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)

‘Where are the local wines?’

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Appalachian State professor wonders why regional wines don’t appear on Appalachia wine lists

Jessie and ??

Jessie Blackburn, right, wondered why Appalachian wines lists didn’t serve local wines. (Ellen Gwin Burnette photo, Appalachian State Univesity)

Part 1 of 2
North Carolina’s wine industry continues to grow, with nearly 200 wineries and more than twice that many vineyards. But how often do you see North Carolina wines on a restaurant menu?

At their annual meeting in 2016, the North Caroline Winegrowers discussed ways to raise the profile of their industry. One strategy was to get more of the state’s top restaurants to put North Carolina wines on their menus. Despite a thriving farm-to-table restaurant culture, it is difficult to find the state’s wines being poured in fine restaurants.

Jessie Blackburn, associate professor at Appalachian State University with degrees in rhetoric and Appalachian studies, noticed the same thing. While driving from New York to North Carolina several years ago to relocate for her current position, she was surprised by the number of wineries she passed in the Appalachian Mountains, especially Virginia and North Carolina. Wineries don’t match the outdated “moonshine” stereotype that so many still have in their minds about Appalachia.

She began visiting winery tasting rooms, talking with winegrowers. She was impressed with the quality of their wines and the experience that greeted tourists. At the same time, she was aware of a “culinary renaissance” going on in Appalachia — restaurants with a strong farm-to-table ethic. Her experience will be the topic of an upcoming book, Appalachian Terroir: Stylistic Approaches to New Landscapes, to be published by University of Kentucky Press.

But where were the North Carolina wines? “I looked at chefs’ menus, and few were selling local wine,” she said. And that didn’t match the tradition that you would experience in other parts of the world, she said. In places like Italy and France, food and wine from the same region are proudly served together.

“When you eat food or wine from a region, you’re tasting terroir. Why is there a disconnect here?” she asked, pointing out that restaurants in North Carolina and Virginia seemed to have no problem putting local beer and spirits on their menus.

She had the opportunity to talk with Appalachian chefs who are committed to a sustainable, local food system. She asked them, “Why do you not have local wines on your menu?”

She believes there are many reasons why North Carolina wines may suffer from an “image problem” with chefs and consumers.

“It may be that every chef has a different reason,” Blackburn said. Some fear that their clientele’s wine literacy suggests the best wines come from other places – California, New Zealand, France or Italy. Some chefs just have an idea of what a standard wine list typically looks like.

And there are other reasons why N.C. wines may suffer from an image problem. Some North Carolina wineries are perpetuating a low-brow image of the industry by cashing in on the state’s bootlegger, moonshine stereotype, “which does us few favors,” she said.

Developing a tasting room experience “that is worth coming back to and that reflects the nuances of the terroir” is important for enhancing the wine industry’s image. “Wine is one of those things that is symbolic. Some of the wineries are still struggling to create that experience that people are willing to drive for or to come back for,” she said.

Wineries also benefit from being located close together, creating a destination for tourists, a scenario that you would certainly find in many parts of North Carolina.

People should see wine country as a destination.

“So the more wineries open up, the better our destinations become,” she said. A winery that is isolated from other wineries faces more struggles than a winery or vineyard surrounded by others, and trails and winery passports help pour dollars into local economies.

Yet Blackburn believes that getting wines on the menus of top restaurants is the best way to promote the state’s wine industry. So she decided to bring together some of the area’s finest chefs and regional winemakers to expose the chefs to regional wines that are good enough for restaurant wine lists. And the idea for the Chef and Winemakers Summit was born.

Check back Wednesday to read about the summit!

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.

Wine touring 101: Tips from the Yadkin Valley

woman pouring wine

Tasting rooms are open shorter hours during winter.

Tarheel Taps & Corks recently made an overnight trip to the Yadkin Valley AVA, North Carolina’s first American Viticulture Area, for some wine tasting. And it occurred to me that the uninitiated might wonder exactly what a North Carolina wine tour would look like. So here are a few tips and pointers.

First, AVA is the designation given to a wine-producing region where wines have similar characteristics due to soil, climate, topography, type of grapes grown and more. The Yadkin Valley was NC’s first AVA in year 2003 (there are three now), and today it remains the region with the state’s largest concentration of wineries. The vineyards in these gently rolling hills along the Yadkin River produce both native muscadines and  European grape varietals.

The heart of the Yadkin Valley AVA runs along I-77, generally north of Hwy. 421 through Yadkin, Surry and Wilkes counties. This area is generally 30 minutes west of Winston-Salem, an hour east of Boone and a little more than an hour north of Charlotte. There are a few Yadkin wineries that extend southward into Davidson County, most notably Childress Winery, one of the state’s largest.

directional sign

Finding your way between wineries can be a challenge.

A winery map is helpful, and they are easy to obtain either from websites such as ncwine.org or from visitors’ centers. Vineyard signage along major highways is generally good, which is helpful given that winery addresses will only confuse a GPS, which doesn’t see the difference between Thurmond Road and Thurmond PO Road – an important distinction if you’re looking for McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, for example. Look for the signs, use your GPS when you can and have a phone number handy, in case you get lost.

Winter is a slow time in the wine making and wine tourism business – many vineyard and winery owners take their vacations in this down season. Tasting rooms are open for shorter hours, so choose those you visit carefully – Thursdays through Sundays are the days you’ll most likely find them open. Don’t be disappointed like we were, driving miles to a remote winery that was closed that day – oops, I forgot it was Thursday, not Friday!

In the vineyards themselves, you won’t see anything green. The vines have been pruned back to the point that they look like low-hanging utility lines. But the stark, beauty of the open landscape, set against the background of the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond, is breath taking. On a trip in 2010, we experienced a dusting of snow overnight, and those vineyard photos remain some of my favorites.

Bare vineyard vines

Nothing green on the vines in winter.

Wine tasting is one of those experiences that is somewhat self-limiting – you can only drink so much wine in a day. I try to limit a day’s tasting to two-three wineries to enjoy the experience, without wondering how I will get back home. (Fortunately, my husband is an excellent driver on a wine tour, but we all have our limits!)

I’ve also learned to take along snacks that I enjoy with wine – cheeses, crackers, fruit, chocolate, olives – and plenty of water. If you nosh as you go, you’re more likely to enjoy the experience and not find yourself staggering from winery to winery. Warm weather is more conducive to a wine picnic, but I’ve found wineries very accommodating of your bringing food inside (just ask first).

Not long ago, almost every winery I visited charged $5 for a wine tasting, which included a wine glass etched with the winery’s name. Today, the tasting and price vary greatly – one winery we visited let you choose from among six red and six white wines at $1 apiece, no glass included; another charged $8 for tasting six wines and four ciders, with hands-down the nicest wine glass I’ve ever taken home from a winery (I usually leave them behind these days).

At the last of three wineries we visited, we opted to just share a glass of a particular white wine I had read about. The hostess there offered to let us share a tasting, which is an option I would certainly ask about if you don’t want to drink all the offerings alone.

winery equipment

Tour wineries to learn more about wine production.

Don’t forget there is more to the wine experience than just the tasting and purchasing a bottle or two to take home. Find out if the wineries offer tours and plan your visit accordingly. In February, there are lots of Valentines-inspired tastings and dinners. In warmer months, you’ll encounter music events or hikes through the vineyards. And most wineries don’t mind if you stroll through the vineyards – the vines change so much throughout the year.

Some vineyards even offer accommodations like small cabins that allow you to enjoy the vineyards and winery all day without ever getting in your car. This is probably more information than you ever wanted to know about touring NC wineries – just get a map and get out there!

fireplace and chair

This cabin at the Pilot Knob Inn near Pilot Mountain is an old tobacco barn.

Oregon: On the road with Taps and Corks

Tarheel Taps & Corks was on the road in Oregon last month. In addition to a whole lot of beautiful scenery, TT&C visited a number of breweries and a few wineries. Oregon is a craft-beer destination, with plenty of Pacific Northwest-produced hops nearby. And the Willamette Valley, just a short drive from Portland, has made a name for itself in pinot production. Once on the “wine trail,” you’ll hardly drive more than half a mile to get to your next wine tasting.

pint of beer

Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale.

So here’s a round up of Oregon beer and wine. Started in Porland with a visit to Deschutes Brewery. The main brewery is located in Bend, OR, but the Porland location is a popular tourist stop. The beers were good — enjoyed a Twilight Summer Ale — but the food is expensive and leaves something to be desired. Still worth a visit. I was told the brewery tour in Bend is fun!

Portland’s Cascade Brewing Barrel House has been brewing sours — a Northwest-style sour beer — for eight years. While some of the sours were a little too much like cider or a soft drink, some of the flavors were really amazing — especially Raspberry Wheat, Honey Ginger Lime, Nightfall (blackberry) and Sang Noir (cherries). Though the flavors are reminiscent of the abundant berries produced in Oregon, the souring comes from yeast — lactobacillus.

tasting glasses of beer

Cascade: Raspberry wheat and honey ginger lime sours.

On to the Mt. Hood area, where Mt. Hood Brewing in Government Camp stands out for both its beer and food. Our meal started with a great salad and beef short ribs, followed by blackberry cobbler with ice cream — yum! Don’t forget the beer — Cloudcap Amber Ale and Nut Brown Ale. (Went back for happy hour!)

Back on the road to Crater Lake, we stopped in Bend at Crux Fermentation Project which had just celebrated two years of operation with a big party — sorry we missed it! Even on a weekday at lunch, the taproom filled up quickly. Enjoyed a Marzen Bier and Pilsner with a really tasty artichoke dip and chicken wrap.

Beer and food.

Marzen Bier and Pilsner, with artichoke dip.

Didn’t find a brewery near Crater Lake, but Annie’s Creek Restaurant carried several Deschutes brews. Can’t find it on the brewery website, but I had a really amazing tangerine wheat.

So on to the Willamette. Did you know that Oregon is home to the grass seed capital of the world, in addition to fruit, hops and wine grapes produced there? So interesting…

A string of small rural towns in the Willamette Valley are home to lots of wineries known for everything pinot — pinot noir, pinot grigio, pinot gris. An innkeeper told me that she believes the prices of the Willamette pinots have begun to exceed the their market value, as evidenced by at least one $100 bottle we came across in tastings. Nonetheless, wine tasting in the relative country of the Willamette Valley is a great way to spend an afternoon!

Two wine glasses

Pinots on the patio at Dobbes Winery.

We stopped first at Duck Pond Cellars of Dundee, which had an interesting tasting concept: First five wines are complimentary to taste; you pay $5 for the second five wines. Duck Pond had a beautiful tasting facility, with patio seating and a koi pond to enjoy right by the vineyards.

Just a short drive away, we visited the Dobbes Family Winery. Unlike the usual stand-up-and-taste experience, at Dobbes, we were encouraged to find a table on the patio, where a wine host brought our tastes to us. We tasted wines in specially designed Willamette pinot glasses. It was a beautiful tasting room, and relaxing wine tasting experience!

Oh yeah, we also saw Portland, Mt. Hood and Crater Lake in between breweries and wineries. Oregon is a great destination for beer, wine or outdoor lovers!

Outside of taproom

Apex Taproom in Portland.

Pints of beer

Amber and nut brown ales at Mt. Hood Brewing.