When you think of wineries in the United States you most likely picture sipping Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley, or enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir in the beauty of Willamette Valley, however there are so many great wineries at our doorstep in North Carolina. 146 to be exact, and this number continues to grow every year. It is no surprise why, being in the Carolina countryside meeting the friendly owners and staff that run the vineyards is a great way to spend the day. Oh, and tasting delicious wine is also a perk! Most of the wineries are also dog-friendly, so it is a great way to spend the day with not only your family and friends, but also your well behaved pup.
On Thursday Phill and I decided to take our newest team member, Austin Marvel, for his first time experiencing the Carolina winery scene. It was a fun day of creative juices flowing, wine tasting and bonding time with Zoey and Carmella. I wanted to share with you the three wineries we went to, so that you can pack up your dog and friends to enjoy a day outside of the city of Charlotte to discover what else this great state has to offer!
Stop One: West Bend Winery and Brewery
My only regret with West Bend was not saving this stop for last. The moment we walked in the door we were greeted immediately with a big smile from Emily and Holly. They enthusiastically welcomed Zoey and Carmella as well, bringing a fresh dish of water for them within the first minute of being there. This is not an anomaly, as we learned they just had about 200 dogs attend their event a week or so prior, on their spacious front lawn. So for all the animal lovers this spot is for you! Now, let’s get to the wines. Their tasting was $10, which included 8 different wines: Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin (served with a couple morsels of dark chocolate), Cabernet Sauvignon and Blossom River. Emily also included a taste of their 2015 Captain’s Reserve and their wine slushy, both were a special treat.
It was interesting to learn that West Bend was the first winery in the region to open back in the 70’s. Unfortunately the first owner wasn’t able to keep up with the winery once her husband passed so it did lay dormant for a few years, however the new owners Walt and Sonia have done wonders with the grounds and wine since it reopened in October of last year. Ethan Brown is the mastermind behind both the wine and beer that they make, which is a fantastic addition for the friend you want to bring but may not be the biggest wine fan. On the weekends they have live music and food trucks that come out to their winery, and the first Thursday of every month in the Summer they do sunsets and sips where you can stay until the stars come out. Sounds pretty fantastic to me.
They mostly produce dry wines, so if you are a diehard sweet wine drinker this stop may not be for you. Their Blossom River is their sweetest wine, so there is an option for you if so. My personal top picks were the Captain’s Reserve, Sangiovese and their Chardonnay. This would be a perfect place to end your wine tasting or as a one stop place, as they had a beautiful outdoor area to sit and relax. They also had some cornhole boards if you are more of a active wine-goer. Truly was an unforgettable experience between the wine, the service from Emily and Holly and the beauty of their grounds. Plus they had oyster crackers to cleanse your palate between tastings (aka a little snack), which are my favorite. We will definitely be going back!
Their tasting hours are: Wednesday – Thursday 12-6, Friday – Sunday 12 – 7.
Stop Two: Hanover Park Vineyard
If you want the true mom and pop feel winery than you should head over to Hanover Park. The tasting room is located in an 1897 farmhouse, complete with a front porch with rocking chairs. When we walked in we were greeted as if we were regulars by Paige and Pearl, the winery dog. Pearl is a 10 year old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who started going deaf around age 6, however this doesn’t slow her down with her duty as the main greeter of guests. There were also three other people in the quaint tasting room area who seemed to be regulars and openly spoke to us as if old friends. One of the gentleman had a nice camera of his own, so him and Austin of course hit it off right away.
Paige has been working at Hanover Park as one the tasting room hosts for 10 years so she knows her way around their wines quite well. They have two options for a tasting, a $5 flight for 5 wines and a $12 flight for all of their wines (which is about 13). They have dry, sweet and a couple of port/dessert wines so there is truly a wine to suit anyone’s fancy. I prefer dry so I opted for that venture, obviously including the dry rosé named after their beloved pup Pearl. I’d have to say my favorite of their wines was Michael’s Blend.
Amy and Michael own and run the winery as husband and wife. Amy runs the marketing, events and day to day customer service while Michael runs the wine making and grounds work of the vineyard. We had the pleasure of quickly meeting Amy before she had to run to set up for an event. We would recommend ordering a glass of your favorite wine and sit outside on those rocking chairs for some good conversation with your winery adventure buddies. *Little tip, if you do have a large party the space is a little tight, so make sure to know this going in.*
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday 11-6, Sunday 1-5.
“Snack”: thin pretzels
Stop Three: RayLen Vineyards & Winery
We asked Emily, Holly and Paige what their favorite winery in the region other than their own was, all three said RayLen without hesitation so we had high expectations going in. We were warmly welcomed by Katie, and had a ball with her as our wine tasting provider. Phill and I opted to share their extended flight which is $15 and you sample all 12 wines, they also have a red, white or sweet flight which is $7 each and include a sample of 6-8 wines.
Katie made our last stop a memorable one, having fun throughout the tasting, even taking part in our live video we posted on our Facebook page. She was quite the sport and educated us on RayLen winery. We learned that their wine maker had been producing wine for 30 years and prides himself on his craft. They are also the first solar-powered winery in the state of North Carolina which is amazing! They are dog-friendly both inside and out, with plenty of space for your furry sidekick to run around, toss a ball or just relax when you sit outside on their various outdoor seating options (perfect for picnics). They continue to push the envelope on being ahead of the game, since the wine industry is a booming business in the NC. A fun FYI, if you take a picture, post to social media and tag them you get a free glass of wine (we went for the Riesling).
Hours: Monday – Saturday 11-6, Sunday 12-5. Yes that is right, they are open 7 days a week, this is a rarity with wineries! So that is pretty fantastic.
“Snack”: Oyster crackers!
It was a fun day, I hope you have enjoyed my insight into a good day trip to some wineries of the region. Until the next winery adventure….
Katrina Kensington, Co-Owner and Trainer KeenDog