Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Top 10 Favorite North Carolina Wine Experiences of 2017

In 2016 we rated our favorite North Carolina wineries that we were fortunate enough to visit that year. For 2017 we decided to have a little fun with our winery adventures and recap our favorite winery experiences we had this past year. From running a 5K to behind the scenes tours. From viewing the eclipse at a winery to kicking off NC wine month. Even attending fancy wine tasting events, this past year has been a fun-filled year. For this blog we decided to take a look back at our 10 favorite winery experiences of 2017.

Related Story: The Best Wineries of North Carolina in 2016

Click on the title of select experiences to see our full blog of the event.

Jay Raffaldini, left, of Raffaldini Vineyards, and JW Ray, of JOLO Winery sign bottles of the collaboration wine.
Jay Raffaldini, left, of Raffaldini Vineyards, and JW Ray, of JOLO Winery sign bottles of the collaboration wine.
When we heard two of our favorite wineries were teaming up for a first-ever collaboration, who could say no to a fun day trip. In March we made our way to Raffaldini Vineyards for the unveiling of a special wine release. The release was a collaboration between Raffaldini Vineyards and JOLO Winery. The wine –  RaRa Sisboombah, a blend of Montepulciano and Chambourcin. Both owner/winemakers were at the winery to chat about the wine and how it was conceived. It was great to hear the story with around 30 other wine lovers. Ray and JW were both signing bottles, so of course we got ours signed too. Yet to open the bottle, we plan on uncorking it here in March of 2018.

Raffaldini Vineyards has a picturesque view and some great wines.
Some might say it's Ludacris to keep with Raffaldini for our next slot, but here we go. This past September when Dathan's parents came in for a visit, a day-trip to Raffaldini was in order. Dathan's parents hit it off with our taster for the day, Denise, as they all discussed locations and sites in California (where Dathan's parents live). Raffaldini's host even pumped up Bianca Bosker's Cork Dork book up enough for the two of us to buy copies of it (Kindle and paperback).

Botanist & Barrel opens its doors in 2017 out of Cedar Grove, N.C
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon when we decided to drive to Cedar Grove to check out a new wine/cider location Jen recently heard about, Botanist & Barrel. There we met the three co-owners and got to try everything available to taste that afternoon, including a refreshing sangria. We ended up reaching out to B&B, who took part in our 5 Questions With series.

One must keep up with the social class, right? And when we keep up with the Joneses, it's with Jones von Drehle Vineyards in Thurmund. We are members of several wine clubs across North Carolina and Virginia, and we really enjoy the events JvD does for its members. This year we were only able to make it to one of these events, but it was a good one. A local small-business market, live music, brats and of course wine! We also officially met both the NC Wine Guys at this event as well. 

We were invited as media bloggers to be part of the inaugural NC Wine Month kickoff event at Childress Winery on Tuesday, August 29. There, NC Agriculture Commissioner and Gov. Roy Cooper declared the month of September as NC Wine Month. We sat at a table with Laurel Gray Vineyards owner Kim Myers and other bloggers as we sampled a total of 12 different NC wines. It was also a great place to form some new contacts with the winemakers, such as Silver Fork, Linville Falls, Childress and Honeygirl Mead.

This event helped settle a score that the two of us have been having for years. Does the glass make the wine taste different? So when Hanover Park hosted a Riedel tasting featuring 3 of its top selling red wines, we just had to open up our schedule for this one. Around 30 people joined in on the tasting, and we all got to take home our Riedel glasses! That's what we call "winning."

We only participated in three 5K races this year, and this was by far our favorite. The annual Running the Vines 5K hosted by Shelton Vineyards in Dobson. This was our first time doing this event, and we'll probably do it again in 2018. This 5K takes you along a nice 5K or 10K run ending up at the vineyard. The day also included a tour and tasting of the winery, as well as an evening performance by 80s cover band, The Breakfast Club.

We both took a day off of work to drive to Piccione Vineyards to take part in the total eclipse of the sun. We hung out with tasting room manager, Hailey and other guests as we drank wine, had a picnic and ate some moon pies and sun chips. With our official eclipse glasses on, we saw all we were able to ... clouds ruined our 95 percent totality. We couldn't think of a better place to experience this monumental event.

This year we finally made it out to Sanctuary Vineyards in Jarvisburg. We've been wanting to go for a couple years, but just don't make it to the coast as often as we would like to. And we got the royal treatment when we did arrive. It started with tasting room manager, Elton, treating us to a tasting, and ended with the wineries general manager, John Wright, giving us a grand tour of the entire property. We talked in between vines as a light rain was falling as we talked soil and how he's able to grow Vinifera-style grapes on the coast.

Up until this point all of our adventures this year have been surrounded by our North Carolina wineries, but our No. 1 wine adventure would have to be the Triangle Wine Experience – an annual fundraiser for the Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh. This event brings in bigwig wine makers from California, Washington and Oregon and around the World. This year seemed to be the year of the Pinot Noir. An incredible opportunity to sample some amazing wines at the grand gala or taking part in a wine dinner or simply a sip, shop and sign. We were fortunate to experience all three this year.

So, there you have it. Our top 10 wine/winery experiences of 2017. We are looking forward to making new experiences for 2018.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Beer Advent: The 24 Cans of Christmas

By Dathan Kazsuk

In an attempt to either become an alcoholic or gain an extra 5 pounds this December, I decided to pay homage to beer by creating my own Beer Advent from cans lying around our beer fridge.

And in doing so, I realized a few things – I drink way too many IPAs and Stouts! Not that there is anything wrong with that, just stating a fact. During these past 24 days I've had a total of 9 IPA/Pale Ales and 9 Stouts/Porters. That doesn't leave that much room for anything else.

These beers came from trading with friends, buying at local bottle shops and while on a Disney vacation in Florida. 

I ended up listing the label of each can, along with the brewery name, style, ABV, notes and my overall rating. 

Once I give my liver a rest I might try another list/review of North Carolina stouts. 

Related Story: My Favorite Raleigh IPAs – just in time for Raleigh Beer Week!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

5 Crafty Things to do with Wine Glasses

By Jennifer Primrose

If you’re like us, you might have visited your state’s wineries several times during this past year. And over the years each time you opt for a tasting, chances are you walk away with yet another wine glass, or pair of wine glasses. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to have a set of wine glasses from all the wineries we’ve visited. However, the next thing you know you find yourself with literally hundreds of wine glasses in the house, including that starter set from your first apartment, and multiple sets from the same wineries.  

When you open cupboards and find random wine glasses stored on the highest shelf or tucked away in the wine bar, or even multiple boxes in the garage filled with wine glasses, you may have a problem. Then there is the husband – the one who rolls his eyes every time we come home with more wine glasses and no place to store them. Now becomes the time to get creative! So, I thought I’d put together some ideas for re-purposing your wine glasses including some gift ideas right in time for the holidays.

With the holiday season upon us, an easy gift idea is to re-gift one (or a pair) of your favorite wine glasses and pair it with a bottle of your favorite wine from that winery. You can even add some snacks or local chocolates and some fancy gift wrapping and voila, a perfect gift for many occasions, including that hostess gift for your next holiday party. And the best part, anyone can do this one. No Pinterest tears involved!

So, you have that special wine glass from the latest winery you just visited. Why not place a corresponding wine cork from that winery in the glass to display at home as a souvenir. Again, super easy. You can ask the winery for a cork or better yet, buy a bottle of wine from that winery and after opening, you have the cork! Just make sure the cork has the name or logo of the winery. To make this idea sparkle, add some acrylic beads, gems or sand to the bottom of the glass.

How about using those wine glasses for candle holders? Simple! Take that wine glass and just add a colorful votive candle. Add some ribbon to the base of the wine glass or a decorative flower and BAM ... you have a beautiful centerpiece or centerpieces to add to your dining room table at your next dinner party. Here I used wine glasses from Shelton Vineyards.

A variation on the above, turn that glass upside down and use the base of the glass as the holder for the candle. However, with this option, I would not recommend a glass with writing as the glass will be turned upside down. You may also want to paint the glass to give it some personality. This is a little beyond my crafting patience so I will pass this time! I opted to instead add some bright colored “fake” flowers to use under the glass itself to make a simple, yet elegant, centerpiece.

A candy dish. That's right. Decorate that glass with some ribbon and add some candy. Place several wine glass "candy dishes" around the house at your next holiday party. Here I simply added some M&M's to a Windsor Run wine glass and done!

As you can see, there are so many other uses for the hundreds of wine glasses you have sitting around the house, from simply displaying your winery travels, to centerpieces and candles.

In an upcoming blog, I’ll introduce to you ways to re-purpose your empty wine bottles and collection of corks.

Let’s get crafty!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Asheville's Highland Brewing says goodbye to Scotsman logo


By Dathan Kazsuk

For 24-years that famous Scotmans on the label of Highland Brewing bottles has given us that congenial look on his face, toasting you with a beer in one hand and his trusty bagpipe in the other. 

But Highland's is bidding him farewell, sending him to eat haggis in the big castle in the sky. The Asheville brewery is re-branding, and part of that is creating a new logo with the help of Helms Workshop out of Austin, Texas. 

"We've been refreshing our brand through our beer for over two years," says Highland President Leah Wong Ashburn, referring to the company's new beers and the introduction of cans to the market. "Because we lead with beer. But in doing that, we created a divide between our beer and our brand. It's time to close the divide," she says.

So that will lead to a total of four new concepts that Highland will follow: authenticity, pride in its Asheville home, consistently excellent beer and last, but not least, leadership. As Ashburn likes to put it, "We are Asheville's pioneers in craft beer."

Highland has been working with Helms Workshop for six months of extensive research and development. The firm's depth of experience in craft beer and working with heritage brands, along with a personal tie to the Asheville area, made the choice clear.

The brewery will unveil an entirely new look in its labels, packing, point of sales, marketing and even some new changes in the brewery's tasting room. But what can we expect from the new labels? Well, the new logos will sport imagery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a bold and iconic pioneer's compass and the clear messaging for the brewery.

The new look will hit the streets in February.

Highland Brewing was founded in 1994 as the city’s first brewery in a downtown basement in Asheville, North Carolina, by retired engineer and entrepreneur Oscar Wong. Now distributed in 7 states and with an annual production exceeding 46,000 barrels.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Awards: JOLO Winery wins award for wine in California competition

By Jennifer Primrose

More great news for JOLO Winery & Vineyards.

The winery, which is located in Pilot Mountain, recently announced that its 2017 Golden Hallows white wine has earned a silver medal in the Harvest 2017 Challenge. The event took place In Sonoma, California on Nov. 14-15, and Golden Hallows was the only wine in North Carolina that earned an award in this year’s competition.

JOLO’s winemaker and owner, JW Ray said, “2017 was an excellent year for us and this wine represents what our fans can expect from our newest vintage. We anticipate that this will be the first of many accolades for this amazing wine.”

The challenge, according to its website, is “… a wine competition that bases its judging on a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give the specific personality to the wine.”

More than 1,025 wines were entered into this the competition this year, and the judges gave out hardware to 54 Best of Class designations, 24 Best of AVAs, 37 Double Gold medals and a total of 145 Gold medals.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Cooking for a Classic gears up for 2018

The cooking competition that is known as Cooking for a Classic has released it schedule for its 2018 showdown starting on Monday, January 22. The event, which raises funds for the Lucy Daniels Center, will see two chefs compete head-to-head for a chance to win a restored 1949 Chevrolet pickup truck.

The chefs will use a secret ingredient to conjure up three dishes each, for a total of six menu items for you to enjoy – and judge! Held at catering event venue, 1705 East, guests will be able to purchase local brews, spirits and wines at a cash bar, with proceeds benefiting the Lucy Daniels Center.

And now for the lineup:

Monday, Jan. 22

Chef Troy Stauffer of City Club, Raleigh vs Chef Matt Hannon of Ironwoods Café, Southern Pines

Tuesday, Jan. 23

Chef Jonathan Ballard of Dean's Kitchen and Bar, Cary vs Chef James Patterson of McConnell Golf Dining, Raleigh

Wednesday, Jan. 24

Chef Trey Cleveland of Top of the Hill, Chapel Hill vs Chef Aaron Matyac, Whiskey Kitchen, Raleigh

Chef Aaron Matyac of Raleigh Whiskey Kitchen.

Thursday, Jan. 25
Chef Dean Thompson, Concord Hotels, Raleigh vs Chef Nick Fay, Coquette, Raleigh

The semi-finals will be held Monday, January 29 and Tuesday, January 30. Then the final two chefs left standing will compete in the championship battle on Wednesday, February 7.

We went to the inaugural event this past February.

Related Story: New Raleigh cooking competition finds chefs battling for vintage Corvette Stingray