Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wine & Beer on the Outer Banks

When traveling to the northern Outer Banks there are several wine and beer attractions worth visiting. The region includes three working vineyards, two breweries, and several excellent wine shops that provide several wine events.

Somewhat off the main thoroughfare is Knotts Island, home to two little known wineries: Moonrise Bay Vineyard and Martin Vineyards. The island can be reached directly from Virginia Beach or from the free ferry in Currituck . In the early 1980s, Martin Vineyards planted peaches and Scuppernong grapes, and then moved on to viniferia grapes in the late 1980s. It surprised many that viniferia grapes would thrive on the coastal plain and for quite some time Martin Vineyards was the only successful viniferia grower on the coast. It appears that the surrounding waters warm the grapes in the winter and the constant breezes cool the grapes in the summer. A visit to the winery will offer opportunities to taste estate grown Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, and Chardonnay as well as muscadine and fruit wines. Their Bay Orchard Apple Wine is awesome. Ten years after Martin Vineyards planted their first viniferia grapes, less than a mile away, the proprietors of Moonrise Bay Vineyard did the same. What began as a hobby turned into an incorporated winery which produces an array of wines from their estate grown grapes. Once again, viniferia grapes are the main focus, with smaller quantities of Norton, Chambourcin and muscadine. Their Grand Ole Osprey table wines are perfect for the summer. Besides the wines, Moonrise Bay provides a few music events in the summer; the best: An Evening with Jesse Chong on July 18th.

After crossing the ferry or just traveling south on Route 158, slow down when nearing Jarvisburg (about 10 miles north of the Wright Memorial Bridge) before you miss Sanctuary Cellars and the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery. Sanctuary Cellars is located next to the Cotton Gin on the east side of the road and produces a selection of vintage, blends, and fruit wines, mostly from grapes grown directly from their estate. These vines are easily viewable from the road so you shouldn’t miss it. Currently these wines are bottled at the Moonrise Bay facility, but visitors can see another example where viniferia varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon grow fairly well in the coastal environment. In fact the Sanctuary Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon has been rated by national wine magazines. Their medium bodied Chambourcin is one of the sellers as is their two proprietary blends Coastal Collage (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) and The Lightkeeper (Sangiovese, Vidal and Chardonnay). Finally, they produce two sweet fruit wines, a Blueberry and a Blackberry made from juice acquired from New York. If you miss Jarvisburg or need to replenish their wines are available (as well as the Moonrise Bay and Martin Vineyards) at the Cotton Gin stores in Corolla and Nags Head and at Tommy's Gourmet Market and Wine Emporium in Duck.

On the west side of Route 158 look for the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery, which recently moved to this location from Manteo. The brewery is North Carolina’s oldest micro brewery and follows the “Reinheitsgebot Bier” code where only hops, malt, yeast and water are included in the mash. Their most popular brew is The Black Radish, a Schwarzbier (dark beer) that was listed as "one of the 50 beers to try before you die" by TheBrewSite.com. We also like their Fest beer which also is a great souvenir with a picture of the Ocracoke Lighthouse on the label. The remaining beers encompass the German beer tradition from the Altbier style Farm Brew® made from organic barley, throught the Kölsch, Maibock, Märzen, Weizen beers, to the sweet and malty Corolla Gold lager. Besides brewing beer, Weeping Radish is truly a farm brewery. The complex includes a 14 acre farm that produces vegetables, eggs and herbs that are either sold for retail or used in the brewery’s restaurant. In addition, Weeping Radish signed a joint venture with Gunther Kühle to create their “Farmer to Fork” program. Kühle is a German Master Butcher, who works with local farms to ensure that the animals are raised naturally – grass fed beef and free range pork. He uses his own equipment to produce sausages, hams, roasts and steaks which are vacuum-packed and labeled with the farm of origin. Self-guided brewery tours are available daily and the 30-minute guided tour is scheduled at noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Passing over the Wright Memorial Bridge, in Kill Devil Hills, look for the Outer Banks Brewing Station near the entrance to the Wright Brothers Memorial. This brewpub became the only wind powered brewpub in the United States when its 10kw wind turbine became operational on April 22nd of this year - after a six year zoning battle with the local government. The turbine provides 10% of the brewpubs energy and was specifically designed to accommodate bird life. The turbine helps produce one of our favorite beers, the Bourbon-Barrel Barley Wine, which is aged in used Bourbon barrels. The beverage has a heavy alcohol content (10.2% abv.) so it is served in 8 ounce snifters. Outer Banks Brewing Station also produces a wide array of other beers: 10 KW Pale Ale – dedicated to their new 10 kilowatt wind turbine, the Golden Rogallo Ale – made with Belgian Trappist yeast, a Hefeweizen, a Nut Brown Ale, a Kölsch styled lager, and an Oatmeal Stout. With the addition of nightly live music and an excellent restaurant – this is one of the shore’s top attractions.

Only a couple miles from the Outer Banks Brewing Station sits Chip’s Wine Market & Wine University. As the name suggests, this retail outlet sells local, national, and imported wine as well as Weeping Radish and other craft beers. It also operates weekly wine classes. The basic class is “Wine Tasting 101: Untangling the Vines”, where for $20, dispels some of the common myths -- about wine. They also provide classes on region specific wines and in June and July look for classes on South American and New Zealand wines.

There are other excellent wine shops that provide tasting opportunities. In Corolla, check out Corolla Wine, Cigar & Gourmet, located in the TimBuck II Shopping Village. This shop provides a nice selection of North Carolina wines and a daily tasting of a different wine.

The two locations of Native Vines both provide several tasting events. Just before the Wright Memorial Bridge, Native Vines I hosts daily tasting of North Carolina wines for $5 and a Reserve Tasting on Fridays at 6:30 PM (reservations required). In Nags Head across from Jockey’s Ridge - Native Vines II hosts the same $5 tasting of North Carolina wines plus a free Friday tasting of 5 wines from around the world from 6:00 PM to 8 PM.

Finally, from June 25 through September the historic Whalehead Club hosts a weekly Wine Festival. Each Wednesday, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the public can sample wines from North Carolina and other appellations and listen to live entertainment, all for $20. Arrive early to climb the Currituck lighthouse – you don’t want to make the climb after a few glasses of wine.
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