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  • Delayne Martin

Shelton Vineyards

You can’t discuss the origins of the North Carolina wine industry without understanding the impact of Ed and Charles Shelton. The brothers were born and raised in Surry County. Even though they created companies in other parts of the state, their love and dedication to the Yadkin Valley remained strong. If one event could be a catalyst for what would become the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), it would be creating the Viticulture and Enology program at Surry Community College (SCC). Ethan Brown, winemaker at Shelton Vineyards, explained it best,

What I always like to discuss is that the most difficult thing to do in the wine industry is building a wine region from the ground up. It is a group effort that was started when Charlie and Ed Shelton decided to propel the industry in the mid-90s with the establishment of Shelton Vineyards. To produce great quality wine, you have to have two things. A wine region to promote very specific regional knowledge of how to produce wines in this particular place. The first step was achieved when they started the Viticulture and Enology program at SCC in 1999. The program has been fundamental to the growth of the entire NC wine industry, and the majority of the current and upcoming generations of winemakers have gone through the program. In addition to understanding how our wine region works, we have to define it in order to give customers a unified product. This, of course, happened with the establishment of the Yadkin Valley AVA in 2003. The Yadkin Valley was the first NC AVA, and now we have grown to have six registered AVAs in NC and more on the way.

The Shelton brothers put North Carolina on the national wine map.

We recently spent an afternoon at Shelton Vineyards, enjoying all they have to offer. When planning your day at Shelton Vineyards, plan to spend several hours. Our day started out with lunch at Harvest Grill on the vineyard property. Chef Mark Thrower did not disappoint with his new fall menu that had only been introduced a few days ago. We started off with an appetizer of Chicken Tikka Masala egg rolls. The portions easily served the entire table. Our entrees consisted of Roasted Autumn Squash, Blackened Shrimp Pasta, Chicken Pesto Flatbread, and BLT&P. The options are varied and can accommodate any dietary needs. We shared a bottle of their Petit Manseng. Our waitress, Lisa, was extremely knowledgeable about their menu and wine pairing in general. Once lunch was finished, we walked to meet our host, Jennie Hess, Director of Hospitality, for a Grand Tasting in one of the 3 barrel rooms.

With the weather cooperating, Jennie took us on a short walk up to the gazebo. The setting is amazing, with views of the property and the family homes of Charles and Ed Shelton. Ed’s former estate, now known as the Farmhouse at Shelton Vineyards, is available to host a wide range of events, from weddings and corporate retreats to intimate gatherings. Shelton uses the gazebo for intimate wine and food pairings. As we walked in the vines, we tasted their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes straight from the vine. Shelton aims to provide an experience rather than just a wine tasting. They offer three options for their tastings. First there is a guided tasting at the bar that includes 5 wines and an overview of their winemaking process. Tastings are led by a Shelton wine ambassador under the direction of Derek Brooks, the tasting room manager. They also offer a Reserve Tasting of more proprietary and library-type wines. The Grand Tasting is by reservation only and is conducted in the Barrel Cave. Visitors can also choose a flight or bottle to enjoy on the property. We highly suggest the Grand Tasting of 9 wines paired with charcuterie.

Jennie led us on our tour, and the hallways of the winery are filled with history and family treasures. We also got to see the bottling room where they utilize the gravity flow system. Gravity is used to transport wine to the next stage rather than pumping, which can allow contaminants into the wine. There are several framed newspaper articles that tell the story of Charles and Ed Shelton. Now, the second-generation owners, Mandy Houser and Chip Shelton, have continued the legacy of their father and uncle. I found the family treasures of thimbles from their mother and shaving items from their father indicative of how much the importance of family played into the entire operation. Another cool feature was the various label designs and how they changed over the years.

Our Grand Tasting experience began with Sparkling Rose. It is made with merlot grapes and pairs well with sushi and charcuterie. We then moved to their Dry Riesling. They grow 16 acres of Riesling. It is their #1 seller. Next came their Bourbon Barrel Chardonnay. The barrels are sourced from Heaven Hill Bourbon. The barrel leaves the Chardonnay with notes of vanilla and caramel. This was our first tasting of a barrel-aged white wine. The remaining wines were from their red collection. The 2018 Petit Verdot was deep purple in color and aromas of dark chocolate. North Carolina produces a lot of single varietal Petit Verdot. We continued with Charles and Ed’s favorite single varietal, Tannat. It has a rich dark color with earthy and leather notes. The next two wines were two red blends. The Franklin is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Tannat. This wine has aromas of dark chocolate and tobacco and notes of cocoa and raisin. The final blend was the Claret. This is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The next wine was their Port, and yes, you can call it Port. Legally, Shelton was grandfathered in. It is a dark wine with intense, rich flavors. Our final wine was the Sparkling Riesling, containing 5% residual sugar. It was paired with Nancy’s Candy truffles available to purchase in the tasting room. Try the truffles! They are delicious. Throughout the tasting, we discussed Shelton’s history, its impact on the North Carolina wine industry, and new Shelton releases. We also got a bonus tasting of ICON, the collaboration with Richard Petty and Wolfpack White, a collaboration that supports a scholarship at North Carolina State University.

The tasting room is also home to a huge selection of gifts and wine accessories. If you need a hostess gift, you will find many options. I have previously purchased two baskets. The tasting room is spacious with lots of bar area to spread out and ample space for inside entertainment without being too loud. The weather wasn’t cooperating on our visit, but there was a lot of space to enjoy a bottle of wine on the patio. In addition to the patio, they have an amphitheater and host a concert series during the summer months, Sunset Concert Series. If you are traveling and need hotel accommodations, we suggest the Hampton Inn at Dobson. This hotel is the only Hampton Inn hotel to have a wine bar in the lobby for guests to enjoy. The hotel is under renovation, and we look forward to the completed project with many facility upgrades.

We would like to thank Jennie and the entire staff at Shelton for making our visit a day we won’t soon forget. Check out their website for updated information and to make your reservations online.

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