North Carolina is known for its unique and delicious grapes that bring a distinctly southern flavor to many different recipes. From Muscadines to American “bunch” grapes, each variety has its own aromatic aroma and tart sweetness that makes it perfect for winemaking. Here we explore the different types of grapes found in North Carolina and discuss how each type can be used to create delicious wines.
Grape Varieties of North Carolina
Wines can be crafted either from 100% or primarily from a single grape variety or through a harmonious blend of multiple grape varieties. Acquiring knowledge about different grape varieties is a crucial aspect of understanding and appreciating the diverse world of wines.
In the United States, most wines are named by the grape variety used, showcasing the emphasis on the specific type of grape used in the winemaking process. In this section, we will explore a comprehensive compilation of the finest grape varieties that thrive or hold potential for cultivation in North Carolina.
Wines made from grapes of this classic European species evoke the flavors found in both Europe and California. Thanks to new agricultural advancements, viticulturalists have successfully grown these grapes in North Carolina. Varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc are cultivated with great success.
Here at RayLen Vineyards, we grow predominantly Vitis Vinifera varieties, making wines that are elegant, balanced, and complex.
During the late 1800s, a fascinating development took place in France – the creation of grape varieties that were a combination of Vitis vinifera and native American species. These remarkable grapes possess the best of both worlds: the disease resistance and winter hardiness of American species, and the delightful flavors of the Vinifera, or European, species. Some notable cultivars born from this innovation include Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Villard Noir.
Muscadines, also known as scuppernongs in North Carolina, are the indigenous grapes of the region. These grapes are enjoyed fresh or transformed into exquisite wines and delectable jellies. The wines crafted from this grape variety boast a rich, full-bodied flavor profile, bursting with delightful fruitiness. Notable varieties include Carlos, Magnolia, Sterling, Nesbitt, and Noble.
Wines made from grapes of this particular species, known as American “bunch” grapes, offer rich and fruity flavors that truly reflect their labrusca heritage. Varieties such as Catawba, Niagara, Isabella, and Concord bring a unique character to the North Carolina winemaking scene.
Notable Fruit Varieties
North Carolina vintners are exploring new horizons by crafting wines from fruits beyond grapes. These captivating creations delight the senses and offer a diverse array of flavors. From luscious apples and vibrant blueberries to succulent blackberries and juicy peaches, these fruit-based wines showcase the rich tapestry of flavors found in the region’s bounty.
North Carolina American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)
Only regions that boast unique climates, soil compositions, and elevations earn the esteemed distinction of being designated as an American Viticultural Area. In the state of North Carolina, there are six designated AVAs. When you indulge in the wines of these specific regions, you can be certain that you are partaking in an experience that is truly exclusive to the very location where you stand.
Appalachian High Country AVA
The vineyards in the Appalachian High Country AVA are strategically situated at elevations ranging from 2,290 to 4,630 feet. Within this AVA, wineries face distinctive challenges and reap exclusive benefits as a result of the elevated terrain and sloping mountainsides.
Crest of the Blue Ridge AVA
Crest of the Blue Ridge derives its name from the Eastern Continental Divide, which gracefully traverses the AVA. This region is characterized by its exceptional climate and elevation. The convergence of warm days and cool nights during the growing season creates an idyllic environment for cultivating European vinifera and French-American hybrid grapes. Sitting at an average elevation of 2,362 feet, this area stands apart from the undulating foothills to the east and south, as well as the majestic, rugged mountains to the north and west.
Haw River Valley AVA
The wineries in this AVA are blessed with a bountiful growing season and fertile soil in the Haw River Valley. With an average of 214 frost-free days, it’s a haven not just for the grapevines but also for wine enthusiasts who relish the pleasure of sipping their favorite wines on the patio almost all year round.
Swan Creek AVA
Nestled in the picturesque Yadkin Valley, the wineries of the Swan Creek AVA benefit from a distinctive microclimate that bestows unparalleled uniqueness upon their grapes. With the majestic Brushy Mountains gracing the backdrop, these wineries thrive on the resulting mineral-rich soil, renowned for its exceptional ability to retain vital nutrients and moisture.
Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA
Nestled within the Appalachian Mountains, with winding rivers and slopes draped in lush foliage, lie the vineyards of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA. These vineyards are renowned for crafting exquisite wines with a unique blend of sweetness and subtle dryness, creating a truly distinctive tasting experience.
Yadkin Valley AVA
Yadkin Valley proudly holds the distinction of being North Carolina’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA). With its moderate elevations and proximity to the Yadkin River, this region provides an ideal environment for a diverse range of grape varieties to flourish. Today, Yadkin Valley boasts a thriving community of wineries, offering visitors a delightful experience amidst its picturesque landscapes.
RayLen Vineyards & Winery is proud to be a part of the Yadkin Valley AVA and the wonderful winemaking history of North Carolina.
Exploring Local Wines
In addition to exploring the different grape varieties of North Carolina, wine enthusiasts can also discover artisanal wines crafted in this region. The local wineries celebrate the terroir by expressing the flavors of North Carolina’s lush forests and rolling hills. This is the perfect opportunity to discover a new favorite wine or get reacquainted with an old friend. From the crisp Seyval Blancs of the Appalachian High Country AVA to the creamy Chardonnays of Yadkin Valley vineyards, there is something for everyone here in North Carolina.
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