Wine Weekend—Tar Heel Road Trip | Yadkin Valley | North Carolina / by Hope S. Philbrick

Hope S. Philbrick is a freelance writer and editor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She writes about travel, food, wine and spirits (as in booze, not ghosts) and in the name of research has visited more than 34 countries. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications nationwide, including her online magazine GetawaysforGrownups.com. When not writing, she can usually be found on the road or savoring something tasty.

Welcome Sign | Photo Credit: Hope S. Philbrick

Welcome Sign | Photo Credit: Hope S. Philbrick

North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley wine region, officially dubbed the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2003, has been called “Napa of the East.” If you think Southern wineries only produce sweet wines from native grapes, a Yadkin Valley tasting trip will squash those notions faster than a grape.

 

Located in northwestern North Carolina just west of Winston-Salem, the region sprawls 1.4 million acres across the Yadkin River Valley from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains eastward into the Piedmont; it includes all of Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties plus parts of Davie, Davidson, Forsyth and Stokes counties.

Though the Yadkin Valley is now considered a prime grape growing region—it even has a sub-appellation, the Swan Creek AVA, which currently has six wineries—for decades it was a key tobacco growing region. As demand for tobacco declined, many farmers turned to grapes knowing that dozens of wineries thrived in North Carolina before Prohibition wiped out the industry.

Brothers Ed and Charles Shelton, who first started planting Shelton Vineyards in 1999, were among the region’s first new wineries. “We’ve always enjoyed wine,” says Ed, “and decided to give it a try. After we made the decision, we found out this area is ideal for vinifera grapes—the loamy soil conditions, temperate climate. Everything fell into place.” Indeed, Yadkin Valley latitudes are similar to the vineyards of Napa Valley and France.

Thriving varietals include Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel, Viognier and Riesling. Though a distinct regional style or signature grape has yet to emerge, most Yadkin Valley wines are dry.

With more than three dozen vineyards and wineries open to visitors across the Yadkin Valley, it’s possible to spend a week or longer exploring the area. But if you’ve only got time for a weekend getaway, this itinerary aims to make the most of your visit. With a focus on Surry County, since it boasts more than 20 wineries within a short drive from one another, it serves up a mix of large and small, urban and rural, well-established and newer wineries. Along the way you’ll meet interesting people, learn about the winemaking process, and discover delicious wines.

Shelton Vineyard | Photo Credit: Travis Dove

Shelton Vineyard | Photo Credit: Travis Dove

Itinerary

This itinerary starts from the north. If you prefer to start from the south, swap Day 1 and Day 2. If traveling on days other than Saturday and Sunday, you may need to make alternate dining plans. Also, note that many wineries are closed on Mondays, so if you want to add a day we recommend Friday. To keep safe, once you arrive in Yadkin Valley designate a driver or hire a pro like Frog Holler Wine Tours or Parkway Wine Tours (call Woody Jordan at 336-326-8888). This itinerary sets a leisurely pace (you’re on vacation!); if you prefer to rush through tastings, you’ll have time to add additional winery stops without extending the length of your stay.

DAY 1 - Saturday

Noon – Arrive in Mount Airy, North Carolina—actor Andy Griffith’s birthplace and childhood home town, which served as the basis for Mayberry on his eponymous hit TV series. Head to Old North State Winery & Brewery (308 North Main St.; 336.789.9463) for deli lunch and a wine tasting. Housed in a renovated 1890s mercantile building, the allegedly haunted winery produces 16,000 cases a year, making it the third largest wine producer in the state. Don’t miss Restless Soul, the fruit-forward best-selling blend of Malbec, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon.

1:30 p.m. – Drive the short distance to Round Peak Vineyards & Skull Camp Brewing  (765 Round Peak Church Rd., Mount Airy; 336.352.5595). Purchased by current owners Kari Heerdt and Ken Gulaian in 2008, the vineyard’s 13 acres grow French, Italian and Portuguese varietals. “We loved the view,” says Kari of the property. “We were struck by how beautiful it is.” Indeed, this is a patio worth lingering upon, an ideal place to sip wine, gaze out at the horizon and contemplate life. (On summer Saturday evenings, the patio serves as a stage for grill fests and live music.) Look for the Nebbiolo which dangles notes of licorice between balanced tannins and acidity; Round Peak is one of only two wineries in the state growing this grape.

3 p.m. – Check into the Fairfield Inn & Suites (628 CC Camp Road/268 Bypass, Elkin; 336.353.2008) and relax. Eye-popping décor and top-notch customer service elevate this location above brand standards. 

4:30 p.m. – Depart for Shelton Vineyards (286 Cabernet Lane, Dobson; 336.366.4724), the largest winery in the Yadkin Valley and one of the largest vineyards on the East Coast with 200 acres planted with multiple varietals.

Enjoy a tasting of current releases—educate your palate with a side-by-side comparison tasting of the unoaked and barrel fermented chardonnays—then browse through the extensive gift shop before indulging in an upscale dinner at Harvest Grill. To learn more about Shelton Vineyards, read our interview with winemaker Gill Giese.

7 p.m. – Depart for a wine tasting at Brushy Mountain Winery http://brushymountainwine.com/ (125 W. Main St., Elkin; 336.835.1313). Winemaker Jason Wiseman moved to Elkin from Napa Valley, Calif., in 2007 to join North Carolina’s burgeoning wine scene and help drive the revitalization of downtown Elkin; he and his partner Amy purchased the winery in 2013. Wiseman purchases grapes from local farmers since “winemaking interests me, not farming.” Yadkin Valley fruit shines in all his wines, especially the crisp, well-structured, steel-fermented Chardonnay.

After tasting, hang out at the Brushy Mountain Winery listening to live musical performances (typically scheduled until 8 p.m. on Saturdays), before returning to the hotel to relax for the evening.

Elkin Creek Vines | Photo Credit: Surry County Tourism

Elkin Creek Vines | Photo Credit: Surry County Tourism

DAY 2 - Sunday

9 a.m. – Enjoy breakfast at the hotel.

10 a.m. – Start the day healthy with a brisk walk along the easy urban hiking trails in Elkin. A two-mile trek starts in the Elkin Municipal Park, weaves through historic downtown Elkin, and ends at Crater Park on the shores of the Yadkin River. If you’re more ambitious, check out additional trail options recommended by the Elkin Valley Trails Association.

Noon – Enjoy a wine tasting and lunch at Elkin Creek Vineyard (318 Elkin Creek Mill Rd., Elkin; 336.526.5119). While the made-to-order wood-fire brick oven pizzas are only available on Sunday, from Thursday to Sunday you can enjoy homemade sour-dough bread with an antipasto selection of meats and cheeses or fresh jams and local cheese. Whatever you choose to munch upon will pair with the food-friendly wines. Winemaker Louis Jeroslow’s motto, “put your best fruit forward,” is evident in each pour. Don’t miss the Rossa, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, which perhaps best represents the local terroir with its earthy soft tannins.

1:30 p.m. – Take the short two-minute drive to Adagio Vineyards (139 Benge Dr., Elkin; 336.258.2333) for a tasting. This small winery, which bottled its first vintage in 2013, currently produces less than 1,000 cases a year. “We do everything by hand, from vine to bottle,” says co-owner and winemaker Dr. Tim Wahl, a practicing dentist who holds a certificate in winemaking from The University of California at Davis and is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers. All wines have musical names, since co-owner Dr. Jan Wahl is a classical violinist and violin maker—some days, you might get to hear her play. ‘Adagio’ means ‘slowly with passion’ and you won’t want to rush through a glass of the best-selling white Vivace (Traminette) with its lively crisp pear flavor.

2:30 p.m. – Depart for Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery (964 Old Railroad Grade Rd., Thurmond; 336.874.2800) for a tour and tasting. This family-owned estate, established in 2008 on 65 acres, is committed to operating with as little impact on the environment as possible. The winemaking philosophy is a twist on a standard: “We’re ‘fruit focused’ more than ‘fruit forward’,” says co-owner Chuck Jones. “We want you to taste and recognize the varietal.” Don’t miss the Petit Manseng, which won best-in-state awards in its first vintage.

Jones Von Drehle | Photo Credit: Hope S Philbrick

Jones Von Drehle | Photo Credit: Hope S Philbrick

4 p.m. – Head back to the hotel to relax or visit another winery.

7 p.m. – Enjoy dinner at 222 Public House (222 E. Main St., Elkin; 336.258.2251). This casual sports bar specializes in wood-fired pizzas, chicken wings, salads, sandwiches, pub fare and craft beers. A brewpub to be named Angry Troll is expected to open in the basement.

After dinner, return to the hotel and relax for the evening.

Wineries

Adagio Vineyards 

139 Benge Drive

Elkin NC 28621
336.258.2333

Taste four wines for $5 or eight wines for $8 and keep the tasting glass. Open Friday Noon-5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Brushy Mountain Winery 

125 West Main Street

Elkin NC 28621
336.835.1313

Wine tastings $7 per person. Open Thursday 1-5 p.m., Friday & Saturday Noon-8 p.m., and Sunday 1-5 p.m. Entertainment hosted onsite most Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Elkin Creek Vineyard 

318 Elkin Creek Mill Road

Elkin NC 28621

336.526.5119

Wine tastings $7 per person. Open for tastings Thursday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery 

964 Old Railroad Grade Road

Thurmond NC 28683

336.874.2800

Tastings $8 for up to eight wines. Open Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday Noon-5 p.m.

Old North State Winery & Brewery 

308 North Main Street

Mount Airy NC 27030

336.789.9463

Wine tastings daily, $6-$15 per adult. Open Monday & Tuesday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday Noon-5 p.m. Hours subject to change due to special events.

Round Peak Vineyards & Skull Camp Brewing 

765 Round Peak Church Road

Mount Airy NC 27030

336.352.5595

Wine tastings $1 each. Open daily for tastings and tours: Sunday-Thursday Noon-5 p.m., Friday Noon-8 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (and until sunset June through August). Note: Closed Monday through Thursday from January to March.

Shelton Vineyards 

286 Cabernet Lane

Dobson NC 27017

336.366.4724

Wine tastings $6 per person for standard or $25 per person for reserve wines. Tours and tastings daily. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday Noon-5 p.m.

More Vineyards & Wineries

Got more time? Extend your stay* or pack your schedule with these possible additional stops.

*If you add a third day to your trip, we recommend Friday since many wineries are closed on Monday.                          

Carolina Heritage Vineyard & Winery 

170 Heritage Vines Way

Elkin NC 28621

336.366.3301

Divine Llama Vineyards 

5349 Macedonia Road

East Bend NC 27018

336.699.2525

McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks 

315 Thurmond PO Road

Thurmond NC 28683

336.874.3003

Raffaldini Vineyards 

450 Groce Road

Ronda NC 28670

336.835.9463

RagApple Lassie Vineyards 

3724 RagApple Lassie Lane

Boonville NC 27011

336.367.6000

Slightly Askew Wines, LLC 

913 N. Bridge Street

Elkin NC 28621

336.835.2700

Distilleries

Hankering to sip more than wine? Check out these distilleries in nearby Wilkes County, the moonshine capital of the world.

Call Family Distillers 

1611 Industrial Drive

Wilkesboro NC 28697

336.990.0708

Copper Barrel Distillery 

508 Main Street

North Wilkesboro NC 28659

336.262.6500

Hotels

Fairfield Inn & Suites 

628 CC Camp Road/NC 268 Bypass

Elkin NC 28621

336.353.2008

Eye-popping décor and top-notch customer service elevate this award-winning location above and beyond brand expectations

Hampton Inn & Suites at Shelton Vineyards 

150 Charlestowne Dr.

Dobson NC 27017

336.353.9400

This award-winning hotel exceeds brand expectations. It’s the only hotel in the chain that features a wine bar! The Wine Bar is open Monday-Sunday, 5-10 p.m.

Festivals

Mark your calendar to visit Yadkin Valley during these special annual events.

The Yadkin Valley Wine Festival is held the third Saturday in May each year at the Municipal Park in Elkin. More than 25 Yadkin Valley AVA wineries come together to offer samplings of their award-winning wines alongside a variety of food items. http://www.yvwf.com/

The Yadkin Valley Grape Festival is held the third Saturday in October in Yadkinville to celebrate the local harvest.

The 'Shine to Wine Festival will be held in North Wilkesboro on Saturday, September 17, 2016, showcasing live music, food, crafts, brews, wines and spirits. 

The Budbreak Wine and Craft Beer Festival is held the first Saturday in May in Mount Airy to celebrate, wine, beer, food and music.

Tourism

Get more information from local experts.

Yadkin Valley, North Carolina 

Surry County, North Carolina