Yadkin Valley Emerges as Bona Fide Wine Region
Dobson, NC (PRWEB) June 01, 2011
In less than a decade, the Yadkin Valley has progressed from a small collection of North Carolina wineries into one of the most notable wine regions in the eastern United States.
There are now 34 Yadkin Valley wineries, which became a designated American Viticultural Area (AVA), or appellation, in 2003. Growth has come so quickly that the Yadkin Valley even has a sub appellation the Swan Creek AVA which includes five wineries.
How did this viticultural boom take root in the gently rolling hills of northwestern North Carolina? It was a combination of factors, including: the demise of tobacco farming, the rise in popularity of wine drinking, the devoted efforts of Yadkin winemaking pioneers Charles and Ed Shelton, and the early recognition of this burgeoning industry by Surry Community College.
The first winery in these parts was Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville. Westbend planted its initial vineyard in 1972 and began making wine in the 1980s. However, Westbend remained an anomaly until 2000, when local businessmen Charles and Ed Shelton decided the decline in tobacco farming might create an opportunity for growing grapes. They purchased an old dairy farm and opened Shelton Vineyards in Dobson in 2000. Simultaneously, the Sheltons began the lengthy process of getting the Yadkin Valley designated as an AVA.
In the next two years, three more wineries emerged RayLen Vineyards in Mocksville, Hanover Park Vineyard in Yadkinville, and RagApple Lassie Vineyards in Boonville. Shortly thereafter, the Yadkin Valley became North Carolinas first appellation, and things skyrocketed.
“The Sheltons were far ahead of the game. They took it upon themselves to step up and begin the process to become an appellation, says Lenna Hobson, who owns RagApple Lassie Vineyards with her husband, Frank. That gave us marketing cache. From there, it just exploded.
Between 2003 and 2011, the Yadkin Valley added 29 new wineries to its original five for a grand total of 34.
As the ball started rolling, it became more interesting to people than any other product, Hobson says. Theres a romance and a mystique attached to owning a winery that you dont have with cornfields or tobacco fields.
Frank Sells, who was president of Surry Community College at that time, immediately recognized winemakings potential in a region that was losing tobacco crops and textile jobs. The college launched classes in viticulture and enology, and soon developed a degreed program.
Surry Community College has been phenomenal, says Hobson. Frank Sells realized this would boost the economy of our region and give an area dependent on tobacco something unique to brand for itself.
By the time Sells retired in 2008, Surry Community College offered degrees in viticulture and enology, had developed its own on-campus winery, and eventually constructed the Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture and Enology. The centers first phase, which cost $ 5 million, opened in late 2010 and includes a bonded winery, classrooms, climate-controlled wine cellar, microbiology labs and large assembly hall. Students also receive practical experience in a five-acre vineyard. The facility will solidify the Yadkin Valleys role as the center for winemaking education and research on eastern side of the country.
The predominant type of grape in the Yadkin Valley is French vinifera, also known as European vinifera. Industry folks estimate roughly 70 percent of Yadkin Valley grapes are vinifera, with muscadine making up much of the remainder. This differentiates the Yadkin Valley from other North Carolina regions, where muscadines are predominant and used to produce sweeter wines.
Yadkin wines showcase the classic varietals, such as: chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, pinot grigio, zinfandel, viognier and riesling. Malbec and tannat also play an important role in the valley, while the region does well with some hybrid grapes, such as chardonnel, traminette and chambourcin. Most are made in a dry style.
While development of the Yadkin wine industry has been driven by local business people and civic leaders, Mother Nature also played a key role. She blessed the Yadkin Valley with a temperate climate, loamy soil and latitudes similar to the vineyards in Napa Valley and France.
Historically, grapes have been planted on steep land with poor, never-farmed soil that is rocky. Thats why it takes it so much longer to establish vineyards in California and Europe, Hobson explains. When our plants hit the soil, they think theyre at a spa because most all the vineyards in North Carolina are on land that has been farmed regularly. Thats why were getting crops earlier and why theyre growing so well here. Were using better land from the beginning.
For information on Yadkin Valley wineries, visit http://www.trueblueridge.org/places/yadkin-valley-wineries/ or http://www.yadkinvalleywineblog.com.
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