Since the beginning of the pandemic, we, like everyone else, had to cancel all of our vacations, work trips, and weekend getaways. It did not matter where we were going. It just mattered that we were getting out of town. But for months which feels like years, we stayed home for the benefit of society as much as for ourselves. This past weekend we were supposed to be on a New York City getaway with seven friends to wine, dine, and see a couple of Broadway shows. That, of course, did not happen.
We have been diligent about mask-wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and sanitizer using. I leave the house to go to the grocery, pick up take out or wine, and walk the dogs. We have established a pod that has grown over the months, but we are selective so that we all stay virus-free. But we were “just” holding it together.
Then our friends (and pod members) invited us up to their second home in North Carolina for the weekend. I think I started jumping for joy before the word yes came out of my mouth. Whatever the rules, for however long, we were in. Just tell us when to be where at what time—just knowing that we had something to look forward lifted both Gary and my spirits.
A Weekend Getaway to Saluda, North Carolina
We met our friends at their home at 9:00 am on Friday. We packed our stuff, including a selection of 12 bottles of wine into their car, and off we headed. Three and a half hours later arrived at the hamlet of Saluda, NC – population 690. The roughly two-block “downtown” business area has the coolest old fashioned grocer/market along with a few other retail shops. It is so charming and quaint and that I expected Andy Griffith, Opie, and Aunt Bea to be walking down the street. This is just the kind of place I needed this getaway to be.
We were out of town as quickly as we were in it. Over this hill, round that bend, and surrounded by forest, we came to a gravel road with some serious ruts from all of the summer rains. Fortunately, she had plenty of practice and navigated our way to their gravel driveway. Also rutted from the rain, it also had a 45° pitch up the mountain to their house. Down-shift to low gear, and we arrive in the clearing where their adorable mountain home perches on the side of the ridge.
Rainy Days and Getaway Fridays
We arrived at about 12:30 pm. We had plans to visit a local winery and then go out for dinner at The Purple Onion. It had been raining, and the forecast said it would rain into the night. So we skipped the winery cause the rain would hamper outdoor seating. Dinner also needed a reboot because the restaurant that generally does not take reservations now does because of Covid and only 25% occupancy.
Good thing we brought lots of wine because this getaway was starting with a cheese and charcuterie platter; then wine for lunch, which turned into the most relaxing happy hour, which then “poured” into ordering pizza for dinner and more wine. Today ended up being the perfect first day. Next time we will plan just such a day.
Even though it rained all day on Friday, it did not feel humid. At least not by Charleston standards. Yes, it was cooler outside, but there was no wearing the humidity like a sweater. You could breathe. It was heavenly.
Getaway Saturday Celebrating North Carolina Wine
Saturday, we had a slow start sitting on the porch in our pj’s drinking coffee until noon. But we had to get a move on because we were winery hopping today. We will be visiting wineries in the newly designated Crest of the Blue Ridge AVA officially established in 2019.
Marked Tree Vineyards
We made our first stop at the newly opened Marked Tree Vineyard. They planted seven grape varietals in 2016 with their first harvest of estate Grüner Veltliner, Chardonel, and Vidal Blanc in 2017. While they did make red wines in 2017 vintage, it was from purchased fruit as their estate Cabernet Franc, Lemberger (aka Blaufränkisch), and Petit Verdot vines needed more time to mature. According to co-owner Tim, they just recently bottled their 2018 estate reds wines to be sold later this year.
This winery is on a beautiful property with gorgeous views in all directions. Vineyards and the Blue Ridge Mountains surround the tasting room. We happened to be there on the day of harvest for the Chardonel right next to the tasting room. You could see the crews preparing for tonight’s gathering of the grapes.
This being my first visit to North Carolina wineries, I was unaware of the trend to make dry and sweet versions of several of the wines. This was true at both of the wineries we visited, and we were told that it is what one is expected to do if opening a winery in NC.
At Marked Tree they have twelve bottlings that include:
Chardonel Estate 2017 – (Dry) A Chardonnay/Seyval hybrid created in New York state to pass along the aromas and flavors of Chardonnay while being cold hardy producing large clusters of green grapes.
Oaked Chardonel Estate 2017 – (Dry) The same varietal fermented in 100% New American Oak. 12.5% ABV
Grüner Veltliner Estate 2017 – (Dry) Fermented in stainless steel. 12.5% ABV
Vidal Blanc Estate 2017 – (Dry) Fermented in stainless steel – This is a hybrid grape from the 1930s created by Jean Louis Vidal using Ugni Blanc and Rayon d’Or (Seibel 4986). It is a very winter-hardy variety that manages to produce high sugar levels in cold climates with moderate to high acidity. 12.5% ABV
OTTO Estate 2017 – (Sweet) Vidal Blanc fermented in stainless steel (2% residual sugar) 12.5% ABV
Chloe Rosé 2017 – (Dry) A Cabernet Franc and Lemberger blend. Saignée method. 12.5% ABV
Sweet Elle Mae Rosé 2017 – (Sweet) This is a Cabernet Franc and Vidal Blanc blend. (2% residual sugar) 12.5% ABV
Humming Bird Estate 2017 – (Sweet) This is an After Dinner wine as it only has 12.5% ABV. In order to be classified as dessert wine, it must contain 14% ABV or more. (7% residual sugar)
Cabernet Franc 2017 – (Dry) – Aged 18 months in barrel – 100% New American Oak 12.5% ABV
Petit Verdot 2017 – (Dry) – Aged 18 months in barrel – 100% New American Oak 12.5% ABV
Watershed 2017 – (Dry) – A blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Aged 18 months in barrel -100% New American Oak 12.5% ABV
Ghost House Red 2017 – (Dry) – An undeclared blend that according to the printed materials is light, well balanced, and easy to drink 12.5% ABV
Marked Tree Final Comments:
Visiting this winery was a great experience. Given that they are now sharing their first wines, it will be interesting to see how they grow into themselves and their winemaking. The vines are young, as are the wines. Several of the varietals are ones of which I am not familiar, and as such, I have no wine profile starting point. Those that I did have a profile reference were not what I expected, but given the extreme difference in terrior and other growing conditions, this is not surprising.
I was a much bigger fan of their sweet wines than the dry ones, but Gary did not concur. We did come home with two bottles. Vidal Blanc was Gary’s pick while I chose the Grüner Veltliner.
Marked Tree is open seven days a week, M-Th from 11 am to 6 pm, Fri.-Sat. From 11-7 pm and Sun. from12 nn-6 pm. 623 Deep Gap Rd. FlatRock, NC 28731 Tele. – 828.513.3773 www.markedtreevineyard.com
Tastings cost $15.00 for a selection of five wines. Or $30.00 for a tasting of the entire roster of wines.
Burntshirt Vineyard – Our Second Stop
Since we went to a brand new winery first, it only made sense to go to an older established winery next. Burntshirt Vineyards is one of the older wineries in this region of western North Carolina and currently holds the distinction of being the 2020 North Carolina Vineyard of the Year.
Alas, I have so much more to say, but I fear that this post will be too long. So I am stopping here, and we will pick up on the rest of this fabulous getaway weekend on my next post.
Until then, please stay safe and keep the folks in the line of the wildfires in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado in your thoughts as well as those affected by Hurricane Laura.
If you are not registered to vote, please do so. In 39 states and D.C., you can register online, so do it now.
Stay tuned for Blue Ridge Mountain Getaway Part 2.
Rick & Gary