North Carolina’s Hidden Wine Country
by Amanda Cross
North Carolina’s landscape is best known for its mountain ranges and beaches, but what most people don’t realize is that in between the coast and the mountains there are some impressive vineyards and wineries. There are actually quite a few of them spread out across this deceptively wide state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks. But two we've visited that are particularly worth highlighting are the Asheville and Yadkin Valley wine countries.
The most notable winery near Asheville is at the famous Biltmore Estate. Surprisingly, the Biltmore Estate Winery is the most visited winery in the United States. This surprised us merely because it's not in California or some other place better known for wine, but once you have a look, it makes perfect sense. Not only is the scenery beautiful, with the vineyards in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the winery itself is luxurious, and produces some truly delicious wines. If you purchase a day pass for the entire property, you can partake in a complimentary tasting at the estate’s wine bar. And if you’d like to learn about how the grapes are grown and the wines are produced, you can arrange in advance for a more in-depth tour. There are also some yummy cheese and meat pairings offered with the wines, if you’re looking for a little snack while exploring different wines.
While we were exploring the area outside of Asheville looking for some good wine tastings, we also found ourselves passing through a town called Cherokee, located at the base of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove just about 10 minutes out of the town center towards the Smokies and found Deep Creek Winery, a small but cozy spot with several award-winning wines. They have a few fruity whites, which we loved, and the bottles are reasonably priced (a general perk of going to smaller, locally owned places like this). Ultimately though, there’s just something majestic about enjoying a glass of quality wine while staring off at a mountainous skyline, and this western North Carolina spot was perfect for it.
Because western North Carolina is a bit remote for some, we should note that there's some entertainment in the area as well. We stopped at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, which is one of the few legal casinos in North Carolina (because it's on Native American land). More than places like these, Americans are mostly looking toward the latest online casinos from the US as their likeliest outlets for gambling. This resort is a hidden gem. There's just something charming about bumping into a full-fledged casino out in this Smoky Mountains region.
Meanwhile, if you're looking for other ways to break up your wine tourism in this part of the state, Cherokee also has some gorgeous hiking trails and interesting museums rich with Native American history. This is all to say you can effectively make a whole vacation out of the area—not just a road trip with a few quick winery stops.
As far as we're concerned, Yadkin Valley is the most underrated part of North Carolina. This 1.4-million-acre valley is located along the Yadkin River, and happens to be home to dozens of vineyards. Upon doing just a little research ahead of time, we were overwhelmed by the number of destinations to choose from, but luckily the region’s website maps out some suggested wine trails from different directions. Aside from stopping for plenty of wine tastings (it's a nice area to tour, rather than a place to single out one specific vineyard), we also spent an afternoon at Pilot Mountain State Park, where there are hikes overlooking the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. (There aren't many better ways to burn off the wine calories.)
We could have easily spent a week exploring the valley, especially with all the adorable restaurants and bed and breakfasts conveniently close to the wineries. Some of the vineyards have restaurants on site, and some have picnic tables for guests to use if they bring their own food. Instead of having one big meal during our outing, however, we much preferred to sample the suggested meat and cheese pairings that several of the wineries offer with wine tastings. You really can’t go wrong with any of the dining options here. We should also mention that this region is excellent for trying authentic Carolina BBQ.
Overall, we would definitely go back to North Carolina and spend more time exploring the hidden wine country there. There's more to see and do besides the regions and wineries highlighted here. But even staying in the Cherokee and Biltmore areas and touring the Yadkin River, you can have yourself quite a nice little wine-centric getaway.