Crest of the Blue Ridge Henderson County
While at the North Carolina Wine Bloggers Summit in July I met some folks from Visit Hendersonville. We decided to team up to highlight The Crest of the Blue Ridge Henderson County American Viticultural Area (AVA). We had made quick day trips and hit a couple, but we decided to spend a long weekend in Hendersonville. Not only did we visit all 7 wineries in the region, but we enjoyed some great restaurants and attractions.
We arrived in Hendersonville late Friday afternoon and checked into our AIRBNB, White Squirrel Cabins. Roland, the owner, was easy to work with and the cabin was just what we expected. It was conveniently located to all the wineries. Roland suggested Postero for dinner. Although it was too late to get a table, we did the next best thing and placed a take out order. We split the kale caesar and scallops with creamy garlic polenta. They are located downtown Hendersonville in an old bank. We definitely want to make a reservation for next time. The following morning we enjoyed our coffee watching the white squirrels. Once we had our coffee and a run at Fletcher Community Park it was off to Day #1.
We started our day at Burntshirt Vineyards. Michelle was our tasting host and guided us through the winemaker’s selection experience. We were eager to taste new winemaker, Johnny Demarco's wines. We began with the Reserve Riesling. Its crisp and bright citrus flavors rivaled the rieslings we tasted a few weekends ago from the Finger Lakes. The red tasting began with Altitude 3400, a 100% Chambourcin that was a light easy drinking red. The reds continued to progress to a fuller bodied Rock Bottom Red. The final tasting was The Finale, a dessert style wine of 80% Chambourcin and 20% Brandy. Burntshirt is home to 32 acres; 22 acres are located around the tasting room and 10 are on Burntshirt Mountain. They grow 13 grape varieties. The two vineyards are located on both sides of the Eastern Continental Divide. Once our tasting was complete we moved to the patio to order lunch from Vintner’s Table. One nice thing about the restaurant is you can order and sit anywhere on the property. When there is live music, which is most weekends, you can decide how close you want to sit to the music. We ordered the apple pecan salad with blackened chicken and the chef pairing of The Finale with his chocolate truffles, melon and smoked blue cheese. The portions are enough to share. During our meal Sandra, the owner, came to visit with us. I love hearing a winery’s journey to where it is today. She was gracious and entertained us with her stories. We also met Emma who was doing an amazing job in the restaurant. We could have spent all afternoon sipping wine and listening to music. This was a fantastic beginning to our day.
Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards
Next we went to visit Barbara at Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards. The farm has been in the Ward family for centuries. It was the first vineyard and winery in Henderson County. Not only do they grow French Vinifera, but they also grow 14 varieties of apples that are grown only in this area. The vineyard has a tasting room that is located on the farm and across the street is the Appalachian Ridge Hard Cider tasting room. The back patio was beginning to fill up in anticipation of the live music when we got there. Tastings are 6 wines for $20. They come in test tubes which makes a unique experience. Stephanie led us through our tasting. It was a pleasure to discuss wine and winemaking. We chose both types of tastings: Staff Favorite Picks and Dry Tasting. We started off with the Vidal Blanc and moved to less acid wines such as the Traminette. Our tasting concluded with the fuller bodied wines: Chambourcin and the Chestnut Gap. Barbara came by and chatted with us about upcoming wine releases. We were excited to hear that Petit Verdot is on its way. We decided to move inside to enjoy a bottle of Laurel Hill, their North Carolina Best in Show winner. We ordered the Winelover’s Trio from the Wine Mom’s food truck. The ladies on the truck all have/had children that have worked at the winery and/or cidery. It is truly a family atmosphere. We made our way across the street to the cidery. There we purchased a bottle of Peter Arly. This is a mixture of apple brandy and hard cider. Expecting it to have a burn, but to my surprise, it is smooth with hints of vanilla and butterscotch.
Sawyer Springs has a motto of Dusty Boots, Stained Hands, Classic Wine. The vineyard is a 6th generation farm. It was miserably hot outside when we visited so we sat at the bar to enjoy our tasting. The owner’s daughters Kyndra, Shawna and Carissa all contribute to the success of the farm. It is truly a family affair. We started out with the preselected 5 wines for $16. By the end of our tasting we had tasted the majority of their wines. We had the pleasure of meeting owner Paul Dermid again. Paul is a pleasure to talk to about growing grapes and winemaking. He is a big personality and held Wine Education 101 in the tasting room. His approach to farming and making wine is in his blood. The most interesting wine we tasted was his Zinfandel. He was told that you couldn’t grow the zinfandel grape in North Carolina. Challenge accepted. Paul is the only person to grow Zinfandel east of the Rocky Mountains. We discussed how he experiments with different types of yeast and only produces small batches so he can specialize each blend. Everything about this winery revolves around family and the land. Lumber used to build the barn was grown where the barn stands today. The yoke that hangs above the tasting room door was used to work the land. Paul is a common fixture in the tasting room guiding visitors through his wines. Sawyer Springs is a working farm above anything else. They have added more outdoor seating since the last time we visited. As closing time approached a few regulars made their way into the tasting room. We felt honored to be included in their circle. If your goal is to enjoy a glass of wine in a down to earth atmosphere we suggest you put Sawyer Springs on your list.
Our first day in the region was a huge success. We purchased bottles for home and to enjoy on the porch with dinner.
Our day started off with a picnic lunch at Souther Williams, a 35 acre vineyard. We arrived as they opened, but with music starting soon, the pavilion quickly filled up. The owners, Ken Parker and Angela Adams, describe themselves as the caretakers of the land. The philosophy being if you grow the best grapes the wine will speak for itself. The family has worked on this property for over 200 years. The name comes from Ken’s grandparents, another testament to how important family and land are to them. Along with their granddaughter, Ashleigh, they put their love of the land and family into each wine. They offer guided vineyard tours and tastings by reservation. Cathy and Dana were the tasting room hosts and greeted us as we walked up to the bar. They offer white, red and mixed tasting flight options. The wines are preselected. Between our table we tasted all the options. We began with their riesling that was aromatic and floral. My favorite, their 2021 Gruner Veltliner Estate, is similar to Sauvignon Blanc with notes of lemon and lime. Next came the 2019 Rkatsiteli. This wine has great minerality and is not a commonly grown grape in North Carolina. We concluded with the 2021 Vidal Blanc Estate. It was the most full bodied white we tasted. Over lunch we split a bottle of the Gruner and Blaufrankisch. Sitting under the pavilion or out among the vines, there isn’t a much more beautiful view than at Souther Williams. They are dog friendly and there were many dogs the day we went. It was a relaxing afternoon listening to the music of Carver and Carmody. As a storm approached we packed up and made our way to our next winery.
Stone Ashe Vineyards
Craig and Tina Little searched for the perfect property for 3 years. They picked what might be described as the perfect spot that provides internal drainage and steep slopes for high density planting. The property’s soil is “stony ashe” thus the name Stone Ashe. The region’s microclimate grows balanced fruit that is the first step in creating elegant and balanced wines. From the rustic yet modern and clean design of the tasting room, you can enjoy views of the vineyard in the rear and the mountains in the front. When we arrived at Stone Ashe the storm had driven most people inside, but the best seat in the house was on the covered patio. We did a tasting of 6 wines for $23. Their wines are made from Bordeaux based grape varieties. We started with the 2022 Cabernet Franc Rose. Next came 3 whites: 2022 Riesling, 2021 Chardonnay and the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc. We suggest tasting the 2 reds on the menu in a side tasting. The 2020 Davenport is grown on the right bank and the 2020 Coppedge Hill is grown on the left bank. It’s interesting how growing on different sides of the bank can affect the taste of each wine. All their wines are estate grown. We ordered a bottle of rose and charcuterie board. Heath came to say hello and we sampled several more wines that weren’t on the menu. One wine that stood out was the 2022 Fume Blanc. It goes from stainless steel to oak and back to stainless steel. By allowing the wine to age the structure develops and the 12 months in French oak gives it a lingering finish. Once the rain stopped Heath invited us to ride up the slope and tour the vineyard. This was one of the highlights of the weekend. Wine glass in hand we rode up the 300 feet to the top of the slope. The view was amazing. You can really understand how natural drainage occurs. We tasted Cabernet grapes that were just about ready to pick. Back inside the tasting room we completed our trip with our purchase of several bottles.
For dinner we ordered take out from PiSquared Pizza. They specialize in deep dish, Detroit style crusts. We tried the Fig-et about it, a pizza of mission figs, gorgonzola and a honey drizzle. To round out our meal we ordered the traditional spinach salad. We paired our meal with the full bodied Stone Ashe Coppedge Hill.
We took a walk around downtown Hendersonville looking for a late breakfast and coffee. A couple of interesting things about Hendersonville’s downtown. There are clean public restrooms available. This seems such a simple addition to downtown, but we feel it’s a huge amenity. We settled in at Black Bear Coffee Co. Besides great coffee, they serve breakfast burritos and smoothies. The breakfast burrito is huge and can easily feed 2 people. We had a little time before our first winery so we enjoyed a second cup of coffee and visited a few shops.
They say you can never come home again, but Mike Jackson has proven that wrong. He grew up on this same property and his mother, “Mimi” still lives in the house where he was raised. The first thing you notice when driving up to the tasting room is the spectacular views. On a clear day you can see for 30 miles. The vineyard is on the southeast slope of Point Lookout Mountain. Coming from over 20 years in the coffee business, owners Mike and Sabrina Jackson, moved back to the area as relatives aged and were unable to maintain the apple orchards. In 2008 they planted riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. These varieties have flourished in the warm morning sun and cool mountain breezes. MIke has tripled the vineyard’s size. We arrived as they opened for the day and first had to take in the panoramic views. Phyllis greeted us as if we were old friends. There are 2 wine tastings of 6 red or white wines. We chose one of each to taste them all. Point Lookout is also home to World’s Edge Meadery and their meads can be included in your tasting. One of the standouts for me was their Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. Some people hear barrel fermented and think buttery. The barrel gives the wine a fuller body. The more I have learned about wine the more I understand that the barrel isn’t what causes the unpleasant (to me) butter taste: it’s the malolactic fermentation. This process converts malic acid into lactic acid which is creamy. The Chardonnay had a heavier mouth feel, but still had a fresh acidity to it. We feel that the buttery tasting chardonnays from California are becoming less popular as more wine makers are creating more tart and crisp chardonnays. We also got to meet the manager Cindy. Everyone we met was knowledgeable and pleasant. After our tasting we enjoyed a charcuterieboard and a bottle of Cliffield. The snacks are reasonably priced for the value. The small board was plenty for 2 people. As we were eating the owner, Mike, came in from mowing to sit and talk with us. He filled us in on some new releases coming soon. We tasted an upcoming red that is being released in partnership with a book release from a local author. We discussed his recent trip to Europe and our planned trip next year. As Mike shared vineyard updates, his love for blending is evident. He let us in on some blends that are in development. He has also made an interesting addition to his grape varieties by adding Malbec vines.
We have visited Marked Tree Vineyard several times. We recently toured the property with Bonnie. We stopped in on our last winery of the fabulous Hendersonville weekend. The vineyard is owned and operated by Tim Parks and Lance Hiatt. The story behind the vineyard is a personal one for the owners. Marked Tree is a story of using nature to mark your path. Their marked tree created a path for them in 2015 when they purchased the property. For more information on the history of Marked Tree check out our previous blog. On this visit we got to catch up with Bonnie. They have been extremely busy with bottling the 2020 reds 8 weeks ago. Their tasting menu is a choice of dry and off dry with 5 preselected pours for $20. 95% of the grapes are estate grown. Stand outs for the dry tasting were the Gruner Veltliner, a blend of 5 vintages and Chloe, a Lemberger (Blaufrankisch) and Moscat blend. It is the highest scoring rose in the North Carolina wine competition. On the off dry tasting we enjoyed the Ghost House with only 1% sugar and the Ellie Mae, similar to Chloe, but more floral. Tim made time for us on our visit and let us in on some exciting happenings at the winery. In addition to being able to purchase from the tasting room in downtown Asheville; beginning in October they will start shipping their wines.. The 2021 Lemberger, single varietal, has just been bottled and soon will make its way to the tasting room. We discussed the success of the tasting room in Asheville and the limitations to smaller winery distribution. Unfortunately our weekend came to an end and we had to make our way home. We left the region having met new people, catching up with friends, bottles of amazing wine and experiences we won’t soon forget.
I want to personally thank Visit Hendersonville for organizing the weekend and to each winery and their dedicated staff who welcomed us.
Photo credit: Visit Hendersonville and Winey Friends