NC winemakers talk about their favorite wines and why they get so many visitors to the vineyard.
In the early 2000s, Darlene Gabbard, founder of Native Vines Winery in Lexington, was called the “Wine Lady” by folks at the bank and post office. She’d learned how to make wine from wild blackberries and apple trees growing on the family farm. When she hosted dinner parties, she shared the wine with neighbors.
“She got a book from the library and learned how to make wine in her kitchen,” says Gabbard’s daughter and Native Vines manager Victoria Lewis. “Everywhere she went, she liked to hand out a bottle of wine that she’d made. It became so popular that people would call and say, ‘Next time you make some, I’ll buy every bottle you make.’”
In 2005, Gabbard, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, opened Native Vines Winery with a tasting room and bottling area in the farm’s barn. She and her husband, Nicholas Gabbard, grow pinot grigio, vino blanc and zinfandel on five of the vineyard’s 50 acres.
Native Vine wines have received numerous awards at the Budbreak Wine & Craft Beer Festival, Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition and North Carolina State Fair. The Green Tea Wine, a semi-sweet wine, fermented like sun tea, is the most popular. “It tastes like a green tea you would make,” Lewis says. “It’s floral and light.”
1336 North Highway 150, Lexington
Each winemaker’s story is different though. So to show off the emerging winemakers across the state, Cardinal & Pine reached out to three other vintners to learn more about them. Here’s what we found.
All the wines are in the style of dry Bordeaux, from an unoaked Chardonnay to Chardonnay fermented in French Oak to all the reds. Expect fruity wines with acidity, perfect for food pairings.
Why wine? “There’s something romantic about all of it. We’re (Ed Wisnieski, co-owner of Silver Fork Vineyard and Winery) both from New York, New Jersey so we wanted to get out and play in the dirt. There’s something idyllic and romantic about it. It’s a lot of hard work.”
How did you train to become a winemaker? “I went to school for chemical engineering so there’s a lot of chemistry in that. I would have paid attention in school if they taught me how to make wine, which they did not. I have winemaking friends so I knew the overall process. I also took some classes at Surry (Community College) for enology and viticulture. Nothing replaces getting your hands dirty.”
What’s your favorite wine? “I’m always a go-to rosé girl. I know that sounds cliche. It’s the best of a red and the best of a white, in my opinion. The rosé is the best of both worlds.”
Why do you think people love visiting vineyards? “You see the vines; you see the mountains. The tasting room is relaxed. Wine just puts everyone in a good mood.”
5000 Patton Road, Morganton
Wines – dry, fruit-forward wines that thrive in the vineyard’s microclimate – are from the Crest of the Blue Ridge Henderson County AVA. Co-owner Lance Hiatt sketches all the art on Marked Tree’s wine labels.
Why Wine? “After graduating from high school, I lived with a family whose uncle had a winery in Chablis, France. I was fascinated by the process of growing grapes and making wine. Even as my career in architecture progressed, my interest in grape growing was always in the back of my mind.”
How did you train to become a winemaker? “In 2015, I attended Surry Community College for viticulture and enology in Dobson, NC. They focus on the issues of growing grapes on the East Coast. It is different than growing wine grapes anywhere else. The classes helped us to select grapes that would fit our grape-growing and wine-making goals.”
Why do you think people love visiting vineyards? “There’s a certain amount of escapism in visiting a winery.”
What should visitors look for on a wine tour? “We take you on a walking tour around the vineyard, often done by my sister-in-law Bonnie, and it’s a hike. She guides you through the blocks of grapes, discussing the different varietals, discussing trellising systems and discussing trimming techniques.”
Where do you go to enjoy a glass of wine? “I love to enjoy a glass of wine while cooking. I enjoy pairing and exploring new wines with food combinations. My current obsession is recreating Asheville’s Chef Christian Albrecht’s deviled eggs with black garlic, umami and chives paired with our Reserve Chardonel. Stunning! Toast to you Christian!”
623 Deep Gap Road, Flat Rock
European in style and elegance. Captures the essence of NC’s robust and diverse terroir.
Why wine? “No other consumer product is more romantic. The vines we planted, our great-grandchildren will harvest and they will make wine that their great-grandchildren will consume, from our backyard. No other beverage breathes and lives and ages gracefully like a bottle of wine. To me, wine is analogous to life.”
How did you train to become a winemaker? “Always training. Self-taught and was mentored by another local winemaker for two years, Sean McRitchie. In this business, there is always a new technique, a new experiment and combinations to try. It’s a never-ending quest.”
What’s your favorite wine? “The one I’m drinking currently. Every wine has its unique personality and story. I love them all. They all tell a story.”
Why do you think people love visiting vineyards? “The bucolic and peaceful setting, the ability to view true farm-to-table with their own eyes. There are very few places you can visit and look at the actual origin of the product you’re consuming.”
What’s the best way to approach a wine tasting? “Open mind, and no preconceived notions of what a great variety should taste like. Each bottle of wine is like a snowflake – there are no two alike. Judge what’s in your glass, not comparing it to anything else but just your own personal enjoyment.”
Where do you go to enjoy a glass of wine? “Many places but my favorite is on my couch, in front of my fireplace after harvesting the bottle from my adjacent wine cellar. Ahhhhh….”
219 JOLO Winery Lane, Pilot Mountain