Chefs, winemakers come together in Valle Crucis

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group by porch railing

Jessie Blackburn, second from left, with friends on the porch of Over Yonder, Chef and Winemaker Summit. (Ellen Gwin Burnette photo, Appalachian State University)

Part 2 of 2

Jessie Blackburn of Appalachian State University was puzzled by the disconnect between North Carolina’s thriving farm-to-fork restaurant culture and the lack of local wines on fine restaurant menus. She found several chefs who were willing to come together with regional winemakers to share their knowledge of food and wines, seeking ways of bringing local food and local wine together.

So back in March, she organized the Chef and Winemakers Summit in Valle Crucis. Four central Appalachian chefs – Travis Milton, Ian Boden, Nate Allen, and Andy Long  – along with representatives from 11 Appalachian wineries came together to cultivate relationships. The two groups came away with a greater appreciation for the quality of the region’s wines. The gathering was at Over Yonder, a popular local restaurant.

“The chefs were able to taste these regional wines and be confident enough to recognize that these were really quality wines,” Blackburn said. “One chef said to me, ‘I had no idea this kind of wine was being made in this region.’ They told me, ‘I absolutely could sell that wine, without hesitation.’”

Blackburn is the author of an upcoming book,  Appalachian Terroir: Stylistic Approaches to New Landscapes, to be published by University of Kentucky Press.

“It was humbling to host such a great group of folks with the knowledge and the ability to drive the conversation of Appalachian wine that is beginning to take shape,” said Andy Long, owner/chef of Over Yonder. “Tasting these outstanding regional wines and meeting the folks that produce them was an eye-opening experience for me.”

“Just as chefs have a responsibility to source local and mindfully raised meats and produce, it is now clear that we must begin to do the same for the vintners of our region, and to do otherwise would be a disservice to us, them, and our customers,” Long said.

wine bottles on ice

Whites from North Carolina’s Elkin Creek Winery on ice. (Ellen Gwin Burnette photo, Appalachian State University)

Because chefs tend to talk with other chefs, Blackburn is confident that they will share what they’ve learned with their colleagues in the region.

“It was wonderful getting to spend time with the winemakers, and to speak with them under conditions that are very common and comfortable for us as chefs,” said Travis Milton, chef/owner of Shovel & Pick, Bristol, Va. “By this I mean, I think we all approached the summit for exactly what it was in its truest sense, chefs speaking to farmers, which is one of the more comfortable conversational situations I think you could put any of us in.”

Blackburn said she was impressed with the kinds of conversations she heard at the summit between chefs and winemakers and among the winemakers themselves. “I was really pleased to see the kinds of conversations that were happening,” she said. “Wineries were talking with each other, getting new ideas from each other: different ways to market, different grapes to think about growing. One winery was talking to another winery about ways to save bottling costs.”

Winemakers also appreciated the opportunity to share their products with top chefs.

“Our vineyard and winemaking practices are allowing us to produce many styles and varieties of wine that are being recognized from within the winemaking community,” said Louis Jeroslow of Elkin Creek Vineyard in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. “There is a strange disconnect between this natural local resource and those who create and appreciate local cuisine. I think we definitely surprised some people today and began a new awareness of what exists and is growing right here in their backyard.”

In addition to Long and Milton, chefs participating in the summit included:

  • Ian Boden, chef/owner of The Shack, Staunton, Va.
  • Nate Allen, chef/owner of Knife & Fork, Spruce Pine, N.C.

The 11 participating wine producers from American Viticultural Areas (AVA) extending from Maryland to Alabama are:

  • Banner Elk Winery, Banner Elk; Appalachian High Country AVA. Dr. David Craig, winemaker
  • Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery, Thurmond; Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. Dan Tallman, winemaker.
  • McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, Thurmond; Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. Sean McRitchie, winemaker and cider maker.
  • Elkin Creek Vineyard, Elkin; Yadkin Valley. Louis Jeroslow, winemaker.
  • Blenheim Vineyards and Winery, Charlottesville, Virginia; Monticello AVA. Kirsty Harmon, winemaker.
  • King Family Vineyards, Crozet, Virginia; Monticello AVA. Matthieu Finot, winemaker.
  • James Charles Winery & Vineyard, Winchester, Virginia; Shenandoah Wine Trail. Justin Bogaty, winemaker.
  • Big Cork Vineyards, Rohrersville, Maryland; Antietam Highlands Wine Trail. Dave Collins, winemaker.
  • Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery, Dahlonega, Georgia; Dahlonega Wine Trail. Brandon Boegner, winemaker.
  • Ramulose Ridge Vineyards, Moneta, Virginia; Bedford Wine Trail. Sandi Ramaker, winemaker.
  • Maraella Estate Vineyard and Winery, Hokes Bluff, Alabama; North Alabama Wine Trail. Justin Miller, winemaker. Founder and winemaker for featured Cabernet was James Lee (1942- 2015).

Read Part 1, ‘Where are the local wines?’

Read more from Appalachian Magazine.

food on table

Food and wine were the stars of the summit. (Ellen Gwin Burnette photo, Appalachian State University)

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Wind your way to McRitchie and Jones Von Drehle

Kyle holding bottle

McRitchie offers a variety of wines and ciders.

Just finding McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks with your GPS can be challenge – my unit couldn’t distinguish between Thurmond Road and Thurmond PO Road, where the winery is actually located. Thanks to good signage, we traveled a little further up Hwy 21 North and found our way to McRitchie and the tasting room on top of the hill.

We were greeted as we got out of the car by canine hosts Fionna and Aello, who were very anxious to follow us indoors on a cold, breezy day. Inside the winery, another group was finishing up a tasting as we talked in, and another group was there for the cider.

A little about the cider: there are hard ciders that are more like beer and there are hard ciders that are lighter – more like a sparkling wine. That’s the kind that McRitchie creates from North Carolina-grown apples. We tasted a limited edition pear cider

I don’t usually keep my wine tasting glasses anymore – too many – but McRitchie offered such nice, big (Riedel?) glass that we had to take them with us.

We were just up the road then from Jones von Drehle, and we had to stop for a taste of Petit Manseng, a white that is usually blended, but is bottled here for its clean, crisp taste. I would love to return here for a winery tour and picnic on the patio overlooking the vast vineyard. There’s a beautiful tasting room too.

wine glass

The glass of Petit Manseng that we came for.