As we get into the fall season, North Carolina’s vineyards are an attractive option to get your agritourism fix. You can visit some vineyards to pick muscadine grapes or just buy the sweet native grapes already picked. The other big option is vineyards that offer bottled wines and wine tastings with indoor and outdoor seating among the vineyard.
You can find local muscadine vineyards on the N.C. Farm Fresh website at ncfarmfresh.com. Just use the drop down menus to select “Muscadine” and your county, or select a region. Selecting additional options will help you find pick-your-own spots or roadside markets. If your county participates, you may also find farms and markets with muscadines on the Visit NC Farms smartphone app.
Grape picking can be a simple outing without too many frills. Just like picking your own apples or peaches, there’s just something special about picking your own grapes. Children can learn how grapes grow too. It’s a good idea to use some bug/mosquito spray before you start picking. Little pests are attracted to the grapes’ sweetness and to you when you’re in the vineyard.
If you’re going the route of enjoying some wine at a vineyard, many across the state are operating like “almost normal” right now.
“We’re following the rules, but we’re also trying to keep our doors open,” explained Twyla Deese, one of the owners at Catawba Farms.
The 34-acre property is southeast of Hickory in the Newton area, less than an hour northwest of Charlotte. The vineyard and winery at the farm recently hosted an autumn wine release dinner. A live music series on Thursday nights just wrapped up. Yoga classes are on the calendar, and so is an Oktoberfest on October 10.
All of these events and more are done with health and safety precautions for the COVID-19 era, including face masks for all employees and any customers indoors.
“Because we have wide open spaces, people can spread out, and they did,” Deese said, referring to the wine release dinner. “We also had a couple a little while back say this was their first outing [since COVID-19 restriction began].”
The open spaces allow customers to keep a safe distance from each other any time they visit. A new birdhouse scavenger hunt encourages customers to spread out even more by putting nine clues dispersed across the property.
While the vineyard at Catawba Farms is expected to produce its first harvest next year, the business has already been making wine. Deese said she and her partners work with winemakers Josh Fowler of Lake James Cellars and Ben Myers with the Yadkin Valley Wine Company and Laurel Gray Vineyard. They use a combination of grapes from North Carolina and wines from California, but even the California wines are finished by the winemakers in North Carolina.
There is a variety of libations to please your palate, including a couple of N.C. State Fair award winners. The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge Red Blend won double gold at the Fair last year. It’s made with North Carolina grapes and blueberries. Two years ago, the apple cider won a bronze medal at the Fair. Catawba Farms uses apples from the Perry Lowe Orchard in Alexander County.
Fowler is now in the process of moving his winemaking operation to Catawba Farms, cementing an on-site winery on the property. He and the grounds staff at the vineyard oversee the important job of caring for the vines so they produce wine for years to come. There are currently two acres of Chardonel and Catawba grapes planted. Interestingly, that brings the Catawba grape back to the area.
Catawba Farms is just one example of a vineyard that’s safely carrying on with operations this fall. Some vineyards are doing more than others; some have more restrictions prohibiting tastings, for example. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a vineyard to visit this fall, you shouldn’t be disappointed. You can find a list of North Carolina wineries at ncwine.org – the state’s wine marketing website from the N.C. Department of Agriculture. Just keep in mind that not all wineries have vineyards on site.