SHADOW SPRINGS VINEYARDS Hamptonville, North Carolina
Chuck and Jamey Johnson own this 48 acre ranch that was formerly a tobacco farm. Chuck met Jamey in Pittsburgh, and she brought him to Winston-Salem, her home town. With Chuck wanting to get out of the corporate environment, they bought the ranch up in the rolling hills of Hamptonville in 2004 and promptly planted the estate with grapes in 2005 with over half of the estate now with vines.
Bordeaux varietals make up the bulk of the fruit, with Petit Manseng and Chardonnay making up the bulk of the white fruit. The Johnsons purchased the Windsor Run Estate next door in 2010, and now use their winemaking facility to produce the Shadow Springs wines. There is also a distillery on the Windsor Run property.
Production is around 1,500 cases a year, and is slowly growing. Most of the estates in the valley use mechanical harvesters, but the Johnsons have all their fruit hand-picked. These were quite simply, the finest reds I have tasted on the trip so far (along with Stony Knoll Vineyards) with some absolutely riveting Bordeaux styled blends. Their blends were spitting images of Left Bank Bordeaux. Very impressive.
2021 TANGLED BLANC Swan Creek AVA
Swan Creek is a sub AVA inside of the much larger Yadkin Valley AVA. This is a blend of 70% Chardonel and 30% Chardonnay. Chardonel is a high yielding hybrid that produces good quality juice. Aged in used French oak barriques with some barrels going through malolactic fermentation. The wine is finished in brandy barrels from their distillery. 3% residual sugar (but tastes much drier). A hint of nuttyness give this wine a lot of flavor interest. Surprisingly good. 87-88
2021 PETIT MANSENG Swan Creek AVA
Shadow Springs has just 2 acres planted with Petit Manseng, and you can bet they will be planting much more. 20% were barrel fermented in French oak and went through malolactic fermentation, the other 80% was fermented in stainless steel. White peach and citrus in the nose, with a medium fat palate. citrus and a tiny dance of acidity rounds things out. Excellent. 88-89
2021 ROSE Swan Creek AVA
90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. 100% free run juice. 0.6% Residual sugar. Usually not a fan of Roses made from Merlot (not enough acid), but this is a terrific rose. Citrus and berries on the nose, follows through on the palate with nice acidity. 86-87
2021 SEYVAL BLANC Swan Creek AVA
Peach/apricot/grapefruit, with the grapefruit balancing the palate. Lovely 86-87
2019 CHAMBOURCIN Swan Creek AVA
18 months in 90% French oak barriques and 10% American oak barrels. An oaky nose with lovely berry fruit, lots of wood, but the red fruits still show well. A nice, long finish 86-87
2019 CABERNET FRANC Swan Creek AVA
Aged for 18 months in mainly French barriques (with a small amount aged in Hungarian and American Oak barrels). Sleek and smooth with lovely fruit. Really a pretty wine. 87-88.
2018 CABERNET SAUVIGNON Swan Creek AVA
Aged 24 months in French oak. Oaky, toasty nose with cedary black fruit that’s sleek and balanced. Nice length on the palate. 87-88
2019 MERITAGE Swan Creek AVA
Aged for 24 months in French oak. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. each aged for 12 months in French oak, then blended and aged for another year in French oak. Very, very Bordeaux-like, with lots of cedar and black fruits that layer nicely in the mouth. Very impressive. 90-92
2019 PETIT VERDOT - RESERVE Swan Creek AVA
The fruit was picked at 25 brix, and aged for two years in 100% Minnesota oak barrels. Just two barrels were produced, with one going through complete Micro-oxygenation. Absolutely black in the glass, with layers of inky dark fruit. The stunning layers are balanced with a nice acidity. An absolute blockbuster. 92-94.
2016 PETIT VERDOT Swan Creek AVA
Aged two years in French oak barriques. Lots of woodsy berries in the nose, brambly black fruits on the palate with classic Petit Verdot acidity. Terrific. 87-88
N.V. TANGLED OAK SELECT Swan Creek AVA
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chambourcin and Petit Verdot. Aged for 18 month in French oak barriques, then finished for 6 months in brandy barrels from their distillery. Very heady nose, candied fruit with a long, big finish. 14.8% alcohol. It sits well in a peculiar sort of way. 86-87
2021 MISTELLE DE PETIT MANSENG Swan Creek AVA
100% Petit Verdot free run juice, with a separate cuvee of Petit Verdot at 14% residual sugar added back into the cuvee then fortified with brandy. Very interesting, peach/moscato like nose, very fresh and lively with really nice acidity. This is just lovely. 88-90.
JONES VON DREHLE VINEYARDS Thurmond, North Carolina
Down a long, winding road into the deep hills outside of the tiny, unincorporated town of Thurmond sits the 110 acre ranch of Jones Von Drehle Vineyards. Founded by Chuck and Diana Jones (with the Von Drehle family as silent partners) in 2012, with their first wines released in 2014. So far, 30 acres are planted to vine with a healthy production of 6,000 cases a year. Tanner Pardue is the winemaker (who went through the Appalachian State winemaking program). Some very serious red wines are produced here and it’s not uncommon to see some of their top vintages aged for well over 3 years in French oak barrels. Most of the red wines are aged in 15% New French oak barriques, and 85% 1-2 year old barrels. Every red wine I tasted here needs lots of time, but they all look like they have terrific potential.
2021 ROSA DIA Yadkin Valley AVA
The estate has Grenache planted just for this wine. 100% Grenache, 0.0% residual sugar, so it’s bone dry. Red berries in the nose with tart cherries on the palate. Nice length & definitely Provence influenced. 89-90
2019 CHARDONNAY - STAINLESS STEEL Yadkin Valley AVA
0.0% Residual sugar. Leesy, nice, crisp apple fruit. lovely acidity. Classy. 88-89
2021 PETIT MANSENG Yadkin Valley AVA
The fruit was picked at 25% brix, yet finished bone dry (0.0% RS). Citrus and white peach notes are bold on the nose and follows through on the palate. Gorgeous, orange rind/citrus play well with admirable acidity. 90-92
2015 CABERNET FRANC Yadkin Valley AVA
Aged for 42 months in French oak barriques. Very brawny with the fruit still hidden behind the oak. Still a baby, tight and balanced. 86-87
2017 ROCK AND RAIL Yadkin Valley AVA
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged for 40 months in French oak barriques. All the fruit was aged individually, then put together for the final blend. Again, very tight structure, black fruits sit in the back with considerable tannins that need to be resolved. Very interesting, but again, needs time. 87-88
2015 MERLOT Yadkin Valley AVA
100% Merlot, aged for 42 months in French oak barriques. Another baby, a touch of mocha blends well with the wood, a bold structure that is just opening up. 86-87
2014 MERLOT - RESERVE Yadkin Valley AVA
100% Merlot aged for 42 months in French oak. Starting to open up with lovely berry fruit just sneaking out behind the wall of oak. Again, still a baby with terrific length on the palate. This will be stunning down the road. 88-90
2017 STEEL AND STONE Yadkin Valley AVA
67% Petit Verdot and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 42 months in French oak barrels. A big nose of black fruits with layers of dark fruit showing early with nice length on the palate. Still a baby but great potential. 88-90
HANOVER PARK VINEYARDS Yadkinville, North Carolina
Amy and Michael Helton were both art teachers who met at an Art Symposium in North Carolina in 1994 and pretty much became inseparable after that. On their honeymoon, they went to Provence, and in particular, Bandol, and fell in love with Mourvedre. A visit to the legendary Domaine Tempier sealed the deal, and the Helton’s were sold on wanting to produce wine just like they had tasted in Provence.
In 1996, the Helton’s purchased a small, 24 acre ranch in Yadkinville, and the following year they planted 8 acres of Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Chardonnay. They have no ambitions to grow, and are more than happy to produce 1,200 cases of wine a year. Michael is a self taught winemaker, and Amy handles the tasting room and all the marketing. The tasting room is in the back of an 1890s farmhouse, with Michael and Amy’s art adorning all the walls.
I sat down with Amy just two days after she had heart surgery, but she insisted that we meet, and our visit in the tasting room was one of the highlights of my trip. She waxed on about their wonderful, frequent trips to Provence and the influences Michael received from their visits to Domaine Tempier. These are lovely wines that are far from blockbusters, but well-made, charming wines with a distinct personality, just like the Heltons.
2021 CHARDONNAY - UNOAKED Yadkin Valley AVA
Granny Smith apples on the nose and palate with a nice balance. Charming 85-86.
2020 CHARDONNAY - BARREL FERMENTED Yadkin Valley AVA
Aged in French oak, partial barrel fermentation. Creamy with a nice touch of acid on the finish. 85-86.
N.V. PEARL Yadkin Valley AVA
This is Hanover Park’s Rose, a blend of Mourvedre and Chardonnay. Rhubarb and citrus with light strawberry notes. Medium acidity. 84-85
2017 MOURVEDRE Yadkin Valley AVA
Aged 36 months in new and used French oak barriques. 21 days skin contact. Leather, toasty oak, spicy black fruits with a nice balance between the fruit and oak. Round and ready to drink. 86-87
2017 CHAMBOURCIN Yadkin Valley AVA
Aged for 36 months in French oak barriques (new and used). Morency cherries on the nose and following through on the palate. Amazing how this fruit can stand up to this aggressive of oak aging. Surprising acidity. 87-88.
2018 MICHAEL’S BLEND Yadkin Valley AVA
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Aged 36 months in new and used French oak barriques. Tight, brawny and tannic. Not sure if it’s going to develop. 84-85
2016 CABERNET SAUVIGNON “1,2,3” Yadkin Valley AVA
100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 48 months in new and used French oak barriques. The winery’s Cabernet vines are planted on Mayodan soils, that date back to prehistoric times, and North Carolina is one of the few places in the world with these soils. Cedar and black fruits in the nose, and tightly wound on the palate. I think it has nice potential. The label is Amy’s design. 87-88.
2016 CABERNET FRANC “3 FRANCS” Yadkin Valley AVA
Three barrels produced, racked and bottled by three friends. Browning on the edges, soft and brawny with a light drinkable charm. 84-86
N.V. 1897 GRAND RESERVE Yadkin Valley AVA
The tasting room sits at the back end of a vintage farmhouse that was built in 1897. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin aged for six ‘freakin” years in French oak barriques. Austere, brawny and tight as all get out. Still, it has nice length of the palate and does show promise to age. 87-88
N.V. PORT HANOVER Yadkin Valley AVA
100% Chambourcin picked at 24 brix, aged in French oak barriques for two years then fortifed with locally made brandy. big, bold and really well balanced.
HAZE GRAY VINEYARDS Dobson, North Carolina
Haze gray is the color of our Navy vessels, and owner Dean Muhlenberg is a 30 year Navy veteran. Dean’s wife Becky is also from a military family that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Wine lovers from the beginning, after Dean retired, they set out to find the perfect spot to start a winery. when this section of an historic ranch popped up for sale, they jumped on it. Originally planted with corn and tobacco, this 85 acre ranch was perfect for the couple with it’s south facing slopes amid the dense forests on the property.
With half the property committed to forest land, the Muhlenbergs planted 9 acres to vine, mainly Bordeaux varietals. They produce 1,300 cases of wine a year, Dean is the winemaker (self-taught) and the wines are made 100% from estate fruit. Becky runs the wine clubs, tasting room and all the marketing. She is on multiple North Carolina wine boards and is very instrumental in the progress the state is making.
2019 CHARDONNAY - STAINLESS STEEL Yadkin Valley AVA
0.0% Residual sugar. Honeycrisp apples with a nice creamy palate. 88-89
2020 CHARDONNAY - OAK AGED Yadkin Valley AVA
100% Sur lie, no malolactic fermentation. Golden in color, vanilla and ripe apples on the palate. A touch of acidity on the finish. 86-87
2021 TRAMINETTE Yadkin Valley AVA
Bone dry, pear and melon on the nose, follows through on the palate. Subtle acidity. 86-87
2021 CHAMBOURCIN ROSE Yadkin Valley AVA
Double bubble bubblegum on the nose, with crisp cherry berry notes. Really bright fruit, yet bone dry. 87-88
A great side note: The Muhlenbergs have 16 cows on the property, mainly to eat grass so Becky doesn’t have to cut it (there is over 40 acres of pasture land). The cows love the pulp from the wines, but they especially love Chambourcin pulp. They come running when they know they are going to be fed the Chambourcin pulp. After the cows consume the pulp, they all have bright red lips that look like lipstick. I guess it is quite a site.
2021 PINOT GRIGIO Yadkin Valley AVA
A mistake that turned out wonderful. The fermenter shut down during fermentation, and the wine came out spritzy. A Prosecco like freshness with citrus/Pippin Apples. Super fun. 86-87
N.V. AVIATOR RED Yadkin Valley AVA
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Tannat and Chambourcin from the 2018 and 2019 vintages. Aged for 36 months in French oak (separately) then blended together and sat in barrels for another year. Big fruit, toasty oak, with black fruits on the palate. Lovely acidity. Really nice. 87-88
2019 CABERNET SAUVIGNON Yadkin Valley AVA
Four weeks skin contact, then aged in French oak for two years. Black fruits on the nose, with layers of cedary fruit on the palate. Absolutely black in color. A terrific Cabernet. 88-89
2019 CHAMBOURCIN Yadkin Valley AVA
85% Chambourcin, 15% Petit Verdot. Big, big, big red with black fruits on the nose. Massive fruit on the palate with layers and layers of toasty, oaky fruit. Two years in French oak. 14.3% Alcohol. A stunner. 90-92
2019 MERLOT (Barrel sample) Yadkin Valley AVA
Two years in French oak barrels. Nice fruit, hints of mocha and toast. 86-87.
BRANDON HILLS VINEYARDS Yadkinville, North Carolina
This was the only vineyard I visited where I did not have an appointment. A couple winemakers in the area suggested I try their wines, and I had a little time heading north to my last appointment of the day, so I stopped in. Yikes. I walked into the small tasting room, and the bar was full. Owners Larry and Elizabeth Muller were both sitting at the bar drinking wine with 3-4 other people.
I tasted 6 wines at the tasting room, and it was literally like pulling teeth getting any info on the wines. I would have just shelved this review, but the wines were pretty damn good. The Mullers are from South Africa, and Larry is the winemaker. But I had to deal with the redneck comedian behind the bar; and that wasn’t an easy thing to do. When I asked what was in the white blend he served, he jokingly said it was made from a grape called “kitchen sink”. The people at the bar laughed and laughed. I can take a not funny joke, but when he didn’t answer my question after the forced laughter died down (amid one more statement from him about “haven’t I ever heard of a grape called Kitchen sink?), I just politely moved on.
Having the owner/winemaker sitting there quiet as hell and the idiot behind the bar eventually admitted that the info was on the website. I quietly tasted the rest of the wines and got the hell out of there. This was one ugly environment. The only reason I am posting this is, the wines were really good.
2021 RIESLING Yadkin Valley AVA
0.5% Residual sugar (per the website). Peach/lime with a nice racy palate of the same. The best Riesling I tasted on the trip. Very impressive. 86-87
2021 OOH LA LA WHITE Yadkin Valley AVA
A blend of Traminette and Chardonnay (per the website). Clean, fresh and light with lots of citrus. 85-86
2021 ROSE Yadkin Valley AVA
Another wine where I had to beg to find out what was in it. The redneck idiot behind the bar admitted that one part was Merlot, and after 2-3 times of asking “and?”, “and?”, “and?” the comedian finally admitted there was Riesling in it too. Clean, light with a touch of closet dust on the nose. Some berry on the palate with ample acidity. 81-83
2019 BARBERA Yadkin Valley AVA
This was lovely. 100% Barbera and I believe it was aged in used French oak barrels. Fresh berry nose with a nice toasty/red berry fruit palate. A dance of acidity gives it a textbook quality. 88-89
2015 RAPTOR RED Yadkin Valley AVA
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged for 20 months in used French oak barriques (per the website). Lovely red and black fruits, toasty, yet soft and really drinkable. Charming. 87-88
2019 RAPTOR RED - RESERVE Yadkin Valley AVA
Again, a blend of all the Bordeaux varietals, this is a blockbuster. Rich black fruits, savory with layers of fruit intertwined with cedary oak. Gorgeous. 90-92
McRITCHIE WINE COMPANY Thurmond, North Carolina
Probably the one visit I was looking forward to the most on this trip. I met Bob McRitchie when he was the winemaker at Sokol-Blosser Winery in Oregon back in 1981 when there were 6-7 wineries in Oregon at the time. He was a revelation to talk too, and I remember how excited I was to discover this new terrain for my beloved Pinot Noir that I was so crazy about back then. I followed his career over the years, and remember how strange I thought it was that he moved to North Carolina in his later years.
Well, it was his son Sean who he followed to North Carolina (who had become quite a winemaker himself, having worked at a literal who’s who of the world’s greatest wineries; Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, Domdechant Werner in Germany’s Rheingau, the Wirra Wirra Winery in McLaren Vale Australia, Domaine Chandon and Oregon’s Benton Lane, not to mention Sokol Blosser while he was still in High School). Bob became a professor at the Surry Community College in North Carolina and taught a whole generation of winemakers, and Sean purchased 30 acres on a hillside north of Elkin. There, Sean honed his craft with his father’s help. Sean admitted that North Carolina is “A weird place to make wine”, but he is very quietly producing the states finest red wines.
His Bordeaux blends are thrilling to taste, with a soft richness you would normally find in Napa Valley or Walla Walla. The estate still has only three acres of vines planted, so Sean is supplementing his fruit with small lots from some of his favorite local growers. While Sean produces the wines, his wife Patricia (a lawyer by trade) runs the tasting room. This is a magical place, and proof that world class wines can be produced in North Carolina.
2019 CHARDONNAY - RESERVE Yadkin Valley AVA
Barrel fermented in two year old French oak barriques for 6 months. 100% Malolactic Fermentation. Leesy nose, with a lovely creamy palate. A nice touch of acidity at the end. 88-89
2020 MUSCAT BLANC Yadkin Valley AVA
Bone dry, 0.0% residual sugar. I love dry Muscat, and this is terrific. Lots of aromatics; peaches/citrus on the nose with the flavors following through on the palate. Super fun. 86-87
2014 RING OF FIRE Yadkin Valley AVA
A blend of Merlot and Sangiovese aged for one year in French oak barriques (20% new). Less than one ton yield of fruit per acre. Bright scarlet color, with a deep black fruited palate. A classy, superb blend. 90-91
2016 RING OF FIRE Yadkin Valley AVA
The blend changes on this wine every vintage it’s produced. Made with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Aged for one year in French oak barriques (20% new). Toasty oak on the nose mixed with the black fruits. Deep and layered on the palate with generous fruit. Great length. 90-92
2016 AUDEAMUS -RESERVE Yadkin Valley AVA
Audeamus is Latin for “Let Us Dare,” and dare I say this was the finest red wine I tasted on my trip? A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot aged for 16 months in French oak barriques (20% new). Absolutely black in the glass, with gorgeous black fruits and cedar/vanilla from the oak. Superb length, this is a blockbuster and a complete revelation. 91-93
N.V. SIMPATICO American Red Wine
Sean’s brother-in-law owns a vineyard in the Hood River region of Oregon and grows mainly red varietals. McRitchie purchased one barrel of Tempranillo and one barrel of Syrah and had it shipped back to his winery in North Carolina. Aged in French oak, this is a monster. Deep, jammy fruit on the palate. Terrific. 90-92
2020 MUSCAT BLANC - PET NAT Yadkin Valley AVA
A frothy, spritzy palate with lots of creamy peach (dreamsicle?). I could have drank this all night. 90-92