N.C. embraces romance of the grape

Posted August 14, 2009 2:28 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2009 7:21 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina tourists can embrace the grape at more than 80 vineyards set in rolling fields where tobacco once grew.

Lessons learned growing tobacco helped turn 8 acres of the Iron Gate Farm in Mebane into a successful vineyard, said owner Debbie Stikeleather.

"Everybody had an acre of tobacco, and it taught us a work ethic you really don't see today," Stikeleather said.

The grapes eventually become part of Iron Gate's namesake wines. For a $3 admission fee, the winery's tasting room offers insight into its 14 selections, as well as local history.

"We've had the best year yet. I hope it's a combination of good wine, good marketing and good customer service," Stikeleather said.

In the fast-paced, tech-rich Research Triangle Park, Chatham Hill Winery offers something different.

"We're an urban winery, meaning we bring the wine here to people in the city," said Megan McDonald, with Chatham Hill Winery.

Visitors can sample more than a dozen varieties of wine while browsing through a gallery of local art.

Although it doesn't have a vineyard, Chatham Hill produces about 7,000 cases of wine a year, all hand-bottled, branded and boxed.

"We bring our grapes here and do all aspects of production, everything from crushing to aging to bottling, even storage," McDonald said.

Those who value a view of vineyards might find what they are looking for at Childress Vineyards in Lexington.

Milton Bryant went there with some friends to sip wine and watch the sun set on a recent "Wine-Down" Thursday.

"Drinking some wine, listening to some music," Bryant described the experience. "Get together with some friends, and just have a good time."