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  • Delayne Martin

Swan Creek AVA

It's rare to have a Friday off, but last weekend was one of those occasions. We seized the chance to explore the Swan Creek AVA, established in 2008 as North Carolina's second appellation. Known for its loamy soil rich in mica and schist, it offered a perfect setting for our wine tour. We visited four wineries in a packed day: Castello Barone, Sotrio, Raffaldini, and Piccione. The driving distance between them is minimal, but we recommend arranging transportation if you're not staying nearby.

Castello Barone

We began our day at Castello Barone Vineyards and Winery, where we were warmly welcomed by Scott and Elizabeth during their bustling grand opening. It was a pleasure to chat with them about their ongoing developments and upcoming additions to their facilities and wine selection. Their winemaking philosophy is deeply rooted in their love for wine and their Italian and French heritages.

Scott guided us through a tasting of their entire range. Among their whites, we particularly enjoyed the Petit Manseng. This wine stands out for its full-bodied texture achieved by aging a portion in stainless steel tanks and another in oak before blending. It retains its characteristic clean and crisp profile while gaining richness from the barrel aging process. The Montepulciano Sparkling was another highlight, ideal for this season with its dry effervescence appealing to both red and white wine enthusiasts.

Moving to the reds, the Setoso—a blend of 60% Montepulciano and 40% Petit Verdot—impressed us with its balanced flavors. We were also treated to a preview tasting of their upcoming Port, crafted from Tannat and aged in a 4 Roses whiskey barrel, promising to be a delightful finale to any meal once bottled.

Looking ahead, we eagerly anticipate the release of their Saperavi, a red grape variety with red flesh and skin originating from Georgia (the country), slated for harvest later this year. For those planning a visit, be sure to check their website's events page. Outside food is welcome on days when no food options are available onsite, and they happily accommodate four-legged companions, making it a welcoming spot for Bacchus to join you.

Sotrio Vineyards and Winery

Next, we visited Sotrio Vineyards and Winery to meet Bill, Teresa, and Jamie for the first time. Their journey began in 1996 with grape cultivation on their Florida property. After years of cultivating grapes and enjoying wine, they acquired the property that would become Sotrio in 2015. They have since planted 6.5 acres with Italian and French grape varieties. In 2019, they completed construction of the winery, which also includes office space and a tasting room. Currently, they utilize Raffaldini for custom crushing.

In their tasting room, you can enjoy both wine and beer tastings, with Jamie, their daughter, leading the beer tastings. Tastings are conducted at the bar, where we prefer to interact and learn about their wines from the knowledgeable staff. We opted for a personalized tasting of four 1.5 oz pours each, but you can also choose from a full tasting of all seven wines or a flight of four 2.5 oz pours to sample their entire selection.

Their offerings include two whites, a rosé, and four reds, featuring varieties like Fiano and Aglianico that we tasted for the first time. Among our favorites was the 2023 Cuore del Corniolo, a white wine crafted from the red Sangiovese grape, perfect for warm weather. We also enjoyed their oldest vintage, the 2020 Sagrantino. Following our tasting, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the covered patio paired with a bottle of the 2023 Wild Willow Rosé, named after their granddaughter, a delightful blend of Aglianico and Sangiovese grapes.

As the afternoon progressed, the tasting room grew busier, underscoring its popularity. For updates and to explore their blogs, visit their website.

Raffaldini Vineyards

After visiting the newer vineyards, our next stop was Raffaldini Vineyards, the most established among the four. We've been here several times and each visit is both relaxing and educational. The property was bustling with guests enjoying wine flights in the piazza and on the balcony. It's worth noting that Raffaldini is a 21-and-over property, except for special events where age restrictions may vary. They also offer vineyard tours alongside tastings, which can be included by request. While walk-ins are accepted depending on space, reservations are highly recommended.

Jay Raffaldini is a prominent figure in the North Carolina wine industry, renowned for his use of the appassimento method in winemaking. This ancient Italian technique involves incorporating partially dehydrated grapes into the process, enhancing the complexity and richness of the wines, both reds and whites. It's a labor-intensive method that adds depth to their offerings.

Seeking relief from the heat, we opted for an indoor table. We indulged in the Non-Rosso (white) and Riserva flights. A standout from the Non-Rosso flight was the newly released Fragola Basilico Botanico, a dry Sangiovese rosé infused with strawberries and basil—an incredibly light and refreshing creation by Jay, Thomas, and Chris. Among the reds, the 2019 Sagrantino stood out with its full-bodied, tannic profile, ideal for pairing with food.

Raffaldini excels not only in its business operations but also in its commitment to providing exceptional Southern hospitality. For information on ticketed events and weekend food options, visit their website.

Piccione Vineyards

We were delighted to revisit Piccione for a tasting, having last visited them last summer. Founded by father Bill and his sons Billy and Steven in 2005, Piccione's wines reflect their deep Italian heritage. It was our first time experiencing their elegant yet relaxed tasting room, La Collina. The space is stunning, offering a spectacular view with a massive serving bar where you can taste or relax at sofas and tables. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide an unobstructed view of the surrounding hillsides, and their unique patio, though a bit warm during our visit, promises to be a popular spot as the weather cools.

At Piccione, you can enjoy wine by the glass, bottle, or flight, with custom flights of four wines available for tastings. All their grapes are estate-grown. Among the whites, I particularly enjoyed the 2022 Pinot Grigio and the 2023 Ovina, a blend of Pinot Grigio and Viognier. On the red side, the 2021 Montepulciano stood out, being part of the original planting in 2010. I look forward to returning in the fall to enjoy the changing leaves from their patio.

For planning your visit, check out their website for more information.


Our day in Swan Creek exceeded expectations. It was wonderful to reconnect with familiar owners and forge new friendships with others. Each winery has its own distinct atmosphere, yet they all share a commitment to producing exceptional wines that highlight North Carolina's burgeoning wine industry.

We generally recommend visiting 2-3 wineries in a single day, but the proximity of these four wineries allows for a seamless visit to all of them. We suggest making a weekend getaway out of it, visiting two wineries each day. This approach allows you to fully savor tastings, explore vineyard tours, and indulge in offerings like food trucks and live music.

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