will draw additional business into the restaurant from area locals.
“I hope the folks of Yadkin County would say this is a pretty good restaurant to come to,” he said.
Froelich, who has worked as a chef at Nobles and the Twin City Quarter, where the competition took place, was clearly the favorite to win. During the dramatic introduction of the chefs at the start of the event, the room erupted into applause and cheers at Froelich’s name.
“I’m just glad to be here to support our local Chef Froelich,” said Bonnie Lasky of Boonville. “It was just too much fun and the food was absolutely phemonal.”
The secret ingredients for the competition were artisan flatbread crackers made by The Accidental Baker in Hillsborough and cheeses from Goat Lady Dairy in Climax.
Froelich, who has competed before in the event, was a bit incredulous at first when learning of the secret ingredients.
“It was weird at first,” he said. “I really thought the crackers would be hardest, but it actually worked out very well. The cheese was a little more of a challenge.”
Each of the six courses were presented during the event and diners did not know which chef made which dish. Crippen cautioned diners at the start to not even try to guess, he said even the wives and mothers of competing chefs had been mistaken in past events when trying to guess who made what.
Just as Crippen predicted, even Christina, Froelich’s wife, incorrectly guessed one of the dishes she thought had been made by her husband.
During the event diners voted via a smartphone app for each course, scoring it on presentation, aroma, flavor, creativity and use of the secret ingredient.
At the big reveal at the end, Chefs Froelich’s dishes had been a savory cheesecake with rosemary garlic cracker crust, pork cheek ravioli atop a bed of braised kale and Brussels sprout leaves and a lemon custard tart.
“I was really happy with the cheesecake. I thought it was pretty cool, a nice little twist on a savory cheesecake for a lot of people who hadn’t had that sort of thing,” Froelich said. “The ravioli I thought just came out really well.”
The ravioli was one of the dishes that stood out for Crippen as well because of the unique way it incorporated the secret ingredients.
“My favorite was the ravioli. The reason why is they had to make the ravioli and the flour used was crushed crackers which was the secret ingredient,” Crippen said. “That was not an easy task and the thought process, I thought was pretty interesting. And anytime you saute greens and Brussels sprouts with bacon fat, you had me there.”
Froelich will be moving on the next round of the triad competition and possibly on to the statewide competition which will take place this fall. He said he does not know why he keeps coming back to compete, but he does and he is ready to keep up the friendly competition with other area chefs. “The strategy is we just stay focused. We do what we love, we don’t get crazy, but we make sure every plate is just true to the flavor and what we are trying to do,” he said.
Christina Froelich said the ravioli and the lemon tart were her two favorite dishes. She said she loved the entire event and the food, but she did get nervous for her husband when it came time for the scores to be revealed. Her nervousness was unnecessary though since Froelich easily claimed the victory.
She said she was thrilled with her husband’s win and also hoped it would draw more folks to visit their restaurant.
“We love the town of Boonville, we love Sanders Ridge winery and the facility is exactly what we dreamed for our restaurant,” she said. “It’s a beautiful spot, great wines, great food, great atmosphere, great people. Just come on out and enjoy it!”
Hearth Restaurant is located at 3200 Round Hill Road in Boonville.
By Wendy Byerly Wood
Walking the streets of downtown Mount Airy it’s no secret that the town is all about Andy Griffith and Mayberry, as it is his hometown, proudly announced to visitors by the silhouette of Andy and Opie going fishing on the water tower seen prominently a few blocks from Main Street near the intersection of U.S. 601 and U.S. 52.
For shop owner Sandra Barnett, the focus of the Main Street store sitting amongst the tourist stops in downtown is to share a taste of the Yadkin Valley wine country with those visitors, but not without a touch of Mayberry hinted at on the store’s house wines and in the shop’s name.
Uncorked in Mayberry, what once was primarily a retail shop for Yadkin Valley wines, is growing into something much more with Barnett’s recent purchase of the established store.
Originally owned and operated by another downtown business owner, who still has a presence at another store in the historic district, Barnett acquired the wine shop in August 2014.
“We were looking at opening a shop on Main Street and were looking for a building,” explained Barnett. She learned that the previous owner was wanting to sell, so she jumped at the chance to own her own wine store.
“Liz (Blevins)and I were going to open a gift shop, but when this came available, I bought it and she works part-time with me,” said Barnett, who said she’s always enjoyed drinking wine and has learned a lot more about it in the last year she’s owned the shop.
Blevins, a transplant from Florida who moved to the area with her husband who is originally from Surry County 10 years ago, had worked for seven and a half years at downtown winery, Old North State Winery, serving as tasting manager so she was familiar with the ins and outs of the wine industry.
“I wanted something more fun, and I found out about the wine industry,” Blevins said.
“Our focus is on a lot of the smaller wineries not being mass distributed in the grocery stores,” said Blevins. “It’s like a one-stop shop for Yadkin Valley wines. We introduce people to the Yadkin Valley wine region.
“People from out of town don’t realize it is a wine region until they come in,” she said.
While Uncorked in Mayberry had been for its five or six years of existence simply a retail shop, Barnett and Blevins are transitioning it into a wine bar, tasting room and shop with wine accessories. They also have added craft beers, as Barnett secured her ABC license to expand the offerings.
“You can come in and drink wine and sample craft beer. We have Ashe County cheeses that can be snacked on, and we do Nancy’s chocolate-covered truffles,” said Barnett, noting that Nancy’s candy is made in nearby Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Another offering is local wine jellies, and hand-rolled cigars from Mark Bullin.
The shop offers varieties from 20 Yadkin Valley wineries now and the duo is hoping to add more in the near future.
The walls display local art, and a couple of times a month Uncorked is the site of live music, with a schedule found on the shop’s Facebook page and website.
For those seeking out a place to entertain or host an event, Barnett said they will open at night for private events and parties.
While all of the wines aren’t available for tasting all the time, Barnett said weekly the shop rotates out varieties for tasting availability. “We are not just a wine retail shop,” she said, with Blevins adding it is a wine shop and wine bar.
“We are trying to transition to somewhere people can come out and have a glass of wine, relax and visit with friends,” said Barnett.
“I like being involved in my hometown and being downtown,” she said of why she wanted to join the dozens of other downtown entrepreneurs. “To me, this is home.
“I enjoy meeting the tourists and those traveling on vacation. I’m excited to be here. That’s what I love — the wines, support locals and meeting the people. I’ve had visitors from Australia, Europe and a lot from Ohio, and it’s exciting. It’s fun being part of it, the town growing,” said Barnett.
“And we’re producing some great unique wines,” added Blevins of the region. “We are supporting the locals with the wine, jellies, beer and more.”
In addition to other Yadkin Valley wines, the shop offers four of its own house wines — Floyd’s Flat Top, a semisweet made with a Niagra grape; Andy’s Blend, a sweet muscadine; Otis’ Own, a pinot chardonnay blend; and Barney’s Nip, a merlot.
“That is a big thing for us, and they are good wines,” said Barnett of the wines sitting a top a barrel on display as visitors walk through the front doors of the shop.
Uncorked in Mayberry is open seven days a week at 126 N. Main St., Mount Airy, and can be found on Facebook at Uncorked.