This is the second of two posts from our weekend getaway in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Today, we will focus on the wine tasting experiences at two of the seven wineries in the area.
As a refresh… We chose Banner Elk Winery and Grandfather Mountain Vineyard and Winery because they were recommended, and they both claim area “firsts.” Banner Elk Winery established the first commercial winery in the area. And Grandfather Vineyard and Winery established the first vineyard in Watauga County, NC.
Tasting at Banner Elk Winery
It is actually Banner Elk Winery and Villa as there is a house on the property for overnight guests. This makes for an idyllic location for weddings and other events. But I will focus on the winery. As I said, Banner Elk Winery is the first commercially run winery in the North Carolina High Country (as this area is known).
It was blustery and cold, but we chose to sit outside anyway. There were already a couple of tables occupied in the tasting room, which seemed the safest option. So we headed to the bar to choose our wine flights. Tastings are $10.00 for 4 wines, each a two-ounce pour. As you can see below, the wines are served on small plastic cups. It is not ideal for wine tasting, but if you look at this as a tourist destination versus a terrior-driven wine region, you go with the flow. So we “flowed.”
Of the eight different wines they were currently serving, three were estate wines meaning that the grapes were sourced from their vineyards. As I learned at the last North Carolina winery I visited, I wanted to focus on the local wines. This will provide me with a local wine experience. So I chose to taste their Estate Seyval Blanc, Estate High Country Rosé (a blend of estate-grown Steuben and Golden Muscat varieties), Estate Marechal Foch, and then the regionally sourced Merlot. Gary chose the regionally sourced White Blend (mostly Pinot Grigio), the same rosé, and the M. Foch as well as the regionally sourced Cabernet Sauvignon.
It wasn’t easy to properly taste these wines.
The small plastic cup did not allow space to capture the aromas, not to mention the whipping winds. Honestly, given the less than ideal tasting environment, it would not be fair to provide tasting notes other than a few bullet points and whether or not we made a subsequent purchase. Of course, we shared ones we liked to see if we concurred with each other.
The Seyval Blanc, the White Blend, and the High Country Rosé had lots of acidity and tart flavors making these wines hot summer day porch pounders. Their Marechal Foch had big tannins and is quite young. Perhaps with some age, the tannins might mellow. The Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon included some estate fruit, but it is also blended with a significant amount of fruit from other regions in North Carolina, including Yadkin Valley and vineyards in the state of Virginia.
These two wines are easy, juicy, fruit-forward wines that will appeal to their tourist clientele. I can see these wines being big sellers for them as they are both familiar varieties of wine, whereas the Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch are obscure.
All in all, as tourists we had a fun time. I wish it had been warmer and less windy, but we dealt with it. They have a beautiful outdoor area for lots of guests. I am sure this place is packed in the non-pandemic summer months. Being a supporter of their local endeavors, we each selected two bottles to purchase and bring home. I chose the Seyval Blanc and the High Country Rosé. Gary chose the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Banner Elk Winery and Villa * 60 Deer Run, Banner Elk, NC 28604 * 828) 898-9090
Tasting at Grandfather Vineyard & Winery
Our second stop was Grandfather Vineyard and Winery. Their “first” is that they planted the first vineyard in Watauga county. I am not sure how large the vineyard was back in 2003, but according to the tasting room employee, it is currently 5 acres.
The tasting room itself was closed due to Covid restrictions, but there was plenty of outdoor seating with a band playing in the tented area. You would place your order at a tasting room window. They were not serving tasting flights, which was a bummer for Gary and me. So we ordered four glasses of four different wines. I wanted to try their wines made from their estate fruit. I was told that is not possible because they bring in fruit from throughout North Carolina and Lodi, California, to make their wines. Some of the wines include a small amount of estate fruit but mostly fruit from the other regions.
For me, this was disappointing, and apparently, it showed as such on my face. The server did not seem to understand why that mattered to us. After all, she said, “they make all the wine on-site.” My response being, “I was hoping to try North Carolina wine, not wine made from California grapes in North Carolina.” It was a distinction that I am not sure is not important to most folks that visit Grandfather Vineyard and Winery. As well as this employee.
Tasting the Wines
So after two pivots, we ordered a glass each of the 2018 Marsanne, 2019 Whiskey Barrel White (Marsanne aged for eight months in Jack Daniels Whisky Barrels), 2017 North Carolina Merlot, and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot was the only one served that was all sourced from North Carolina, so that wine was a must sample.
So we each took a sip of the wine in front of us and then passed it to the right. This way, we still had the opportunity to taste four of their wines.
Gary and I ended up bringing home a bottle of the Marsanne, which was my favorite of all the wines we tried at both wineries. A bottle of the North Carolina Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon. Our friends bought a bottle of the Whiskey Barrel White.
One last thing about Grandfather Vineyard & Winery.
They are located along the banks of the Watauga River. Sitting along the river bank sipping on a glass of wine would be a great way to while away an afternoon listening to the babbling river.
HOURS: Mon,Wed-Sat: 12pm to 6 pm | Tuesday: Closed | Sunday: 1 pm to 5 pm
We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at these two wineries. Neither were the typical wine tasting experiences that we have had in Napa or other wine regions. But we had fun, and we sipped some enjoyable wines. Should you find yourself in the Appalachian High Country AVA? Make it a point to stop by any of the seven wineries in the region for a uniquely North Carolina experience.
That’s all for now.
Rick & Gary