I may live in Sonoma County but I am well aware that there are many other wine-producing areas around the U.S., so I was delighted to discover the Yadkin Valley and Surry County of North Carolina. The people of Yadkin Valley are gracious and welcoming to wine lovers, foodies and nature lovers.
Discovering Yadkin Valley
North Carolina has had a long history of winemaking. However, the determination of serial local entrepreneurs—brothers Ed and Charlie Shelton—to seek and obtain a Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) for their hometown region, and the area where they had planted grapes, has totally changed the dynamic of this region.
Yadkin Valley is now home to forty wineries, thirteen of them in Surry County. It is also home to a world-class enology program, the $5 million Shelton Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture and Enology, at the Surry Community College. There is vibrancy in the community and new winemakers coming to town hoping to train young locals to work in the business.
The Sheltons may have started the wine trend here—and continue to be one of the consistent backbones—but they happily share the wealth with other entrepreneurs, experimenters, and artists.
This is not just an area of grape growing and wine drinking, the craft beer movement is in full swing and there are plenty of spirits. In fact, I discovered that this part of North Carolina is pretty darn spirited! The residents also remind visitors that Andy Griffith modeled Mayberry after the hamlet of Mt. Airy. I also discovered a fruit-based dessert called a Surry Sonker that has its own trail and a half dozen variations. So, along with some great wines, I found much to wander in Yadkin Valley, NC.
The Wines of Yadkin Valley
There are many choices for exploring the North Carolina wineries when visiting Yadkin Valley. Here are my top choices.
Visiting Shelton Vineyards
A natural stop in the Yadkin Valley is at the stunning Shelton Vineyards and their full-service seasonal restaurant. The brothers, Ed and Charlie, saw grape growing as a natural transition from the tobacco growing that the area had long relied upon. The Valley’s temperate climate and loamy soil are the ideal growing condition for European vinifera grapes and these varietals make up the majority of grapes grown in Yadkin.
Shelton has a variety of choices for a full-on tasting to complete the North Carolina wine country experience. You can taste everything from dry to sweet wines, dine at The Harvest Grill restaurant, and stay at the Shelton's own Hampton Inn Hotel. Make Shelton Vineyard your base and first stop when visiting this charming area.
Visiting Elkin Creek Vineyard
Louis Jeroslow at Elkin Creek Vineyard believed enough in the region to come here and establish a thriving winery and Sunday pizza joint (amazing!) with his wife and another couple, the Whites.
Yadkin Valley is a far cry from the couples' former lives working on the road tour of the famed Blue Man Group. But Jeroslow jokes that his grapes think they live an international lifestyle. “These vines don’t know they’re in North Carolina; their feet are in Italy, and they’re growing up in France as far as they know.”
Visiting JOLO Vineyards
Another winery that thrives on pairing food with their small lot offerings is JOLO Vineyards. The magnetism and energy of owner JW Ray and his wife, Kristen, is undeniable—as is the food and excellent blends. Walk away from the tasting with the biggest wine glass you’ve ever held as well as a lively tasting experience and fantastic bites at their tapas restaurant called End Posts.
A great view of Mount Pilot, rolling vineyards and a punchy rosé called JOLO Pink rounds out a memorable experience.
Visiting Round Peak Vineyards
For some Italian varietals and another lively ambiance, although this one a little more rock and roll, try Round Peak Vineyards. Winemaker Ken Gulaian makes a variety of dry French and Italian varietals as well as one of the only Nebbiolos in North Carolina.
The wines are solid and the approach is laid-back and weekend-centric. Picnic over one of the most beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and try some of Ken’s Skull Camp craft beers or sweet wines for a little switch up from the average wine tasting.
Wander Mayberry and Mount Airy
Mount Airy is a charming little town in this corner of North Carolina. Anyone growing up in the sixties or seventies may best know it as the home of famed actor Andy Griffith. He used it as the model for the town of Mayberry made famous in the classic television show, Mayberry RFD.
Today in Mount Airy, you can visit Floyd's Barber Shop and other businesses made famous by the show. Be sure to stop by the very well-known Andy Griffith Museum that holds a wealth of artifacts, movie clips and mementos. Andy and Barney fans will thrill at this step back in time.
Down the street, find the aptly named Mayberry Spirits for a tour of a distillery that is more like a hilarious stage play with educational bits and cocktails at the end. Led by distiller Vann McCoy, who returned home after years away as a monk, Mayberry RFD (Really Fine Drink), this is a not-to-be-missed entertaining walk through making the hard stuff.
Exploring the Sonker Trail
All good endings to a Southern meal involve fresh fruit and some kind of dough. Cobblers, Bettys, Pies and, now, in Surry County, meet the Sonker. It's the same principle—using the fruit of the season and wrapping it or enveloping it or simply throwing it on top of shapeless dough that is sweetened with sugar, molasses and other secret ingredients.
Everyone seems to have a favorite along the Sonker Trail. Some are sweet and some more savory. Find a famous one in Mt. Airy at Miss Angel's Heavenly Pies or my favorite at The Living Room in Mount Pilot, served with a cup of their excellent coffee. Niki, the chef behind the Sonker at The Living Room, also makes the best pickles in Surry County and has a thriving business employing many locals in an old factory with Niki's Pickles.
Outdoor Adventure in Yadkin Valley
Aside from food, wine, and other libations, beauty abounds in Surry County. It is known for great outdoor adventure opportunities. One of the best ways to take in the great outdoors is with a ride on one of Bregman's trained horses with a ride at the base of Pilot Mountain.
Although there are regional airports, visitors to Surry County typically fly into Charlotte, North Carolina, and rent a car to fully experience the area's many aspects.
Yadkin Valley, in the stunning northwest corner of North Carolina bordering the Blue Ridge Mountains, really has something for just about everyone. Sophistication and winemaking come together with charm and Hollywood history. Set among amazing scenery, abundant fishing and countless hikes and horse trails, you are invited to wander Yadkin Valley and Surry County.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest