By D.C. Moody |
A small slice of European flavors
CLEVELAND, S.C. — Tucked into a small elbow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Table Rock dominating the view, Victoria Valley Vineyards is a small slice of European flavor transplanted to the foothills of the Carolinas, dominated by a verdant valley, almost out of sight and out of mind.
That was the vision Vicki and Les Jayne had when they bought the 47-acre tract of land in 1999.
The first vinis vinifera was planted in 2000 and the first vintage was released in 2004, before the French Chateau that greets visitors was designed by Les, with all the intricate and delicate woodwork crafted by his own hands, the same as the wines Victoria Valley produces, crafted hands-on by Vicki and Les.
The Jaynes, transplants from Ontario, Canada, have taken quite well to the Piedmont region of the Carolinas and local aficionados have taken to Victoria Valley’s vintages as well, enjoying a resplendent array of tastes aged in white oak casks, adding to their depth and body. Not to mention a Sangria, served on premises only, reminiscent of a Cuban café’s refreshing offering on a hot, humid day.
Visitors are greeted by a French Chateau-inspired scene as they crest the iron-gated entrance, instantly transporting them to a place far removed from upstate South Carolina, giving the sense of traveling to a European setting without enduring a transatlantic flight.
The aromatic blend of scents from the native fauna and flora mingles with the effervescent, yet light, hint of the vines, so carefully groomed and maintained with knowledge accrued over 29 years, beginning in the Jaynes’ basement in Canada, where Les began aging their own wines.
The tasting room, which also serves as a gift shop and greeting area, has just the right blend of the classic and modern. Les’ craftsmanship is obvious with the intricate woodworking throughout, especially with the winding staircase that leads to the aging vault.
A selection of accoutrements can be found, from wine totes made from classic rock ‘n roll albums to handcrafted centerpieces any dinner party would be remiss to omit. It’s not unusual to find the tasting room teeming with visitors on a weekday as they sample Victoria Valley’s offerings before retiring for lunch or dinner to the veranda, located perfectly for a view of the vineyards and mountains just beyond reach.
The Jaynes, proud of what they have accomplished thus far, take pride in their daily hands-on efforts in caring for their grapes, and that care is reflected in each pour.
“We love to work with the vines, to make them look perfect and happy, healthy, to make them a joy to see as much as enjoy the wines they produce,” Vicki Jayne said. “They have to be tucked perfectly, trimmed, and allowed to breathe, the air has to be able to mingle with the leaves and grapes. We love it when people stop in and enjoy this small place we’ve been able to create.”
Signature vintages such as Table Rock White, Lola’s Best and Sweet Merlot may have a complex taste and bouquet, but that is the result of experience and great care, and the vision the Jaynes brought to the Carolinas, a vision that seems to be coming to fruition as well.
“What we wanted to do was keep things simple but elegant,” Vicki said. “We wanted to bring that idea to life and bring a touch of elegance to the mountains.”
Simple yet elegant — a combination that may seem difficult at best to achieve. But an hour on the veranda gives the appearance of simplicity itself, and the elegance is reflected in the relaxing atmosphere. Music ranging from classical jazz to more modern pieces is accompanied by a refreshed palate that is only enhanced by an aged Asiago or perhaps a light lunch or dinner prepared to perfection, blessed by an almost everpresent cooling breeze despite the summer heat.
Victoria Valley Vineyard’s tastings, group opportunities, hosted events and dinners, as well as weddings are welcome moments for the Jaynes, finding their own enjoyment in the pleasure of their guests in the atmosphere of a journey half a world away yet right in their own backyard.
But what has been a hidden treasure is slowly becoming a well-known secret as visitors are now discovering the Jaynes’ small slice of heaven for themselves.
One recent guest went so far as to share with Vicki the Jaynes had saved her at least $5,000, as she felt she had a trip to the Old Continent without having to leave the country.
Vicki and Les will tell you the quality of a wine and its end result are based on the soil, grape, time and aging — which is true — but an ebullient wine is even better when the atmosphere is just right.
One afternoon on Victoria Valley Vineyard’s veranda may add one intangible to that equation, and that is atmosphere, coupled with impeccable service and the simple elegance the Jaynes envisioned when their dream began nearly 30 years ago in Ontario.
Today, Victoria Valley Vineyard is a destination, not a room with a view, but a view with simplistic elegance, just as it was intended.
by David Boyles
It’s an example of a frugal solution to a problem.
Local grape growers and wine makers were asked to consider adapting air-drying techniques used in tobacco farming to grapes as insurance against too much rain at harvest time.
The idea was part of a December night meeting with local grape producers and win makers at the Surry County Extension Service Center in Dobson.
As many gardeners can attest, a lot of rain at just the right time dilutes the natural sugars in grapes as well as many other fruits. What was proposed is pressing tobacco drying barns into use for drying grapes and bringing the sugar ratio back into line so winemakers can produce vintages commanding higher prices at the cash registers.
According to Extension Agent Joanna Radford, the meeting was an example of an important part of an industry quietly continuing without drawing much attention to itself. Master Gardener Kathleen Demers assisted Radford with the meeting.
Radford explained to the participants the practice of outdoor grape drying to concentrate the fruit, known as “Appassimento,” has been practiced for a long time in vineyards in northern Italy. She said most recently Canadian growers have given the practice a New World tweak and are having good results and some producers in Virginia and Raffaldini Vineyard in North Carolina.
She said air drying changes the chemistry of the grapes, concentrating sugars and flavor. Negative points for growers to consider include drying reduces dilution and therefore quantity of juice. Some regions, concentrating on Merlot, have even used this technique to allow grapes extra time to mature. Radford reported on studies which are building an economic case for drying in what amounts to a temperature and humidity controlled chamber.
“In Surry County I see us really benefiting from this because of the weather,” said Radford. “Traditional drying methods used mats or racks to air dry the grapes. There’s probably a lot of barns which could be re-purposed for this. Many of them are self-contained, on concrete pads with heat and forced air for ventilation.”
She told participants there were no special rack needs and said in many cases these barns could be up and running after being sanitized. She said the major concern was stacking the grapes for even air circulation. Radford said some wine makers are experimenting with varying amounts of time for drying depending on the variety of grapes and the style of wine.
Radford said some factors to consider were the grapes not having any rot, with “reasonable maturity” and good quality skins. She said factors to consider were monitoring the grapes to ensure against factors including harmful organisms, acidity and oxidation.
“Testing is being done in Central Virginia and Appalachian State (University),” Radford said. “What research I’ve been able to do indicates air drying has worked better for white grapes while it worked better for reds in Virginia.”
The goal of the meetings is to provide needed information to local producers and wine makers which benefits their operation. Thursday’s session focused on pruning and winterizing grapes.
Mount Airy’s Old North State Winery Vincent and Van Gogh art classes, taught by Lizzie Morrison, have proven to be so popular they sell out within days after they are announced.
The room at Old North State Winery was filled with canvases and artists recently, all ready to put their own personal touch on the holiday-themed wreath painting.
Some participants use more unconventional methods when creating their works of art, such as Leeann Kirby Odell and her mother-in-law Ronda Odell, who decided to take the canvas off the easel, which Odell said made the process easier when applying the dark blue background color.
Marie Needham of Pilot Mountain elected to use a red background instead of the typical dark blue.
Morrison said one of her favorite parts of teaching the classes is seeing the final works of art. All participants take home their own original work of art on canvas. Morrison said she also loves discovering who chose to add unique details in the process. “Each painting is different in the end.”
Old North State Winery plans to add more Vino and Van Gogh art classes in the future, and those interested should watch the Facebook page and websites for announcements about future dates. The cost of $45 per person includes a glass of wine from a selected list, appetizers, and, of course, a work of art, personally created by the participant.
While North Carolina and the Southeastern Wine Industry may have increasingly popular meetings, conferences and symposiums, there is no conference that works to unite the needs of the region of the Yadkin Valley, according to David Bower, SCC enology instructor for Surry Community College in Dobson.
Internationally renowned experts in Viticulture and Enology were featured during the second annual Southeastern United Grape and Wine Symposium held Nov. 6-7, 2013, at the Shelton- Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture & Enology on the campus of Surry Community College.
When asked to reflect on what is making the venue so popular, Bower said the sessions are very based in practicality, as guests can use the information that’s discussed at the conference immediately when they return to their farm and home.
“Finally, because we are in a partnership with VESTA, the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance, we are able to offer the price of the conference at an extremely discounted rate with top notch speakers from all over the world,” said Bower. Without a hitch, the symposium featured a full audience and at times a standing-roomonly crowd.
“This event is a wonderful educational opportunity consisting of lectures and workshops to help wine makers and grape growers increase their knowledge base,” said Bower during the start of the November program. “Our symposium, educational program and our partnership with VESTA (Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance) focuses its efforts on a technical education and training experience for those interested in the fields of Viticulture and Enology. Our symposium specifically targets the entire Southeastern United States with hopes of bringing regionally specific technical topics to light for those in our area.”
Sabrina Lueck, one of 12 expert presenters who visited the Yadkin Valley, said a strong college wine program can produce an upward cluster of jobs. Lueck talked about the idea of the wine cluster and its impact by having a strong college wine program.
Lueck, hailing from the state of Washington from Walla Walla Community College, presented “The Design and Potential Economic Impact of a Strong College Wine Program With Tasting.”
“It’s not just about the wine industry, but it’s about the associated jobs that come with it,” said Lueck. “We employ about three-quarter of jobs that are primary and then onequarter are restaurants, hospitality and specialty shops. So if you start building that important tourism economy, and if you want people to spend $35 on a really nice bottle of wine, you have to show them a nice meal, a nice hotel, and give them other things to see and do in downtown sections.”
According to Lueck, that’s where the jobs come in.
One such industry is in food. Walla Walla Community
by Anthony Gonzalez
A Swan Creek vineyard may have one of the best tasting room staff, bar none.
Cynthia Lidderdale shuffles her way to work four days per week driving an hour each way.
Sporting a jacket and a knitted hat, Lidderdale instantly greeted guests that entered the vineyard tasting room of Raffaldini.
Lidderdale started working for the Raffaldini family more than six years ago. She talks about the property as if it were her family.
The Raffaldini family dates back to the year 1348 in the town of Mantua, located in the Northern Province of Lombardy, Italy. To this day, the family owns and lives on the land that is their ancestral home.
The Raffaldini family motto, “Audentes Fortuna Iuvat” means, “Fortune favors those who dare.”
According to Lidderdale, the fusion of family, food and wine is an integral part of our daily life.
“They made a decision to share their centuries-old wine experience with the New World,” said Lidderdale prior to the first tasting.
“May I have your ID? Oh, look, he’s from New York,” said Lidderdale to her tasting room colleague, Denise Kent.
“Like good wine, you hold your age well. You don’t look your age,” said Kent.
Lidderdale said that after a long and exhaustive search for land that would reflect the experience, Raffaldini Vineyards was established in the Swan Creek area of the Yadkin Valley.
“We handcraft our Italian wines; wines that express not only their purpose, but also utilize winemaking skills that have been refined throughout the ages,” said Lidderdale.
“Here, taste,” said Lidderdale who provided a series of wines offered by the vineyard.
During the entire tasting, Lidderdale focused on her customer, engaging in chat that often steered toward other topics, but shifted back to the wine. After each tasting, Lidderdale reinforced the Raffaldini message, but it was a natural procedure.
“Yes, it is difficult for people to take the first step to come to a vineyard. I guess the first thing they need to do is determine what they like. You’ll be surprised. Once they understand what they like, they can pick up aromas and go from there,” she said.
“It’s simple with tastings. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it,” said Lidderdale.
According to Lidderdale, the vineyard tasting room used to rest in a double-wide trailer that sits adjacent to the current Tuscan-style Villa tasting room.
“The trailer is used well today. It holds offices and event planners. The Raffaldinis don’t waste anything,” she said.
“Our winery was built by the owners. We used to share space at another winery, but 2008 was a big year for us. Yes, we even have some pasta sauce too and a variety of other products. The sauce is an interesting concept. Wines from the vineyard are used in the recipe. I don’t eat the sauce from a can like Ragu. I eat the good stuff, like this product,” she said.
Even in the winter, the vineyard is breathtaking. Above the tasting room is an event room that holds a fireplace for quaint receptions up to 50 people, noted Lidderdale.
“We have a wrap around balcony, drapes can fall down outside in case of inclement weather. You should come back here and hold some kind of reception or family event,” she said. “Look, right here we have a kitchen. This is for your caterer. You will have everything you need here, like family.”
Raffaldini reviewed more than 60 possible locations for the vineyard. They chose the site located at 450 Groce Road in Ronda.
Nestled near the Yadkin River and Blue Ridge Mountains, the rolling hills and gentle slopes of the vineyard are blessed with mild breezes that constantly freshen and circulate air, according to Lidderdale.
Unique to the vineyard is a predominant amount of broken granite and schist which provide for excellent soil drainage and trace mineral extraction. The Raffaldini team believes this gives grape fruit that certain sense of terroir or “place.” Moderate elevation levels of 1,200 feet and colder facing aspects allow for temperature variation during the growing season which slowly builds acidity and complexity.
“There’s a lot of energy here. I love it here. Where else can you show up at for work and see this stunning beauty?” The vineyard has incomparable mountain views.
Why so friendly?
“I don’t know you. In all of the time you walked in (jeans, sneakers, armed with a camera), you looked like any other ordinary tourist. It just doesn’t matter. I feel that everyone should be treated with respect and care. That’s what this place is all about,” said Lidderdale.
“I really like what I do. I love to meet people. I like that Denise and I, as an example, are here to smile and help people. We know that some people come here already experienced. We treat them the same way. Others don’t come as experienced. We treat them the same way. We’re in this together,” she said.
by Wendy Byerly Wood
JOLO holding grand opening April 5
With the prominent view of Pilot Mountain rising behind the tasting room and restaurant of the new JOLO Winery & Vineyard, it’s no wonder the owners have created an oasis for wine and food lovers.
JOLO’s first harvest has been made into wine and is now bottled and waiting on the doors to open to the public so it can get a taste of what the Yadkin Valley and Pilot Mountain area dirt can reap.
“This is our very first vintage,” said JOLO owner J.W. Ray, who with his wife, Kristen, operates the vineyard and winery on Pilot Power Dam Road at the eastern intersection with N.C. 268. “And I dare say it came out pretty good.”
It was during a trip to France that Ray said the couple was inspired to join the wine industry. “We were in Burgundy, France,” said Ray. He said the man at the vineyard there showed him a thick vine and explained how big a decision it was for the grandfather to plant that one vine, because he would never see the fruits of its harvest.
“The big vine was for his grandkids. It is really neat that generations and generations can see the hard work you’ve done long after you planted it,” Ray said of the legacy that he and his wife want to leave for their sons, Jordan, 13, and Logan, 12, the namesakes of JOLO.
For 23 years the Massachusetts natives lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., as Ray created and ran Learn.com, an online learning software company. It was later acquired by Oracle.
Upon deciding they would leave Florida to start a vineyard and winery, Ray said the couple “did a lot of research.”
The Rays didn’t want to focus on wines like muscadines, so the eastern part of the state was out. “We narrowed our choice to North Carolina and the Yadkin Valley, and with the help of Realtors, we found this property and view of the mountain,” Ray said.
“The schools are great, and we are close to (U.S.) 52 and Winston- Salem,” he said.
JOLO Winery & Vineyard began as one seven-acre tract adjoining the property that now features the tasting room and winery facility. Then last year, the Rays purchased a three-acre tract where they have built the tasting room and winery.
“It was all wooded. We cleared 10 acres and have seven acres planted. In April, we will plant three more acres,” Ray said.
According to JOLO’s website, “Being ‘green’ is a key theme for JOLO Winery & Vineyards. Our ecofriendly initiatives include the use of burnt vine clippings and compost for fertilizers, the use of baking soda and hot sauce in place of most insecticides, and the use of reclaimed creek and rain water as the only added source of irrigation for the vines.
“Although the vines yielded a promising bounty of fruit during 2012 harvest, the fruit was cut early and put back into the land for soil nourishment.”
In 2010, vines were first planted on the initial seven acres, and in September 2013, the first grapes were harvested with bottling in December.
“We should be releasing some in March, and we will have a little bit of red for our grand opening April 5,” Ray said, who serves as JOLO’s winemaker, with guidance from Sean McRitchie.
Grapes growing at JOLO’s vineyard include traditional bordeaux French grapes of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Also growing are French American hybrids of vidal blanc and traminette; a cultivar indigenous to Virginia called cynthiana; and a hybrid chambourcin.
The first four wines created from the harvest will be available for purchase after JOLO’s April grand opening.
From those seven grape varieties come six wines — 2013 JOLOTAGE, the vineyard’s premier red wine blend; 2013 Muddy Paws, from the pertit verdot, is named for the Rays’ Weimaraner Chief, who kept muddy paws from playing in the vineyard; 2013 Grey Ghost, also named for Chief, and is 100 percent vidal blanc based; 2013 Crimson Creek, a 100 percent chambourcin wine; 2013 JOLO Pink, created from merlot; and 2013 Happy Endings, which is a dessert wine based on vidal blanc.
Ray focuses on the winemaking and food, which will include an on-site restaurant in the tasting room, where visitors can watch the chef and staff create their meals in an open kitchen setting while trying out JOLO’s wines. He has more than 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry and owned his own restaurant when he was 19.
Wife Kristen handles the logistics, ordering, wine club and other businessrelated aspects. She has been in corporate sales for 20 years.
“I still have another job, so I have a lot of help here,” Ray said of his two companies, webteach.com, an online tutoring service, and Backlog Capital, a lending company for technology companies. “We have four full-time staff and soon it will be six when we hire a chef and tasting room manager in February.”
He said eventually there will be 10 to 12 staff with wait staff and dishwashers.
“We’re permitted and ready to go,” Ray said as he led a tour of the tasting room and kitchen featuring JOLO wines on tap, dining area, winery facility and a small one-room cabin for bridal couples to use following weddings held on site.
JOLO also is in the process of annexation with the town of Pilot Mountain so it can take advantage of getting ABC permits in order to offer cocktails and other drinks to visitors.
Ray said JOLO will likely offer other boutique wines such as those created by his mentor McRitchie. “Sean is the gold standard in the state,” he said.
“When a chef gets here and established, we’re hoping to be the finest dining establishment in North Carolina,” said Ray, noting that the winery is in the audition process for chefs, bringing them in from Houston and the west coast. “We get our chicken, pork and beef here at Our Chosen Heritage on Burge Road in Pinnacle. We have a two-acre tract dedicated for farming of produce here, and we will use Pilot Mountain Pride as much as we can.” JOLO Winery & Vineyard began booking private events in October, and already has a couple of weddings scheduled for this year.
Just west of a main corridor in the town of Elkin is a gravel road that requires you to steer left at a fork in it.
The road suddenly opens into a hillside that boasts grapes of a vineyard that overlooks a clip that was once a working gristmill.
The center attraction of the Elkin Creek Winery and Vineyard is a tasting room, a superbly decorated room that doubles as its restaurant, filled with collectibles placed by its former and current owners. Most importantly, the location has a brick oven that’s only fired up on Sunday mornings.
“Can you smell the good stuff?” asked Jean Carter who was in town for Elkin’s annual pumpkin festival that was held in Elkin’s downtown section. Jean was sitting on the outside patio of the tasting room.
“I was down there, by the water. Someone took their pizza down there to eat. I wanted to snatch their plate,” laughed Jean. “My husband is down there. He’ll eventually come upstairs. We’re having pizza, you know.”
Richard Carter eventually made his way up after taking snapshots of the sitting area that contains porch chairs around a fire pit. Richard did not want to disconnect from his “Nikon moment” as he would like to call it.
“I can take a gazillion pictures of this spot,” said Richard. He was captivated by the picturesque view of where the property’s two creeks, the Elkin Creek and Grassy Creek, merge together. Add the old gristmill that is now the private residence of its owners, Jean had to call Richard three times to pry him away.
“I hear the pizza is good here,” said Richard. “Is that what you’re here for?”
Nick White, who doubles as the vineyard manager and chef, is mostly found inside the kitchen on Sundays preparing orders, tossing wood into a fire he created, rarely taking a breather.
It’s Sunday though at Elkin Creek. Most people know that Nick has the most pressure on him. Pizza is a huge demand to the Sunday crowd.
White is observed measuring the temperature of the oven’s
Laurel Gray Vineyards in Hamptonville isn’t content with having award-winning wines in its past. It’s expanding its operation to take a whole new fruit-based line of wine varieties thanks to its separate company, Yadkin Valley Wine Company.
Federal law allows wineries to have only one tasting room on their property. Luckily Laurel Gray and its cousin Yadkin Valley Wine are individually registered companies that happen to exist on the same property, allowing them to have two tasting rooms — one each.
Benny Myers, owner of Laurel Gray and Yadkin Valley Wine, is looking to use that fact to create a second tasting room to feature the new line of blueberry, pear and assorted fruit wines the company is producing. The idea stems from Benny’s wife Kim and the old fruit crates people would fill with fruit. Kim took that idea and inspired the “Fruit Crate Wines.”
One is called “Carolina Blue,” a blueberry wine. “Southern Belle” is peach-based. “Starstruck” is made from pears. “All that Rass” is a raspberry wine. There also will be a pomegranate wine.
Myers said the wine and the tasting room will be nothing like Laurel Gray. The wines are designed to cater to customers looking for fun wines that offer unique flavors they won’t find at the average winery.
The tasting room will be located behind Laurel Gray in Yadkin Valley Wine’s building. Eventually Myers plans to move Laurel Gray’s tasting room to Yadkin Valley and vice versa, using the smaller, 1930s milking parlor at Laurel Gray to house the fruit wines.
Myers said the plan is to have the tasting room up and running by mid-October.
Laurel Gray also is making its own brand of sauces. The line of Artisan Vinaigrette, Chocolate Cabernet, Crazy Bout Butts BBQ, and Chardonnay Caramel are available through the winery’s tasting room or online at laurelgraysauces.com.
Recipes also are available online to pair the sauces with the perfect selection of foods. Artisan Vinaigrette is great with fish, vegetables, pork, burgers, and with bread or salad. Chocolate Cabernet can be used on ice cream, cheesecake or fresh berries. Crazy Bout Butts BBQ is a molasses sauce perfect for pork, and Chardonnay Caramel is best with ice cream, cheesecake, apple pie, crepes, bread pudding, or whatever your imagination can think of.
All the sauces are gluten and preservative free.
Laurel Gray Vineyards is as much a picture of Yadkin County in 2013 as it is a prize-winning winery. It’s situated on Old Highway 421 on an old tobacco farm, ran by a retired R.J. Reynolds worker and his wife, produces some of the most awarding winning wines in the world, and owes it all to soil the rest of the country gets green with envy for.
Benny Myers and his wife Kim weren’t sure what they would do with the farmland when they bought it from Benny’s cousin in 1994, but there was no doubt they had to have the acreage. The farm was totally in tobacco at the time. He and his wife were in the Angus cattle business at the time, so purchasing the land made perfect sense.
Little did he and his wife know at the time that years of tobacco planting had prepped the soil for the perfect pH balance. Benny and Kim took classes at the viticulture department of Surry Community College to learn what to do about planting a vineyard. Benny said their instructors couldn’t believe the quality of the soil.
Almost exactly a neutral seven on the scale, the soil was far and away better than the local average of acidic 3.5-4. The Myers began planting their vineyard in 2003 on a two-acre patch of the farm and did not have to alter the soil at all, “just dig holes and put in the vines,” Benny said.
The first two wines that came out of the vineyard won gold medals at the Mid-Atlantic Wine Competition in Winston-Salem.
Benny said the two had planted the vineyard with the intent to sell the grapes, but the wine turned out so well they began looking at making their own wine. They expanded to a 10-acre vineyard and built their own winery and tasting room on the property. They produced about 3,000 cases of wine a year.
The wines have since won numerous awards both here in the U.S. and internationally. Benny displays a bottle of each winner inside the tasting room on a shelf over the serving bar, each wrapped in the medals they received.
But Benny doesn’t just create wine for the sake of medals. His main goal with each bottle is for the customer to take the wine home and savor it, preferably with a meal. Drawing on the customs of European connoisseurs, Benny tries to teach each customer to pair the French dinner wines the vineyard produces with the appropriate foods whenever possible. He says Europeans view wine as an additional food to their plate, not as a beverage all to itself.
If you want to buy a bottle or case you need to visit the tasting room at Laurel Gray. Benny is in the process of talking to restaurants to sell his wine, but currently the tasting room and the vineyard’s website are the only places to pick up the wine. Twenty-one and Main in Elkin serves a Merlot from Laurel Gray also.
The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sunday, the tasting room is open 1 to 5 p.m. The average number of visitors passing through the vineyard in the last three years is 12,000 annually, but this year’s wet weekends have hampered some from getting out to the winery.
Visitors also can join a wine club that meets at the vineyard twice a year. Members can pick wine up five times a year for a total of 10 bottles which Benny selects. Pairing recipes are included with the wines in a further effort to teach customers how to best enjoy the Laurel Gray products.
Laurel Gray makes the wines through a separate company it owns called the Yadkin Valley Wine Company, located on the property across a decorative pond from the tasting room. Laurel Gray owns it but pays to have their wine made there like any other company would. Myers brings in a wine maker to make wine, with the facility crushing the grapes and making the wine on site.
Myers works on the property himself to keep the operation running smoothly. He refuses to take a hands-off approach with his winning wines, choosing long hours and hard work over the ease of letting someone else manage the business.
Benny cuts the grass and tends the vineyard himself, further keeping himself immersed in the growth and success of Laurel Gray. He primarily oversees Yadkin Valley Wine and Kim oversees Laurel Gray’s tasting room. Between them they have grown the businesses into two powerhouses of the Yadkin Valley wine region, with more surprises and expansions always on the horizon.
Chuck Jones knows that when customers pick up a bottle of wine at Jones von Drehle Vineyards, it doesn’t matter if he likes the wine, but how the wine and customer connect with each other. The winery is located at 964 Old Railroad Grade Road in Thurmond. “We don’t sit around over here. Everyone has a part in this wonderful process. However, at some point it all comes together, especially when you look at your customer who just took a sip of a product you so carefully created and smiles in appreciation. That’s what it’s all about. Sure, we want them to buy wine, but the gratitude comes with that exact moment of their happiness.”
Work started at the winery six years ago. Two sisters casually chatting and navigating through the complexities of life had an idea. They wanted to start a business together.
According to Jones, Ronnie von Drehle expected the simplicity of a business, possibly a store, crafts, and selling items in that nature.
With the two sisters planning, Jones stepped into the conversation because he also had an idea — to build a vineyard.
“I just wanted a few acres where I could grow a few things,” said Jones while traveling on a golf cart during a behind the scenes tour of the vineyard. “I mentioned that I can grow the grapes. They can sell the wine.”
The plan gained momentum after the trio pulled in Ronnie’s husband, Raymond. The ambitious four went from a few acres of grapes to a 30-acre location.
“Forget a few bottles of wine. You see all of the workers harvesting? We’re producing about 10,000 cases of wine,” said Jones.
The Thurmond location was acquired in 2007. It’s conveniently located off Highway 21 just south of Stone Mountain State Park. A small sign straddles a wooden post and guides visitors to the vineyard, but unless you have GPS and if you drive too hastily, you can easily miss the sign.
According to Jones, the property was originally a cow pasture. It had a red barn. It had served its purpose to the property owners before him.
“We drove up and down the street. There was nothing here. Then something connected. Any other person would’ve said we were crazy. For a minute, they may have been right,” said Jones.
An undisclosed investment was made to build the vineyard. It required cleaning the land out, installing state-of-the-art irrigation infrastructure, but the process started.
“The construction of the winery didn’t happen until 2012. The entire process has been like watching a baby born leading all the way to its first steps. You watch the progress,” shared Jones as he glanced to his left to capture the view of the pond he built on the property.
“None of this matters without putting together the team of people. We have that team here at the vineyard,” he said.
Winemaker Dan Tallman stepped into the winery knowing his bosses needed to exemplify a major commitment to the industry. He was convinced.
“I can say that the process is easier because they make it easier. They appreciate what we do. They have great respect for the grape,” Tallman said while he was pouring a tasting of a Merlot to guests in the tasting room.
“Dan is involved from the beginning until the pour. From the second the grapes are picked, and right until they are taken to the winery, he’s involved,” said Jones.
During the harvesting, grapes were observed being hand picked. Within 15 minutes from the picking, the grapes were transported for processing.
“That’s a core value for us. We immediately get the grape in,” said Jones.
The tasting room is situated near the highest point of the vineyard overlooking acres of perfectly manicured land. The interior design is traditional in design of area vineyards, soft welcoming colors, ample seating, adequate parking, a patio that allows a more up close and personal view of the entire vineyard.
A typical pour includes all wines grown at the vineyard.
Estate-grown red wines are a 2012 Tempranillo. The wine is a grape of Spanish origin; its name means, the “early one.” It ripens with the Chardonnay and Viognier and is the first grape for the production of red wine to come off of the vineyard. The clones were harvested on Aug. 28, 2012, and field-blended.
Rock & Rail is a 2011 dark red. The complex fruit steeped with aromas of leather, cedar and spice during a tasting. Its a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for added fruit and mouth feel. According to Jones who conducted the official pours, its perfectly paired with beef, venison, lamb, hard cheese. The wine is aged in a mixture of old and new oak aged for 15 months.
Estate-grown whites are popular.
The Barrel-Select Chardonnay occupies a beautiful hilltop planting in Block C of the vineyard. The soils are a sandy clay loam with embedded fractured rock. Initial fermentation began cold in stainless for 6 days before being transferred to French Oak barrels. The barrels were regularly stirred to invigorate the yeast and take benefit of yeast contact to integrate the finished wine. Add a barrel fermentation lasting an additional 20 days. The barrels were stirred during aging to enhance the complex contribution of the lees. The wine is oak aged for nine months.
Petit Manseng is interesting. It was fermented over a record breaking period of 36 days for the winery. According to Jones, Petit Manseng is a favorite of everyone. The wine was harvested on Sept. 11, 2012, and Sept. 26, 2012, to capture two different expressions of the fruit. One will smell fresh pears with hints of tropical fruit and citrus in the background. It’s a full bodied white wine with an alcohol level to rival most reds.
Other whites are a 2011 and 2012 Chardonnay and a 2012 Viognier.
The winery features a Rosa Dia Rosé and Dulcimer Rosé. The wines are light bodied and both notable summer wines for cool sipping, but both can be found being used throughout the year.
Three Old Railroad types of wine are available at the vineyard: Sweet Red, Blackberry, and Peach. The Sweet Red is a favorite, a nice berry fruit, predominantly blackberry with a touch of strawberry in the background. Hints of currants and dried cranberry are noticed as you breathe in deeply. The wine is a medium-bodied red wine with a hint of French Oak. A touch of sweetness is added to the wine that balances the fruit, making Old Railroad Sweet Red a very smooth red table wine. The wine is labeled “sweet,” but it only contains approximately 0.75 percent sugar, according to Jones.
Blackberry Wine is a dessert bottle with aromas of fresh blackberries. If you give it time, you may be reminded as if you’re eating a blackberry pie. Blackberries were bin-fermented whole, fermented for six days, pressed and cellared until bottling. Harvested over six weeks in the summer of 2012, each picking was flash frozen, eventually yielding a small harvest of 0.65 tons. The berries were hand-picked from a neighbor’s blackberry patch just across the road from the vineyard.
“I’d like to develop in time a major reception hall. That’s a process that will take time, but as you can see we have the land right here,” said Jones.
With weddings, corporate events, anniversaries on the horizon, the competitive side of Jones understands that expansion requires more than a building.
“This is a destination. We know the region is growing significantly through each vineyard that develops. We have the ability to be the next Napa Valley,” said Jones. “We can create additional jobs if economic development is connected with it.”
Jones indicated that this region can become more attractive to people, but you have to have a place for tourists to stay if you want them to make it a destination.
“Why do we want people to only pass through for a few hours? People spend more in our region if we can accommodate them and diversify what they can do when they’re here. If they stop and visit our vineyard, that’s great, but we want them to discover more of what this region has to offer.”