Touring Our Roots
From the first pages of North American history, it is evident that the states of North Carolina, New York, and Virginia have what it takes to grow popular wines. Today, each offers a plethora of varietals and blends worth tasting and adding to your library. And if you're fortunate enough to visit their wine countries, we think you'll be pleased with all the things you'll find to see, taste, and do.
The nation's first official chapter of wine can be traced back more than 400 years to North Carolina's Cape Fear Valley. In 1524, French Explorer and Navigator Giovanni de Verrazano recorded his discovery in his log, writing, "Many vines growing naturally there that without doubt would yield excellent wines."
One ancient vine still firmly stands in Manteo, at the northern end of Roanoke Island. The Mother Vine is a Scuppernong grape, a sport-mutant of the Muscadine, and native to American soil. Cuttings of the Mother Vine were planted along the Cape Fear River, and around a small town in Washington County called Scuppernong. Through subsequent centuries, Scuppernong has taken hold in the soils of North Carolina, and many other varieties of the Muscadine grape have emerged. The sweet, aromatic flavor of Muscadine grapes became a standard to the palate of discerning North Carolinians and they are not to be ignored.
When wine touring in North Carolina, you'll find Muscadine wines throughout its three very distinct physical grape-growing regions, but you'll find more Muscadine as you approach the coast in towns like Wagram, and as close to the coast as Myrtle Beach. Each of North Carolina's growing regions produces an impressive variety of wine styles, but basically you'll find more European varietals in the Mountain and Piedmont regions. Spend a long weekend in the Yadkin Valley, just outside of Winston-Salem. Or head for the mountains and visit the wineries between Asheville and Charlotte. Ideally when you visit North Carolina, you'll make it to each region for a full taste of what today's North Carolina wine industry has to offer. And whatever you do, please don't forget mother. True lovers of wine and its rich American history will make it a point to get to Roanoke Island to pay homage to the centuries-old Mother Vine, the lady who started it all.
New York has its share of pages in the history of North American wine as well. It is home to North America's first bonded winery in the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, located in Hammondsport. It is also home to America's oldest continuously operating winery, Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson Valley-which has been making wine for almost 350 years.
At last count, the 50 plus wineries at the east end of Long Island received more than one million visitors in one calendar year. With 16,000 acres of preserved land, historic sites, antique shops, beaches, and charming places to stay in the North Fork, South Fork, and the Hamptons, this fact is not surprising. Start in either North or South Fork and simply follow the green winery signs. Expect a variety of wines made from premium vinifera grapes--among the most popular are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
In the Finger Lakes region on the northern shore of Canandaigua Lake, the New York Wine & Culinary Center gives you a fun variety of ways to taste, learn, and experience the wines and foods of New York State. The education-based wine and culinary center offers a fascinating curriculum of hands-on classes in wine tasting, international cooking, backyard vineyard growing, and in the summer, there is even a camp for junior chefs. Don't miss the intriguing Pride of New York exhibit hall with its interactive displays and The Taste of New York Lounge Restaurant showcasing delightful dishes derived from New York's bounty along with flights of wine--and beer!
Long known as a destination for lovers, Niagara Falls is also for wine lovers. Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to more than 20 wineries, fine restaurants, and sublime little spots to spend a night or two. Practically everywhere you turn in the state of New York, you'll find a wine region worth getting to know.
Two of the nation's first presidents tried their hands at growing vinifera grapes in Virginia: George Washington in Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson in Monticello. Although not one bottle of wine resulted from either man's efforts, they helped plant the idea that Virginia is a fitting place for growing grapes. It is far more than fitting. Today, wines from the Commonwealth are winning national and international recognition for their elegant qualities.
The Monticello wine trail located outside Charlottesville is divided in four parts for easy navigation. Each "mini-trail" is quite scenic and fun to explore. Be sure to see Thomas Jefferson's original vineyard site, just about a mile beyond Monticello where grapes flourish today. If you're hungry, stop at Brix Marketplace & Terrace Café for a great sandwich, like chicken curry salad, to fortify your wine-touring day.
American history buffs appreciate the proximity of the wineries of Fauquier County to the battlefields of Manassas (only ten minutes away), and the museums and monuments of Washington, D.C., and historic Alexandria are less than an hour away. Sky Meadows State Park, located in Delaplane and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers trails for hiking and horseback riding. With 16 wineries nearby, it's an ideal spot for a picnic with a postcard-quality view.
Presidents Washington and Jefferson were definitely onto something when they tried to grow European varieties in Virginia soil. Today the state of Virginia consistently produces stylish wines worthy of being served at an inaugural gala in honor of President Barack Obama. The gala, held by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, featured Barboursville Vineyards' Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006, and a Merlot-based blend, Octagon 2005.
Wine Trails to Try:
Blue Ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Virginia/North Carolina state line
Yadkin Valley just west of Winston-Salem and the state's first AVA (in 2003)
Haw River a leisurely 50-mile rural drive between Durham and Greensboro
Southern Coast near the historic port city of Wilmington and Myrtle Beach
Seneca, Keuka, and Cayuga Lake about one hour west of Syracuse.
Shawangunk north of New York City, in the Hudson River Valley
Long Island's East End about 90 minutes east of New York City
Niagara just minutes from Niagara Falls and less than one-half hour from downtown Buffalo
Monticello outside of Charlottesville, in four distinct mini-trails
Fauquier County 45 minutes west of Washington, D.C.
Loudon 25 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.
Chesapeake Bay less than two hours east of Richmond