Wineries Take Root in Neighboring Currituck County

Currituck County is a land of contrast and change. The narrow strip of sand that is the northern Outer Banks is a beautiful yet harsh environment that seems ill-suited for growing anything other than live oak trees, saw grass and tourism. The mainland, however, has traditionally been a land of fertile farm fields and abundant harvests. Yet, even there, change is a part of the way of life–for where cotton, soybeans and corn once grew, neat rows of vineyards have appeared.

There are four working vineyards on the mainland now, and what they have planted are not the local sweet muscadine grape, but the classic wine grapes of California and Europe–cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, syrah and zinfandel.

Sanctuary Vineyards, located in Jarvisburg, has almost 10 acres under cultivation, and features a tasting room inside the historic Cotton Gin, complimentary tastings, cellar tours and a gift shop. The vineyard is going into its eighth year now and now has wines made exclusively from their own grapes. Although the vineyard now has many varietals planted, the two signature blends released are a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah mix, and a semi-dry red with Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Vidal.

Barrel aged for a year, the wines produced from the vineyard make a clear statement about the potential for vinifera (the official name for wine grapes) grapes in this region.

Although the wines produced this year are getting rave reviews, vineyard manager, John Wright, feels the best is yet to come. "Syrah and Norton (a vinifera variety native to the United States) have the most potential," he says. Sanctuary Vineyards have both under cultivation.

His assessment of the potential for locally planted grapes to turn out first-class wines, is shared by Alison Franklin, assistant wine maker at Moonrise Bay Vineyards. "Syrah," she says. "Syrah definitely has the most potential."

Moonrise Bay, located on Knotts Island, is the largest of the Currituck Wineries. With 14 acres under cultivation and a 6,000 case production cycle, the vineyard has firmly established wine making as a viable business in the region.

Founded in 1997, and the recipient of numerous awards, Moonrise Bay continues to improve its product. "It gets better with every year," Franklin says.

Wine grape production has more than a 20-year history in Currituck County. In 1986 David Martin of Martin Vineyard and Estate planted the first vines at his family-owned orchard. By 1994, the winery was opened to the public and locals started taking note. The delay in opening the winery was self-imposed. "I'm self taught," he says. "I wanted to make sure I could make a good wine before I opened."

The wines produced by Martin, especially his red wines, tend to be packed with varietal flavors, nicely oaked with a good balance on the finish. His Atlantis Red-a meritage wine or blended wine–is a surprisingly complex, yet very drinkable wine worthy of any table.

Don't think, however, that Currituck wineries only turn out "classic" red and white wines. The muscadine grape is a huge family of grapes and is native to this part of the country. It produces a sweet, dessert-style wine that, when made correctly, retains a refreshing taste of the grape itself.

At Moonrise Bay, they have built an enviable reputation for turning out fruit wines as good as anything found anywhere. "It's 100 percent berry juice," Franklin says. "We don't add anything to it. Just the juice." And Martin Vineyards produces an apple, a peach wine and a strawberry wine made exclusively from fruit grown at the family orchard.

Winemakers are also focusing on creating off-dry or semi-sweet table wines. David Martin produces his Fruitville Red, an off-dry blush wine that has a taste reminiscent of a white zinfandel. Both Moonrise Bay and Sanctuary Vineyards are carrying a white Norton that seems to be the perfect picnic wine–refreshing, easy to drink and ready to match with almost any food.

If you are interested in trying a Norton, a muscadine-style wine or any other North Carolina-grown varietal but would rather sample some sips before (or after) heading out to the wineries, several Outer Banks wine shops host North Carolina tastings and/or a great selection of local wines available for purchase. Try Coastal Provisions in Southern Shores, The Wine Specialist in Kitty Hawk or Bacchus Wine & Cheese in Corolla to pick up a regional bottle.

Or to compare and contrast Outer Banks grapes, plan to attend a tasting focused on N.C. wines. Chip's Wine & Beer Market in Kill Devil Hills hosts occasional Taste of North Carolina wine classes in its tasting lounge, and Trio (formerly Native Vine) in Point Harbor (just north of the Wright Memorial Bridge) and Kitty Hawk has daily tastings of 15 award-winning North Carolina wines.

So hop on the Currituck Wine Trail for some wonderful vineyard visits, schedule an educational tasting, or just stop by one of many shops to pick up a crisp, light local bottle for a picnic on the beach—all provide great options to begin sipping your way to a beautiful and relaxing day in the Outer Banks.

By Kip Tabb

Finding a Perfect Dinner Mate
Food & Wine Pairing Made Easy

Choosing a wine to match your food can confuse and just plain intimidate even a savvy wine drinker. But don't despair, there is no deep mystery to wine and food pairing. With a few guidelines, you can find wines that make your food – and your wine more enjoyable.

The most important thing: relax. The consequences aren't that bad. It's not like finding the perfect man for your sister-in-law. The range of potential complementary wines for your dish is fairly broad.
There are two things to consider when making a pairing. First, start thinking about the "volume" of flavors in your food. Second, consider how much sweetness or acidity is in the dish.

Let's start with the volume. Think about how bold and "loud" the flavor of your food is. Volume of meat is almost always determined by the sauce or how it is cooked, not the meat itself. Low-volume dishes include anything baked, broiled or lightly spiced with herbs, citrus or butter. High volume foods include dark reduction sauces, mushrooms, strong spices and herbs, tomatoes, smoking or grilling. The more of these things, the higher the volume. Think of your food with a number from one to five, with one being low-volume and five being the highest volume, boldest food.

Next think about how much sweetness or how much acid is in the dish. Examples of sweetness include the obvious such as sweet sauces, but potatoes, onions and cream can sweeten a dish as well. Acidic elements are tomatoes, green peppers, dark greens, citrus and grilling. You are measuring acid or sweetness so you can mirror it in the wine. Pair acid to acid and sweet to sweet. To understand this concept, try this experiment:

Put a little sugar in your mouth. Then try a dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc. The wine will taste astringent and puckering. Yuck. Now, put a little lemon juice in your mouth and taste the wine again. Notice how the acid in the lemon smoothes out the wine, softening it, making it more pleasing.

Now think back to your volume, acid will turn up the volume of food, so add a few volume points for acid. Sweetness will turn down the volume a few notches so subtract a few for added sweetness.
Okay, now you know how to judge the volume of your food. How do you match that to wine? In the same way you judge food volume, you can rate wine volume. For instance, a robust Cab will be a five, because it has loud flavors and a strong attack at the end. On the other end of the spectrum, a soft Riesling is a one, because it gently coats your mouth and doesn't have a bite at the end.

Use the list of grapes by volume on this page as a general guideline. Notice there is an area of crossover between high volume whites and low volume reds where you could go either red or white.
The closer you mirror the wine and the food, the better the pairing. In a good pairing neither the food nor the wine takes over. Insteadthey enhance each other. The same thing you would look for in any
good relationship!

Finally, use wine professionals to help. A good waiter or wine shop employee should be able to help you with your pairings. Give them some general info about your food and your preferences in terms of volume, sweetness and acid. They can take that information and, hopefully, give you several suggestions from which to choose.

Chip Sellarole and Tammy Kennon are the previous owners of
Chip's Wine & Beer Market and Outer Banks Wine University in Kill Devil Hills

Grapes by Volume from Lowest to Highest

German Riesling
Italian Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
California or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
California or Washington Chardonnay
Gamay (Beaujolais)
Pinot Noir
California or Australian Cabernet Sauvignon
Zinfandel (not White Zinfandel)
California French or Australian Syrah/Shiraz