High Country wineries have come a long way in a relatively short period of time, especially over the last decade and a half as the industry in North Carolina has grown exponentially. In the autumn months, all three local wineries, Banner Elk Winery, Grandfather Vineyard and Winery and Linville Falls Winery, feature warm afternoons filled with live music and local wine lovers as well as tourists stopping in from around the world.
As with all industries, wineries have also had to deal with the realities of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, including limiting crowds, outdoor social distancing, healthy commerce and more. As the months go on, all of these things may change as state and local governments adapt to the progress made with coronavirus situation, so please call ahead for more information before you travel.
The wine making business in the Tar Heel State is catching up with other states and regions, and our local vineyards are producing worthy, award-winning wines every year.
To add to the quality of the local wine industry, Appalachian State University in Boone created the new Enology and Viticulture program a few years ago, which includes a Fermentation Science Degree as well as research and lab work geared specifically for the North Carolina winemaking industry. This has helped to provide quality workers and wine innovators into the state’s wine industry.
The aim of the ASU Enology and Viticulture program is as follows; “The wine industry in North Carolina is a significant tourism-based economic driver, centered on profitable agricultural value-added products. Small businesses account for the majority of growth in the wine and brewing industries in the Southeast. The initiatives of the Enology and Viticulture program support rural development and agri-tourism by directly contributing to the sustainability of the wine industry in North Carolina.”
In the High Country, our wineries are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, which provide gorgeous spaces where tourists and locals can enjoy a tasty glass of fermented grapes, often augmented by live music in these fall months.
Banner Elk Winery and Villa was the first commercial winery built in Avery County back in 2005. Like most High Country wineries, they combine their own grapes with other varieties brought in from high-quality growers in nearby areas.
Located at 60 Deer Run Lane on the mountainous outskirts of the resort town of Banner Elk, the winery stays open all winter for tastings and purchases. The attached villa with its various luxury suites and event rooms are available to rent all year for weddings, business meetings, parties and more.
The Banner Elk Winery Tasting Room is open every day of the year. Some of the premium wines made by the winery include their Heirloom Blend, Banner Elk Merlot, Sangiovese Red, Banner Elk Red and Banner Elk White, Banner Elk blueberry, Seyval Blanc and more.
Banner Elk Winery wines have won multiple medals at the North Carolina State Fair and International Eastern Wine Competition in Sonoma County, California. More information can be found at www.bannerelkwinery.com and (828) 898-9090.
At the heart of Linville Falls Winery, located near Linville Falls and Linville Gorge, is local entrepreneur Jack Wiseman. Since he was a young man in the 1950s, Wiseman always had an interest and a talent for making wine and brandy.
After traveling the world and country, and spending time in Napa Valley of California in the 1960s befriending people who made high-quality wines, Wiseman came home to Avery County with ideas of creating a vineyard.
Once back in the High Country, Wiseman’s first successful business venture was in the Christmas tree industry. He was the first to plant thousands of high altitude-growing Frasier Fir trees here in this section of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That business continues today, but winemaking was still in his blood and he created Linville Falls Winery about seven years ago.
Linville Falls Winery is located in a gorgeous valley just a short drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway. As stated above, the winery is also a couple of miles from the beautiful Linville Falls and the magnificent Linville Gorge, which is the steepest gorge east of the Mississippi River. The winery itself is located on 9557 Linville Falls Highway (Rte. 221).
Wiseman had a vision of growing grapes that would thrive in the unique conditions found in this area. Unlike the desert environment that is the Napa Valley of California, a place that Wiseman spent time in as a young man, these mountainsides are best suited for fruits such as the Riesling grape. Linville Falls Winery has three fields of Riesling grapes growing at just about 3,200 feet. According to Wiseman, growing the grapes just a hundred feet higher or lower on the mountains would change the flavor and characteristic of his grapes. This is something he has learned from what he calls the six-year process of planting the grapes, letting them grow to a certain age, making wine with the grapes and then aging the wine. One of his latest creations is called Elevation, made from grapes that specifically grown at 3,200 on the misty and cool High Country Mountains.
Other wines made by Linville Falls Winery include a unique blend called Trillium, a Dry Riesling and a standard Riesling, Red Barn Blend, Cascade North Carolina, Petit Verdot, Mountain White, Estate Grown Rose’, Bear Trap Blackberry Wine, Pink Lady Apple Wine, Stover Strawberry, Brandy barrel-Aged Cabernet Sauvignon and the wineries signature Blueberry wine.
According to their calendar, Linville Falls Winery will be hosting live music until the end of October. More information can be found at www.linvillefallswinery.com and (828) 765-1400.
Grandfather Vineyard and Winery is also situated in a beautiful place amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains at 225 Vineyards Lane located between Banner Elk and Boone. The winery has the Watauga River running through the middle of the grounds, which provides a wonderful space for folks to enjoy some vino as the water flows by just a couple of miles from the Eastern Continental Divide.
At all times, a magnificent view of Grandfather Mountain is seen from the winery grounds. Grandfather Mountain, after which the winery is named, is one of the most famous and distinctive-looking mountains in the eastern half of the United States, rising up to just 45 feet shy of 6,000 feet. If you view Grandfather Mountains from the northeastern side, you can see the outline of the old man’s face as he lies on his back and looks up to the stars. It is this famous profile of Grandfather Mountain that you see every day from the winery grounds. Add to that the vibrant colors of fall foliage and you have a wonderful autumn experience in the High Country.
Owners Steve and Sally Tatum created this winery, which claims to be the first wine-producing winery in Watauga County. The couple met while working at one of the local ski resorts almost 40 years ago. They created Grandfather Vineyard and Winery and made it a family business. Their son Dylan Tatum is the chief winemaker having earned degrees in Enology and Viticulture from Surry Community College.
Their daughter-in-law Nicole Tatum is Manager of the Tasting Room, and she was happy to see folks arrive at the winery during the opening Memorial Day Weekend. As of presstime, the tasting Room is closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Yet, patrons are still able to do their own wine tasting with the special wine tree filled with multiple small glasses of different wines. Then, once situated in this beautiful natural environment, folks can choose the wine they like as they enjoy live music on the weekends. Check in with the winery as the social restrictions ease.
Nicole Tatum grew up in Florida yet visited the mountains of the High Country one week a year at her grandparent’s summer home. As she grew older, she decided to move to these Blue Ridge Mountains and four days after she arrived, she met Dylan Tatum and a wonderful new addition to this wine-making family was soon in the works.
“Fortunately, we were able to sell to-go bottles of our wine during all of the lockdown, so we did get some business during that time, including with help of our 400-member wine club as well,” said Tatum. “Now, all of our outdoor tables are open and six feet apart and we have put out more recycle bins so our staff doesn’t have to touch the bottles as much, and we have sanitizing stations on the grounds as well. We also increased our outdoor seating under our big tents. Our tasting room is small, so instead we are selling what we call multi-glass Wine Flights, which is like doing a tasting, yet you can take it directly to your table. And, we are offering glasses of wine and bottles onsite as well.”
With indoor bars, clubs and music venues being the last on the list for post-pandemic openings, wineries have been the first places in the High Country to bring the live music scene back to life in an outdoor setting. The sound of live music being played again is a welcome relief to those who have missed it. Live music is scheduled at the winery through the first weekend in October.
“We are doing what we can to support our local musicians while enabling our customers to enjoy our outdoor seating,” said Tatum. “Our food trucks are now open on the weekends for the fall. While we have spread out and decreased our capacity, we still have a lot of seating outside. And, if people want to bring their own chairs, they can sit anywhere throughout the vineyard as long as they are practicing social distancing. Overall, we are back to being seven days a week now.”
The folks at Grandfather Mountain Vineyard used the lockdown to create and bottle a lot of new wines and libations such as their Raspberry Cider, their popular Big Boulder Red and their Appalachian Red, which is a medium-bodied blend made from fruit that is all locally-grown here in the High Country. Another special treat that has made its debut is their Appalachian Bubbles brand, which is a sparkling wine also made from fruit grown here in the region.
Some of the other wines that are offered for tasting and sale include Pinot Noir Rose’, Petit Sirah, Italian Barbera, Unsoaked Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Vermentino and many more vintages.
More information can be found at grandfathervineyards.com and (828) 963-2400.