Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rating some of our favorite North Carolina wineries

By Dathan Kazsuk | Dec, 2014
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

North Carolina is home to some 126 wineries – from the mountains to the coast. With that many wineries, one should be able to find a variety of reds or whites that should quench your thirst. Sure, North Carolina doesn't compare with the quantity of California's 3,600-plus wineries and vineyards –but this actually gives one a chance to make a dent in what our own state has to offer.

Over the course of the past couple years, Jen and I have visited 30 of the 126 wineries. Yes, we still have our work cut out for us. And we're always waiting for an opportunity to take a day trip to visit some more.

So what we decided to do is take those 30 wineries we have visited and make up our Top 10 list. And just how did we rank these wineries? We used a combination of cost of the wines, the atmosphere surrounding the location, an overall taste of all the wines the winery has to offer, as well as the ambiance and the hospitality received from the staff at each location.

So here is our Top 10 list … so far:

No. 10: Medaloni Cellars, Lewisville

Relatively new to Jen and myself, this winery impressed us with its 22-acres of vineyards, indoor and outdoor tasting rooms and cabin rentals (including one tree-house rental). The tasting room was nice and rustic with a burning fireplace and many tables and chairs to enjoy your wine and picnic.

This winery has around 10 wines available to sample and purchase, which include a couple Chardonnays, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Rosé. Medaloni's cabins are available for 2-day rentals that range from $150 to $250 per night.

No. 9: Childress Vineyards, Lexington

Next on our list is Childress Vineyards. NASCAR team owner Richard Childress opened the doors to his vineyard in 2004, fulfilling a dream he had when he would race back in California race tracks. Childress sits on 72 acres where they produce over 30 different types of wines – from Cabernet Franc all the way down to Muscadine.

While the tastings are a tad on the higher side ($12-$15 per person) for either the Cellar Select or Barrel Select tastings – the atmosphere of this larger vineyard could make up for it with its outdoor patio, shopping and down-home hospitality.

No. 8: Windsor Run Cellars, Hamptonville

Windsor Run Cellars produce a blend of wine and fortified wines, such as their Cherry Smash, Ratafia and Midnight Run. These fortified wines are made by adding brandy which is produced in Windsor Run Cellars own legal moonshine still. The staff at Windsor Run Cellars has always been incredibly friendly and is quick to suggest food pairings for each of their wines.

Here's a word of advice. If you are coming in as a couple, purchase two full tastings for $9 each. Yes, for $18, you and your partner will be able to try all 12 wines (Windsor Run Cellars and Ferguson Vineyards) as well as all four of the fortified wines. And you come home with two wine glasses and two shot glasses. Score.

No. 7: Laurel Gray Vineyards, Hamptonville

Nice and quaint. Easy to find. Friendly staff. And a great selection of wine is why Laurel Gray should be on your list while exploring the wines in the Swan Creek area of Yadkin Valley.

The winery features 6 red wines, 4 white wines and 3 dessert wines on their tasting list, and they pair some of those with their personal line of sauces which include a Chardonnay Caramel Sauce, Crazy ‘Bout Butts Barbecue Sauce and the always amazing Chocolate Cabernet Wine Sauce.

So be sure to swing by and visit the Myers family inside the old 1930s milking parlor for a great time and some worth-tasting N.C. wines.

No. 6: Banner Elk Winery, Banner Elk

Resting on top of a picturesque hill overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, Banner Elk offers its guests award winning wines and a place to stay at The Villa – a luxurious bed & breakfast on the premises.

Although the price of tastings has gone up since the last time we visited the winery, they still serve up great wines such as its Cabernet Sauvignon, Seyval Blanc, Marechal Foch and the ever popular Banner Elk Blueberry and Ice Wines. 

Banner Elk is a hop, skip and a jump away from Blowing Rock and Boone - so be sure to look them up next time you are in the mountains.

No. 5: Hanover Park Vineyards, Yadkinville

People can make a place very inviting, and that’s exactly what Michael and Amy Helton will do as soon as you step foot inside Hanover Park Vineyards. The Old World style this couple puts into their wines really shows in some of their red wines such as the Chambourcin, Mourvedre and the 1897 (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak for almost 5 years).

This family run business produces quality wines with only 8 acres of land – so you’ll need to act fast on some of the most popular wines here, because they will sell out quick. You can taste all the wines they have to offer for $10, which is a great value.

No. 4: Round Peak Vineyards, Mt. Airy

This one ranks high in Dathan’s book because not only do you get to sample Round Peak’s wines, but they’re housed in the same building with Skull Camp Wines and Skull Camp Brewing. Yes. Beer! 

First, Round Peak has a great selection of dry French- and Italian-style wines. They will typically have wines such as Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon available. As well as some other different styles in the likes of the Matrimonio Parfait and the La Petite Vendange (a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Viognier).

Skull Camp wines features more obscure style wines with names like Dedication, Confusion, Flirtation and Temptation. These are all worth a try if you like more fruit-style wines with blackberry, cherry, honeysuckle and apple.

While we were there, we sampled a flight of 5 different beers which included a pumpkin beer, brown ale, and a couple IPAs, including the DIPA, Knuckle Dragger.

No. 3: Shelton Vineyards, Dobson

Sure, it’s one of the oldest wineries in the Yadkin Valley, so most people have heard or drank a Shelton wine in the past. But it’s a fun place to visit. Enjoy shopping in the vast tasting room, where you can try flights of red and/or white wines. Take a tour of the establishment for an interesting trip along this tobacco farm. Catch a live show on occasions during the weekend, or enjoy an amazing lunch or dinner at the Harvest Grill right next door. 

For $5 per person, you can sample wines on the regular tour and tasting, or for $20 you can take a tour of the 33,000-square foot winery, and sample 6 reserve wines, chocolates and a souvenir crystal wine glass.

You can easily spend a couple hours enjoying all Shelton Vineyards has to offer.

No. 2: JOLO Winery & Vineyards, Pilot Mountain

On a nice day, JOLO offers enough of a scenic view to keep you there the entire day. With Pilot Mountain literally the backdrop to this winery, it’s a perfect place to unwind with a bottle of wine for lunch or dinner in the End Posts.

This 80-acre property offers indoor and outdoor seating, fishing in nearby Cox Lake, a private dining room available for rentals, and of course, great wine. Be sure to try JOLO's wine such as Jolotage (a red wine blend), Crimson Creek (Chambourcin) and the Happy Endings (dessert wine).

We’ve finally reached the No. 1 winery in our opinion thus far. This Tuscan-style villa is a picture perfect place to spend the afternoon. This scenic winery offers great wine, artwork, snacks and a beautiful view of the surrounding area as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Downstairs you’ll find the tasting stations, where an employee takes you through a flight of all their available wines for $7 per person. Raffaldini offers an assortment of reds, whites and some sparklings all done in an Italian Old World style. They also offer one a chance to take a “Private Label Tour” which runs $30 per person. On this tour you see the behind-the-scenes of the winery as they walk you through the creation of a bottle. Vineyard tours are also available for $5 per person.

Upstairs you can hang out in the meeting room with family or friends and still enjoy the view from on top of the villa. On normal days, it’s a great place to escape from all the people downstairs taking part in the tastings. But during events, the entire villa fills up rather quickly.

Great wines. Lovely views. Nice and knowledgeable staff. Raffaldini has it all – and it why we ranked this winery first in our list of wineries we’ve been to so far.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas ideas: Artisan gifts, local shops, shelters and stocking stuffers


By Dathan Kazsuk | Dec, 2014
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

With Christmas rearing its ugly head, I'm sure there are a lot of people who have no idea what to buy for family and friends. I'm one of them. I'm at that point in my life where I really don't "need" anything. I need food. I need water. I need sunlight. But I don't need that Xbox One or Yeti cooler just be trendy. There are a lot of less fortunate people out there that really do need items to survive the winter months. Jackets for children whose parents can't afford to pay their energy bills. Homeless men, women and children that go to shelters during the holidays to get nourishment in the form of donated foods like turkey, ham and all the fixings.

The Salvation Army does something known as the Angel Tree. This seems like a good idea for the less fortunate. With close to 9,000 kids registered in this program, individuals can help these kids by donating clothes and toys.

There’s also those furry ones we call pets. They need homes and love from generous families. It was really nice to see how many families after Thanksgiving went out to places like the SPCA of Wake County, SAFE Haven for Cats and Second Chance Pet Adoptions to pick up a shelter animal, and give them loving homes. This is by far the best way to go. Sure, every animal should have a loving home, but I think families going through a shelter prove their weight in gold. 
Shelter animals, local artisan gifts, chocolates and more 
are perfect gifts for Christmas this year. 

So, if you’re looking for great stocking stuffers, there are so many great local places to check out. Right down the road from my house is the relatively new shop, Going Local NC. The shop has over 75 artisans from the mountains to the coast. There you can find soaps, jewelry, paintings, candles and specialty-made cards for all occasions. You are bound to find something for a loved one.

Lafayette Village also features a slew of local businesses with presents to fill the stockings. With places such as The Olive Wagon, Gigi’s Boutique, Savory Spice Shop, The Chocolate Shop and Novel Tea, the stuffings should be stuffed – and please do so with care.

If you plan on placing craft beer or fine wine under your tree – or to open up during a holiday party – Raleigh has many shops that can fulfill your needs. It all depends on where you live, but shops like BottleMixx, Wine 101-Raleigh, Tasty Beverage, Ridgewood Wine & Beer Shop, The Hop Yard, Uncorked, Seaboard Wine & Tasting Bar, Bottle Revolution or Lincoln Bottle Shop will have what you’re looking for.

One thing I like to do for my parents back home in California is send them a package filled with North Carolina goodies. And we have a lot to choose from. Larry’s Beans (Raleigh); Counter Culture Coffee (Durham); Videri Chocolate Factory (Raleigh); Escazu Chocolate (Raleigh); Forever Bella Soaps (Raleigh); Wicks for Wags (Raleigh) … and this is to name only a few.

So in hindsight, Christmas can be fun, just don’t be obnoxious about it. Don’t gloat over gifts. Don’t run over people trying to find a parking spot. Respect those less fortunate than yourself. Buy gifts that have a sentimental value. And buy local when trying to fill the space under your tree.