Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blowing Rock Winterfest: Wine tasting at Green Park Inn

A couple tries the 2015 Klinker Brick Tranzind from Fine Wines Trading Company.

By Dathan Kazsuk | January 30, 2018
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It’s probably one our favorite places to stay while in Blowing Rock – the Green Park Inn. We’re both big into history and this historic inn has been part of western Carolina since 1891. It’s actually one of the last grand manor hotels and the state’s second oldest operating resort hotel.

And this is where we find ourselves on this dreary, raining afternoon in Blowing Rock. We sat in the front lobby getting some work done prior to Winterfest’s annual wine tasting and auction. Jen’s taking notes on the laptop of our previous night, while on the iPad, I check out our daily page views for the day. It’s around 2 p.m. and we have an hour before the tasting actually takes place. One by one we start seeing the wineries and distributors make their way through the white double doors of the hotel. Set up has commenced.

The old hotel baggage cart, which has seen better days, is going above and beyond helping the vendors situate wine in either the tea room, library or the inn’s history museum. The lobby starts to fill up. The mix of vendors and wine drinkers start to blend together. You can see the anticipation start to build. We’re going to have an incredible January, I think to myself, page view wise. And then simultaneously we sense someone approach us.

As we both look up, we notice that Diana Jones, co-owner of Jones von Drehle has caught us hard at work. Well, by this time I was done working and actually playing Ballz on the iPad. “Hey guys. Nice to see you here,” Jones says. She knew we were in town, as a few Instagram and Facebook comments made that clear. She had more setting up to do, so our talk was short, but promised to catch up once the tasting was in full swing. T-minus 15 minutes and counting.

By this time we already had our green wristbands on, and decided to check in to receive our wine glasses. We also picked up our wine tasting guide and looked it over. Jones von Drehle. Linville Falls. Banner Elk Winery. Grandfather Vineyards. All ones we’ve been to in the past. In the distribution world, Tryon and Fine Wine Trading were here as well. It’s nice having NC wines, but it’s also good to sample nectar from other parts of the world.

We formed a game plan, which we usually do for any tastings or events. We are usually very organized and efficient when it comes to things like this. We decided to start towards the back, while everyone else hits up the tea room and museum first. And that paid off for us. It was still around 10 minutes before the tasting was to officially begin, but the women over at Linville Falls were already set up and ready to pour. So it begins.


Beginning with the Riesling we made our way through the three wines Linville Falls had to offer. The other two being a Merlot and a sweet blackberry wine. Out of the three we both preferred the blackberry as our favorite, but from there, Jen thought the Riesling was second, while I put it behind the Merlot. But everything we tasted was pretty good.

Our next stop was suppose to be Fine Wine Trading Company, since they were set up in the library as well, but since the guy wasn't ready yet, we thought it was time to go talk to Diana. There we tried the four wines she was pouring – a white, a rosé and two reds, including the recent award-winning Cabernet Franc. There was no need to take any notes here, since we haven't had a wine produced by this winery that we didn't like – maybe that explains why we are wine club members.

Next, as far as North Carolina wines go, we paid a visit to Grandfather Vineyards, Lake James Cellars and finally Banner Elk Winery. Each winery offered up four to five samples for drinkers to try. There were some hits and misses in sampling all these wines – at least for us. Grandfather's Vidal Blanc was a nice semi-dry white that we both enjoyed, but we thought the reds tasted a tad too tart and had an almost "chemical" aftertaste that didn't settle well with us. At Banner Elk we liked the white blend and thought the blueberry wine was the best of the bunch. We really wanted to like the Cabernet Sauvignon (one of our favorite varietals), but thought the wine poured from the bottle tasted more like fruit punch.

Our next stop was at the Wine to Water table. We were slightly familiar with the concept behind this nonprofit charity, as we've had contact with them in the past back in Raleigh. So it was nice to see them at Green Park pouring a collection of wines that included a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. All the grapes were donated to the organization from California to help makes these wines. Our favorite here was the Zin. We decided to pick up some more info on the organization, since we think this could be a great fundraising event for the wine club we manage back at home.

We followed Wine to Water up with the two distributors – Fine Wines and Tryon. At Fine Wine we sampled the 2015 Antucura Malbec and Klinker Brick Tranzind. Both were nice bold red wines that left the right amount of dark fruit, tannins and spice on the tongue. Although both were good, we both agreed that the Klinker Brick was our favorite here.

As we made our way over to the museum room to try what Tryon had to offer, we knew we were going to come across a problem. Either this was just the popular room or maybe the room was just too small – but a mass crowd of people were stationary in the middle of the room. And if that wasn't enough, a couple gentlemen anchored themselves right in front of the servers, not moving a muscle until they were done with the 7 wines. Hey all, it's called "wine tasting etiquette 101." While you are sipping on that wine in your glass and you feel that breath of hot air on the back of your neck as people wait behind you to taste as well – move over to the side! 

Due to a few of these non-considerate souls, we were not able to finish the entire collection of wines that day. But we did try some of the better reds that were being poured. The Areyna Malbec was a good wine, and we were told that this wine won't be hitting bottle shops here in North Carolina until sometime in mid-February. But our favorite was the Elouan Pinot Noir from Oregon. Elouan is the idea of Chuck Wagner's son, Joe. And if you are unfamiliar with the Wagner family and its long line of fine wines – let me hit you with a couple words: Caymus. Conundrum. Mer Soleil. To name a few.

Related Story: 

Caymus Vineyards Webcast Tasting in Raleigh 
Virtual wine tasting with Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards

Finally it was time to hit up the only distillery that was there for the tasting – Asheville's H&H Distilling. They supplied small thimble-size samples of two of the distilleries products, a gin and a rum. I love my rum, and this Hazel 63 Rum was pretty good, but the Hwy. 9 Gin was the bomb. And I'm not a fan of the taste of Juniper berries, but this was the perfect fusion of berries, lime and other spices that made this one of the highlights of my tasting.


Next came the fun and exciting live auction part of the evening. We have been a part of Winterfest's past – at least 3 other times – and we usually walk away with something to replenish our inventory. In previous years a huge assortment of bitters, sparkling wines and California reds have made the trek from Blowing Rock back to Raleigh. So we were anxious to see what was in store for us this year.

With our wine glasses filled, courtesy of a bottle we had in our upstairs room, we grabbed a paddle and waited for the auction to begin. A total of 30 lots were ready for the highest bidder. We were actually seated next to a couple from Raleigh, and decided not to bid against one another. We did have one caveat ... if one of us won the bid for the private in-home wine and Riedel seminar for 10 ... we had to invite the others. Deal. But that was short lived as this lot went for a lot more than both of us were comfortable spending.

Other items that went to the highest bidders included a magnum of 2012 Burly Cabernet Sauvignon; a 90 points-plus California wine package that included Robert Foley, Andrew Murray, Klinker Brick and Burly; and a 3-night stay at Palm Coast Villas in Florida. This is the first time since we've been coming to Winterfest that we didn't walk out of the auction with an item. But we had a great time as always.

Related Story: Wines flow at Green Park Inn's 2014 Winterfest wine tasting

JOLO Winery earns platinum medal at 2018 International Winemakers Challenge

By Jennifer Primrose | January 30, 2018
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Pilot Mountain’s JOLO Winery & Vineyards brought home the prestigious platinum medal for its 2016 Pilot Fog in the 2018 International Winemaker Challenge Wine Competition that took place in San Diego, California earlier this week.

“Out of over 1,000 entries, less than five percent earned a platinum medal,” says winery owner and winemaker, JW Ray. “Many of the bottles in this exclusive category cost twice or even three times our retail price. This competition is one of the most rewarding as it is a jury of our peers from highly regarded wineries in California and around the world,” he says.

The 9th annual Winemaker Challenge included a stellar lineup of judges including Gary Eberle, father of Paso Robles wine, Simi winemaker Susan Lueker, Nicole Hitchcock from J Vineyards, Maayan Koschitsky of Atelier Melka and others.

“We are confident that our 2017 vintage will prove to be even better, as we are in the process of bottling our latest offerings of Pilot Fog, Crimson Creek and Jolotage … all medal winners at this year’s competition,” says Ray.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Westbend Winery & Brewery expands with new restaurant, the Grapevine Grille

By Jennifer Primrose & Dathan Kazsuk | January 26, 2018
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | 
Instagram: trianglearoundtown | Pinterest: TriangleAT

Westbend Winery & Brewery, located in Lewisburg, N.C., reopened its doors in 2016 under new ownership and continued its legacy as a top-notch winery followed by adding craft beer and cider to its line up. 
Now, in 2018, Westbend has expanded once again and opened its restaurant, the Grapevine Grille. We were on our way to Blowing Rock for the annual Winterfest weekend and decided to stop for lunch and experience what this winery has accomplished in such a short time.

Related: Autumn in N.C. Wine Country welcomes two new wineries

The lunch menu consists of appetizers such as fried-green tomato stacks and stuffed Portabella mushrooms to salads and sandwiches. We decided on the Westbend cobb salad and the grilled vegetable wrap with a cup of potato soup as well as the IPA and glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Our items came out in a timely manner, and Ian, our server for the afternoon, was very attentive. As far as the food goes, the salad was a meal in itself with just the right amount of bacon, avocado and blue cheese – and the bacon vinaigrette was a good touch to the overall taste. The wrap was light and healthy with a mixture of grilled vegetables wrapped in a tomato basil wrap. An added touch was the walnut pesto. 

We loved the space and rustic feel of the restaurant at Westbend. Honestly, we always wished this would have remained the tasting bar after first visiting during the wineries grand opening.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Flavors prevail for Raleigh's Sweetheart Treats cupcake shop


By Jennifer Primrose | January 24, 2018
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | 
Instagram: trianglearoundtown | Pinterest: TriangleAT

In this edition of Five Questions With ... we reached out to Mary Hinton, owner of Sweetheart Treats, located in the Falls River Shopping Center in north Raleigh. Soon to be celebrating 1-year in April, we first met at a wine and cupcake pairing at neighboring business, Uncorked Wine & Coffee Café, for a Valentine’s Day tasting prior to opening at this location. This family business is a full service bakery making and selling treats such as brownies, cake push pops, Rice Krispy Treats – but most known for its cupcakes, including a line of gluten free and vegan cupcakes. They are also known for the "Drunken Cupcake" which are made with wine, champagne and high-end spirits. We recently caught up with Mary to learn a little more about her and what inspired Sweetheart Treats to become what it is today.

What made you decide to open up a store and sell cupcakes for a living? What were you doing prior to baking treatsI was ready for a professional change. After working in senior-level management for someone else my entire career, I decided to bid on myself and became an entrepreneur. My mom had the vision for the cupcake business. So it was a natural decision because who doesn’t love cupcakes? I wanted to create happiness for people and I believe that is what I am doing.

Culinary is a form of art. Tell us how you create life into your works of art that others enjoy. What's your inspiration with creating the cakes and coming up with different and unique flavors? 
I like to have fun with my treats. I think it is extremely important for people to connect with desserts. Something becomes your favorite, because it speaks to all the things you love. So, I like to ask a lot of questions when working with a client and that way I’m able to bring something to life that I know they’ll love. It’s like baking for your friends at that point! I may get a special request for something and in working with a client may come up with something new that I can then add to the menu. I also get inspiration from friends and family. This is one of the reasons all of my cupcakes have names. They are created based on someone I've met. 

Speaking of flavors … how many different cupcake flavors have you come up with? From the icing to the batter itself, what is your favorite? What is your most popular cupcakes? I’m not sure of the exact number at this point, but I have over 180 flavors. My favorite is The Alice – a sweet potato cupcake. I love this cupcake because it is named after my grandmother and it reminds me of her amazing sweet potato pies she always bakes for me. My most popular cupcake is The April – triple chocolate. To this day, I have sold over 2,000 of these cupcakes. Some of our other popular cupcakes are The Mark – Oreo, The Mel – honeybun, The Louis – banana pudding, The Speedy – orange crème, The Lavern – funnel cake, and The Donald – maple bacon.

Related Story: Raleigh candy makers win Good Food Awards

You came up with what is known as the “drunken cupcake.” How did you come up with this concept? And tell us about some of the drunken cupcakes you’ve created in the past … and is there anything new we can look forward to? 
It’s a play off the traditional holiday cakes that have rum or some other kind of cognac. People have been cooking with alcohol forever, but I have taken that concept and paired my recipes with liquor and liqueurs that 
accentuate the flavors. One of the more popular of the drunken cupcake is The Vanessa – Champagne, The Jeezy – margarita, and The Patrick – Irish car bomb cupcakes. I have a couple of ideas for new cupcake flavors, but I can’t give away all my secrets! I must give my customers something to look forward to! Just know that Valentine’s Day is coming up as well as our 1-year anniversary on April 28, and a cupcake happy hour. So we will have some great things in store in the next couple of months.

Now that you have a storefront location in the Falls River Shopping Center what are the future plans for Sweetheart Treats? What can we look forward to in 2018 so we can all get our sugar fix? 
We are just getting started! I love having an actual store where I can interact with my customers and see the effect Sweetheart Treats has on their day, but we want to be able to spread our joy nationwide. An expansion is in our future along with online sales and new partnerships! You can look forward to getting your sugar fix in more places than one!

Keep up-to-date with Sweetheart Treats by visiting their web page at www.sweethearttreatsnc.com or follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sweethearttreatsnc/

If you or someone you know would like to be featured in a monthly Five Questions With, please send an email to trianglearoundtown@gmail.com.