It’s NC Beer Month — Five Ways to Celebrate

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Brewer during a tour

Tour a brewery to celebrate NC Beer Month.

April is NC Beer Month, and there are many ways to celebrate. So whether you’re a new or seasoned craft beer lover, here are five ideas for how to celebrate.

Tour a local brewery. Not all breweries offer tours, but many do, and some do a really great job of showcasing how their product is brewed. Most brewery websites will give the time and details of the tours. Some charge for their tours, usually with a beer reward (and a glass) at the end. Others offer free tours, but you buy your own beer. Know what a mash tun is? The four ingredients in beer? Yeah, you definitely need a tour!

Visit your local bottle shop and try some NC beer. Some grocery stores now carry a good selection of NC beer, but without the expertise you’ll find in a bottle shop. Explore the different ingredients that give beer its taste – are you more of a hoppy — bitter, citrusy — beer person, or do you prefer the caramel, coffee flavors of malt? Not sure where to start? Take this NC Beer Month quiz to find out your beer style.

Attend a beer tasting event. There are lots of them in April, from the mountains to the coast. Take the opportunity to try something you haven’t tried before. Some events offer unlimited tastings for the price of a ticket; at others, you pay as you go for what you taste.

Set out on a beer trail. Find an NC community with several breweries, maybe even some within walking distance of each other. Could be one of NC’s beer meccas, like Asheville or Raleigh. Some areas offer incentives to visit all their breweries, like the Raleigh Beer Trail. A new app from Our State Magazine helps you find breweries around North Carolina.

Experiment with beer and food pairings. Love Mexican food? Ask for something light and refreshing to offset the heaviness of the food. Chocolate dessert? Try a nice dark porter or stout. Whatever you do, make sure that your favorite restaurant serves a good selection of NC beer.

Two beer glasses

What’s your favorite beer? Try something new for NC Beer Month.

Celebrate NC Wine Month in September

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vines-smallI was visiting wineries in the Yadkin Valley just a few weeks ago, and the grapes were really heavy on the vine. September is when NC vineyards will do most of their harvesting, which makes it a great month to celebrate NC wine.

The first time I visited an NC wineries in about 2002, there were fewer than 50 wineries in the state, but even then, growth was in the air. Today, the industry has grown to 180 wineries and more than 500 grape growers, with an economic impact of $1.7 billion.

I know what you’re thinking — there are some of you out there who still haven’t tried NC wine, or visited an NC winery or vineyard. Or maybe you tried something you didn’t like, and you assume all the state’s wine is the same. But nothing could be further from the truth.

North Carolina has four American Viticulture Areas (think Napa or Sonoma): Yadkin Valley, Swan Creek, Haw River and Upper Hiwassee Highlands. Each AVA offers a unique blend of climate, soils, moisture and elevation to produce wine grapes with a uniqueness of their own.

grape bunches

Grapes are heavy on the vines in NC vineyards.

And there are many vineyards outside the AVAs. North Carolina is home to the world’s largest muscadine winery — Duplin Winery and Vineyards. Muscadines happen to be our native grape in North Carolina. Out on Roanoke Island, you can visit the “Mother Vine,” a scuppernong vine that may be the oldest cultivated vine in America.

The Yadkin Valley was the state’ first AVA and is home to the many wineries that produce mostly vinifera grapes and wines. These grapes wouldn’t grow in North Carolina’s challenging climate except for the benefit of root stocks that are resistant to the diseases and fungi that plague wine grapes.

Where ever you live in North Carolina, you can’t be far from a North Carolina vineyard or winery. This month, take the time to visit or enjoy one of the many “NC Wine Month” events on the state’s wine calendar, from music to grape stompings and more.

On Sept. 28 at 9 pm ET, you can learn more about North Carolina wines by joining the #winechat on Twitter to witness the NC Wine Guys Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling and other guests discuss #NCWine and #NCWineMonth on #winechat.

Read more about NC Wine Month

guests sitting at patio table

Guests enjoy wine on the patio at Raffaldini Winery in Ronda.

vendor with glove and clippers

This innovative glove and clippers work together to prevent grape harvesters from cutting a finger.

How to build a bright future for NC wine: Collaboration and tourism

dessert

Dessert at the winegrowers awards banquet: Riesling Poached Pear, filled with mascarpone, house-made almond brittle, and red wine and berry compote. (Almost too pretty to eat!)

To grow the wine industry in North Carolina, wineries need to work collectively, expand their markets beyond the tasting room and create an experience that will draw in tourists. At the recent NC Winegrowers Association conference, wine producers heard from experts on creating the tasting room experience, branding their products and using social media and optimized websites to bring in customers.

Winegrowers President Mark Friszolowski encouraged winegrowers to work together, across the state and including all types of wine, to promote North Carolina’s wine industry in the state and beyond.

“We represent all of North Caroline wine,” Friszolowski told the conference. “Our strength is working together.”

Though consumer wine preferences are trending more toward red than white, Friszolowski said, there is still a huge consumer preference for sweet wines, which outsell dry wines 4:1.

Enhancing the quality of NC wines is important for future of the industry, as well as gaining acceptance by getting North Carolina wines on restaurant menus and educating wait staffs about the wines the state has to offer.

In an effort to educate the public about North Carolina wine, the state’s wine industry will partner with WUNC-TV’s NC Weekend to produce a 10-show series on the history of NC wine. The series is in production now.

Enhancing the tourism experience of the state wineries was also a theme of the conference. Virginia Tech’s Tony Wolf explained how tourism had helped grow Virginia’s wine industry from, “you can’t grow wine grapes here,” to more than 250 wineries and 3,500 acres of grapes. “Tourism is and always will be integral to the growth of the Virginia wine industry,” Wolfe said.

Other conference breakout sessions focused on the tasting room experience and marketing

  • Hiring the right tasting room staff was the focus of a presentation by Thomas Salley of Raffaldini Vineyards and Erin Doby of Raylen Vineyards. Both described attributes they look for in hiring employees, including a background in retail sales and a strong commitment to customer service. They also talked about setting work expectations for employees.
  • Erick Byrd of UNC-Greensboro talked about a tasting room employee training program under development by the university’s Bryan School of Business. (Byrd presented remotely because the icy roads prevented him from making the drive to Winston.) A four-module online training program will be released later this spring. (Byrd and his colleagues received the “Member of Distinction Award” from the association Saturday evening.)
  • The NC Wine Guys, Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling, explained to winegrowers how social media and blogging can help them connect to consumers. Consistent engagement on social media, using hashtags and photos can help turn social media followers into visitors.
  • Susan Dosier of DK Communications Group shared how search engine optimization – using trending and searchable words – can help businesses to make sure visitors can find their way to their website. She talked about using tools like Yoast.com (WordPress plugin) and Google trends to increase traffic to your website.

At the Saturday evening awards dinner, John Ryan of Sanctuary Vineyards received the “Grower of the Year Award.” The dinner was excellent, especially paired with wines from Morgan Ridge Vineyards.

A Sunday morning “coffee discussion” on branding allowed winery owners – including several who had bought existing wineries – to explain how they rebranded their operations to strengthen their position in the marketplace. All in all, it was a very good conference.

Read more about the 2016 NC Winegrowers Association conference.

banquet_photo

Saturday night awards banquet

Ryan accepts award

John Ryan of Sanctuary Vineyards is named Grower of the Year at NC Winegrowers Association meeting.

Snowed-in winegrowers celebrate the quality of NC Wine

wine poured into glass

Wine flowed at the winegrowers NC Grand Food and Wine Pairing.

What could be better than being snowed in for two days in Winston-Salem, with 100 or so of your favorite North Carolina winegrowers? That was the situation at the NC Winegrowers Association annual meeting, as a winter storm swept across the state in late January.

Many conferees, from wine growers to bloggers and exhibitors, came in on Thursday night ahead of the storm. Snow rained down on Winston’s downtown Marriott and Embassy Suites hotels all day Friday, but the precipitation had stopped by Saturday.

Unfortunately, the storm hurt Friday night’s signature conference event, the NC Grand Wine & Food Tasting at the Embassy Suites. Most of the wineries that signed up were there, but only a handful of chefs were able to bring their “food pairings” for the wine selections. Still, conferees enjoyed the wine and reception, while snow blew sideways down the street outside.

Saturday’s NC Showcase of Wines and awards banquet were excellent, and by then, others who could not travel on Friday had joined the group. It was a treat to share a table with Morgan Ridge Vineyards owners Tommy and Amie Baudoin, who brought many fine bottles of their red wines to share.

Despite the weather, it was a good conference. Some presenters, including NC State’s Dr. Hannah Burrack and UNCG’s Dr. Erick Byrd presented their slides remotely, and sessions went on with barely a hitch. Here are a few highlights and wisdom from the winegrowers conference.

Increasing the quality of NC wines

wine glass and food

A slice of pork loin from Graze Restaurant paired with red wine.

Producing high-quality wines in the state is important for the future of the NC wine industry, according to NC Winegrowers President Mark Friszolowski of Childress Vineyards. It was a theme that ran through a number of presentations, and several initiatives are already underway to enhance the quality of NC wines.

“High-end buyers won’t take us seriously until we produce high-quality wine at the local level,” Friszolowski said. “To increase the value of your farm and your business, we have to take this issue seriously.”

Friszolowski said he would like to see North Carolina adopt standards, like Virginia’s, requiring that North Carolina wines use a defined percentage of locally produced grapes, an issue he has raised with N.C. state Sen. Brent Jackson, head of the senate’s agriculture committee.

In addition, Friszolowski wants NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science to commit its support of the industry. Viticulturist Dr. Sara Spayd will retire in September, and Frizolowski wants to make sure the college continues its support of the wine industry. At one time, the college had three positions devoted to wine – in addition to Spayd, the college at one time had an enologist and a muscadine extension position, based in Duplin County. Once Spayd retires, there will be no NC State researchers devoted to the wine industry.

Winegrowers Vice President Ken Gulaian told winegrowers about a new effort underway to ensure wine quality in the state – the Quality Alliance Program. The voluntary program provides wineries with a taste panel to detect flaws in their wine.

Launched in January 2015, the program has tested 86 wines and 71 passed the panel’s quality test.

Here’s how it works: Wineries submit two bottles of their wine to the quality program. Three trained sensory panelists taste the wine, looking for any taste flaws. If the wine fails the panel review, it is sent to a lab for analysis. Results of the analysis are provided to the winery, and those that pass, can place a quality assurance label on their wine bottles.

In addition, efforts are underway to launch the NC Fine Wines Competition a year from now. The competition’s gala will be held Feb. 18, 2017. Most of the competition categories will be for vinifera wines: red, white, rose, sparkling and dessert/port, as well as a “best hybrid” category. Award levels are double gold, gold, silver and bronze. In addition to the medals, gala and accolades, winners will be able to share with customers video vignettes about the winning wines.

Seasoned wine judge Linda King told winegrowers, “you have to have medals” and you have to put them where your customers can see them. Medals help tasting room guests to see the value of your wines.

King advised winery owners to first consider competitions close to home, like the Dixie Classic and NC State Fair competitions (though she has some reservations about the State Fair competition, which apparently won’t acknowledge who judges the wines). In choosing which competitions to enter, King advised winegrowers to consider the cost to enter, the number of bottles required and the location of the competition. East Coast wines generally don’t do well in California competitions, she said.

King is optimistic about the future of the wine industry. She told winegrowers that, “The quality of wine in this country has skyrocketed.” The same can be said for the quality of NC wines over the last 15 years.

plates of port loin

Graze Restaurant of Winston-Salem puts final touches on pork loin slices.

 

Winegrowers brave winter storm for annual conference

Kyle holding bottle of wine at wineryWith a winter storm bearing down on North Carolina, winegrowers from across the state will gather in Winston-Salem this weekend for education and business related to the state’s growing wine industry. And, of course, there will be North Carolina wine.

Winegrowers and wine enthusiasts were scrambling to get to Winston-Salem ahead of a winter storm, expected to bring snow and ice across the state. But if you have to be snowed in, what could be better than hanging out with a bunch of winegrowers? You know they’ll come prepared!

The conference includes breakouts on viticulture, enology, and business and marketing. Viticulture sessions will focus on issues related to wine grapes production: pest and disease management, soils, vineyard establishment and management, and vineyard canopy management.

For the wine producers, enology sessions will deal with topics like producing muscadine wines, using quality control tools, determining the cost of a bottle of wine, deciding what wine to make, aging in barrels, packaging, outsourcing and more.

On the business and marketing side, panelists will discuss the value of wine competitions, tasting room staff, social media and blogging, branding and marketing.

Really looking forward to hearing the “NC Wine Guys,” Matt Kemberline and Joe Brock, talk about social medial and blogging. And Saturday afternoon, Susan Dosier will over a two-part session on the “Marketing Circle of Life.”

The NC Grand Wine and Food Tasting on Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. is open to the public and will feature food and wine pairings and a chance to meet the winemakers and grape growers from across the state. Light hor d’oeuvres prepared by local restaurants will be paired with NC wines. Saturday evening will feature the NC Showcase of Wines, followed by an awards banquet.

Saturday morning’s business meeting will include presentations on how NC fits into the global wine market, grape production in a challenging environment and an update on rainfall by region in NC.

If you’re in Winston Friday night, brave the storm and come out to Grand Wine and Food Tasting – maybe get snowed in with a few of your closest wine grower friends. Tarheel Taps and Corks will be there to share it all.

Red Oak’s Law of Purity Leads to Great Lagers

brewmaster leading tour

Red Oak Brewmaster Chris Buckley leads a Friday tour through the brewery.

On Friday afternoons at 3 p.m., Piedmont beer lovers flock to Whitsett, home of Red Oak Brewery just outside of Burlington. Though it seems like an odd time for a brewery tour, more than 40 people line up on a recent Friday and pay $15 each for the one-hour brewery tour and tastings that follow.

We must have driven by Red Oak Brewery just off I-85 dozens of times, saying, “we have to come back here sometime on a Friday.” In December, we finally made that happen, and it was well worth the drive.

Brewmaster Chris Buckley offers a very thorough one-hour tour, with detailed descriptions of Red Oak’s brewing process, barely pausing to draw a breath along the way. Born and raised in Germany for 25 years, Buckley attended brewing school in Munich.

“I see a few familiar faces again,” Buckley tells the crowd. The tour comes first, then beer. “We learned from experience to do it in that order.”

Red Oak got its start in 1991 Spring Garden Brewery in Greensboro. The name was changed in 2002 to reflect the brewery’s signature lager, and Red Oak moved to its current location in 2007. It has been a fixture on I-85 ever since.

More than 3 miles of stainless steel pipe carry Red Oak lagers through the brewing process.

More than 3 miles of stainless steel pipe carry Red Oak lagers through the brewing process.

Red Oak brews Bavarian-style lager, according to the 1516 Law of Purity, which requires that beer be made from only four ingredients – hops, malted barley, water and yeast. Red Oak beer is never pasteurized or filtered. “Pasteurization is done to further destroy the flavor of beer and increase the shelf life,” says a passionate Buckley.

For 18 years, Red Oak lagers were sold on draft only. Today, Red Oak bottles Red Oak Amber Lager and Hummin’ Bird Helles, a lighter lager, sold only in 12 packs, to save you a trip back to the store for another six pack.

Red Oak brews two winter seasonals – Black Oak Bavarian-style Dopplebach and Battlefield Bavarian Style Boch. Fall seasonal Old Oak is, naturally, a Traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest Lager, and spring seasonal Big Oak is a Vienna Lager.

Red Oak and other small N.C. craft breweries are fighting a strange state law that requires brewers to sell beer through a distributer, once they reach production of 25,000 barrels a year. Brewers on the verge of reaching this tipping point may be keeping their production below 25,000 barrels in order to continue self-distribution.

Should the state repeal this law, Red Oak is prepared to expand their I-85 facility to a “beer village,” complete with a tasting room and expanded production.

brewery doors and guests on the patio

Red Oak’s Friday tours are popular, as beer lovers spill out onto the brewery’s patio.