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.