State Profile: North Carolina Wine Country

North Carolina began growing grapes in the 17th century, was first to cultivate Scuppernong, and today ranks tenth in grape and wine production in the U.S. Like all state wine industries, North Carolina’s was wiped out by Prohibition and took time to bounce back, but today is vibrant and growing. While Scuppernong remains the single largest varietal, vinifera vineyards have proliferated in recent years.

The North Carolina Wine and Grape Growers Association provides valuable resources for those interested in starting a vineyard or winery, and spurring its growth through promotion and education. In addition to a dozen regional wine trails, the Tarheel State has six AVAs: Appalachian High Country, Crest of the Blue Ridge, Haw River, Swan Creek, Upper Hiwassee highlands, and Yadkin Valley.

North Carolina also boasts the largest wine-making facility on the east coast in Duplin Winery, known as “The Winery of the South” with the home facility in Rose Hill, NC plus major consumer facilities in North Myrtle Beach, SC and Panama City Beach, FL. Focused primarily on Scuppernong-based wines (plus supplements and skin care products!), Duplin offers dozens of popular wines like Muscadine Moscato and Peppermint Cotton Candy. We’re grateful to owner Dave Fussell for serving on the WineAmerica Board of Directors as the representative of the Southeast region.

Biltmore Estate Winery has also played a longtime role in WineAmerica, with now-retired executive Jerry Douglas even serving as Chair of the Board several years ago. Located in the beautiful city of Asheville, the massive Biltmore Estate residence is a major tourist destination, explaining why the adjoining winery welcomes some 800,000 visitors per year.

RayLen Vineyards and Winery in the Yadkin Valley, established in 1999, was named by founders Joe and Joyce Neely for their daughters Rachel and Helen, who have been running the winery since Joe’s passing in 2021. Inspired by a visit to friends in Napa Valley, Joe and Joyce planted 35,000 European vinifera vines which have resulted in awards and inspiration to others. Recent additions include a playful Fizzzy wines (yes, there are three “z’s”) in cans and bottles, including a Rose and Bluzberry (and yes, that’s a “z”). RayLen is also known for its multiple Green initiatives, including the first solar farm among NC wineries, official certification as a Wildlife Habitat, a Beekeepers Association honey bee box site, and an Electrical Vehicle charging station.

Great Grapes: Petit Verdot

Most commonly associated with Bordeaux as a minor player blended with other more famous varietals, Petit Verdot has its own unique virtues in the glass and grows well in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern regions of the U.S. The deeply colored, powerful wine typically suggests plums, blackberries, blueberries, and sometimes mocha or vanilla, and is a good match for robust foods.