During our drive down to Merlefest we visited our first Yadkin Valley winery: Laurel Gray Vineyards. The Yadkin Valley is situated between the Blue Ridge and Brushy Mountains and is slowly becoming an important wine producing area on the east coast. There are over 25 wineries in the valley with some being old tobacco farms converted to vineyards. This practice is not as common as we thought since most tobacco farmers who received settlement money, simply retired - why even think about the strenuous labor associated with growing grapes. However, one such converted tobacco farm was Laurel Gray Vineyards.
We selected Laurel Gray Vineyards simply because it was the closest to route 421. We learned that it resides in a new sub-appellation - Swan Creek Appellation along with five other wineries. The winery is owned and operated by Benny and Kim Myers, who first planted the vineyards in 2001 on the former dairy and tobacco farm. Interestingly Myers can trace his ancestors to when they arrived in the valley in 1773. That's 10 generations. The next generation also helps with the winery, and is who the winery is named after, Ashley Laurel and Taylor Gray. In fact Ashley is the resident grape expert having earned a M.S. in Plant Pathology and by working in Virginia as a Grape Pathology Extension Specialist.
Kim Myer met us in the tasting room and we learned that Laurel Gray specialized in French styled wines. To date the region does not have a clear specialty since the industry is so new. Some wineries specialize in Italian varieties, whereas the Myers believe that French varieties have the most potential - particularly Chardonnay. Their Chardonnay is fermented and aged in French oak for 12 months which provides a soft creamy texture. The wine possessed the nice chardonnay flavor with a slightly vanilla finish. We preferred their Viognier more since it was made in a more acidic style - plus it had a nice apricot flavor.
The winery makes several different red styles from dry and full bodied to a semi-dry summer red. We started with the Sultry a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged in three different types of oak which helps produce a slightly spicy finish. I guess the Syrah would have a hand in that as well. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is produced in the same fashion, just aged slightly longer to 18 months. We liked this more than the Sultry - it was more full bodied and just seemed to have more jolt. They also produce an Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which not surprisingly, we liked the most. The nose contained aromas of figs, the middle full bodied, while the tail was slightly tannic. A nice wine, except for the price tag. Is it worth $29? The final red wine was one of their top sellers, the Scarlet Mountain, made from traditional Bordeaux varieties. However, that's where the similarity ends. Some Chardonnay is added to the blend making this wine a little off dry - designed for summer days. We liked it and it contains the strong cherry flavors that were advertised.
The final two wines were sweet wines, starting with the Rose’ 1773, a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Syrah. It isn't really as sweet as advertised and has a nice strawberry flavor - the wine that compliments spicy foods. The final wine is made from 100% Niagara, the grape we came to like while visiting wineries when our son was an infant. He always wanted us to drink the same fruit that was in his white grape juice. In any case, the Nectar is really good - if you are like us and enjoy the fruity aroma and flavor of the grape. And it is not as concentrated as most dessert wines. Others were purchasing it rather quickly during our visit.
This was a nice spot to break our drive to Wilkesboro. We can see why the winery receives frequent visitors from Charlotte - its a nice location to hang out during the day. And since all the wines are sold strictly from the tasting room; that's the only method people have to purchase these wines. See you again before next year's Merlefest.