Central North Carolina Feature

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North Carolina Wineries

For a gentle introduction to the world of wine, look no further than North Carolina.

With nearly 100 wineries sprinkled throughout its valleys, mountains, and coastal plain, the state's wine industry is huge yet intimate in its approach.

When touring and tasting around these parts, don't be surprised if you end up sipping your vintage alongside the owner or head grower. Even the wildly successful folks at RayLen and Westbend Vineyards remain approachable and focus on producing quality wine. This is especially true in the Yadkin Valley, the biggest wine-producing region in the state, located on and near the western edge of the Piedmont. Here, dozens of wineries have made a name for themselves by bucking North Carolina's centuries-old tradition of producing sweet Muscadine and Scuppernong wines and opting instead for the drier European varieties of the vinifera family. Though they were originally labeled rebels by the state's old-school wine producers, the Yadkin growers are now considered some of the finest in the state. A few of the hot varietals to watch include the white Viognier and the red Cabernet Franc.

Wine Flight

Sipping a glass of Yadkin Valley wine is as simple as stepping off a plane. Located in the Charlotte Douglass International Airport, the Yadkin Valley Wine Bar serves vintages from across North Carolina's biggest wine region. The friendly and knowledgeable staff make customers feel like they're in the small tasting rooms found throughout the famous valley. Located between Terminals D and E.

Here is a guide to some of the best wineries in the state:

Childress Vineyards. Modeled after an Italian villa, this winery is as over the top as you might expect from a vineyard created by famous NASCAR driver and team owner Richard Childress. Open since 2004, the winery offers many varieties, including its popular Reserve Chardonnay and Signature Meritage. Within its opulent 35,000-square-foot building, visitors can witness wine-making firsthand, or have lunch at the Bistro, which overlooks the vineyards. 1000 Childress Vineyards Rd., Lexington, NC, 27295. 336/236–9463. www.childressvineyards.com.

Raffaldini Vineyards. Taste the famous Raffaldini Vermentino (President Barack Obama presented Italian president Giorgio Napolitano with a bottle in 2009) and other vineyard favorites like Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, and Montepulciano at Raffaldini's countryside estate. Walking tours of the vineyard are available Wednesday through Sunday. 450 Groce Rd., Ronda, NC, 28670. 336/835–9463. www.raffaldini.com. Closed Tues.

RayLen Vineyards. An approximate 20-minute drive from Winston-Salem makes RayLen an easy escape from city life. In its low-key country setting you can discover some of the state's most famous wines, including RayLen's Bordeaux blend showstopper, Category 5 (yes, named after the strength of a hurricane). Tours are offered six days a week. 3577 Hwy. 158, Mocksville, NC, 27028. 336/998–3100. www.raylenvineyards.com. Closed Sun.

Shelton Vineyards. Shelton has long been considered one of the most prominent wineries of the Yadkin Valley. Here, you can choose between a variety of wine experiences, from inexpensive group tours to pricier vineyard-side and reserve tastings. The Harvest Grill offers an array of dishes that pair nicely with Shelton's most popular wines, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. 286 Cabernet La., Dobson, NC, 27017. 336/366–4724. www.sheltonvineyards.com..

Westbend Vineyards. Westbend was a pioneer of the Yadkin Valley wine scene when it opened in 1988—and has remained at the top ever since. The vineyard remains a low-key affair, with tours offered on weekends and by special request. The Chardonnay Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon are of particular note. 5394 Williams Rd., Lewisville, NC, 27023. 336/945–5032. www.westbendvineyards.com. Closed Mon.

Updated: 09-2013

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