While North Carolina is known for its beautiful coast and Appalachian Mountains, its wineries have begun to garner much-deserved attention as well. The state’s diverse terrain and climate offer the ideal conditions for producing wines that rival those of more famous wine regions.
The following is a list of the three best wineries in the Tar Heel State:
The Biltmore Estate
A discussion about North Carolina wineries would be incomplete without mention of the Biltmore Estate, which is located in Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The site of the most visited winery in the nation, the Biltmore Estate is the former home of George Washington Vanderbilt, the grandson of the famous Gilded Age tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. The 8,000-acre property features a 179,000-square-foot house (the largest domestic residence in the country) and a dairy that was converted to a winery. Biltmore offers a variety of activities, including tours of the vineyard and cellars to learn about the fermentation process and the unique qualities of grapes in North Carolina.
Visitors can sample the wines in the Renaissance-style tasting room, which features stone walls and barrel tables. Biltmore Estate’s top wines include its Cabernet Sauvignon, which earned 95 points at the San Francisco International Wine Competition and took home gold medals at both the Taster’s Guild International Wine Competition and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
White wine enthusiasts should try the Biltmore Estate Limited Release Gewurztraminer. With both spicy and fruity flavors, this wine pairs well with blue cheese and local seafood, such as crabs or scallops. The wine earned the double gold award at the North Carolina State Fair Wine Competition.
Guests can try these and other award-winning wines at one of the Biltmore Estate’s numerous restaurants, which source their food from the estate’s sustainable farm. After sampling the wines and local food, visitors can stay the night at the Village Hotel, the Inn, or the Cottage, the latter of which is an English-style estate home built during the time of the Vanderbilts.
One of the East Coast’s largest vineyards, Shelton Vineyards features a 33,000-square-foot winery that is dedicated to producing wine of the highest quality. The winery is a gravity-flow facility, which means that it doesn’t need pumps to move the wine from one stage of development to the next. By eliminating pumps from the winemaking process, Shelton Vineyards reduces the likelihood that contaminants will enter the wine.
After making the wine, Shelton Vineyards ages its wines in American, Hungarian, and French oak barrels. With three separate barrel rooms, the winemakers can age wines at various temperatures. The winery’s barrel cave features a waterfall that not only adds humidity to the environment but also gives to the cave a unique, serene ambience.
Over the years, Shelton Vineyards has garnered a number of awards, including two gold medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition for its 2017 Two Five Nine Dry Rose and its 2017 Yadkin Valley Riesling. At the 2017 North Carolina Commercial Wine Competition, Shelton took home double gold medals for both its 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and its 2016 Bin 17 Chardonnay.
Visitors can sample Shelton Vineyard’s wines paired with delicious fare at the on-site Harvest Grill, which was ranked fourth by USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Best Winery Restaurant. Here, the chef prepares a unique season-inspired menu replete with what he refers to as “sophisticated comfort food.”
Located in Hendersonville, Burntshirt Vineyards has been a family-run business for more than 80 years. The estate features a 10,440-square-foot winery with a 1,700-square-foot barrel room. With wine bottle chandeliers and large barrels, the room resembles the wine caves typical of European wine regions.
Burntshirt Vineyards offers free tours of its winemaking facility, which includes a crush pad where the grapes are prepared for destemming with specialized equipment. Visitors can see how the winemakers use a wine press to obtain the grape juice and then send the juice through the facility’s hoses into the fermentation tanks. To ensure the quality of the grapes both before harvest and throughout the fermentation process, the winery contains a laboratory to test the grapes.
Burntshirt Vineyards has won a number of awards, including the North Carolina Winery of the Year award at the New York International Wine Competition in 2016. The winery also won the gold medal for its the 2016 Gruner Veltliner at the 2018 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the double gold medal for its 2015 Cabernet Franc at the 2017 Asheville Wine and Food Festival.
Visitors can sample Burntshirt’s diverse selection of wines on the veranda overlooking the vineyard. Guest can even enjoy a boxed-lunch picnic while taking in the beauty of the surrounding apple orchards and verdant gardens. After spending a day sampling the wines and taking in the beauty of the estate, guests can stay at the Vintner’s Cottage or the Maxwell House, the latter of which is a fully restored home from the antebellum period.