48 Hours in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley Wine Country: The Ultimate Itinerary

Elkin Creek Vineyard

Courtesy of Elkin Creek Vineyard

North Carolina may not be the first destination that comes to mind when one thinks of American wine regions, but with over 200 wineries and 400 vineyards, the state is no slouch. It's here, in the Piedmont and foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where inquisitive grape lovers will stumble upon Yadkin Valley, a stretch of land sprinkled with bucolic vineyards and boutique wineries producing some of the country's most interesting vintages. Once known as a key tobacco-growing region, Yadkin Valley's farmers turned to winemaking after cigarette manufacturing declined. Suddenly, a wine country emerged, and in 2003, the region was granted status as North Carolina's first federally-approved American Viticultural Area.

Today, Yadkin Valley is a little taste of Europe in Carolina. With assistance from viticulture and winemaking research at nearby Surry Community College, many of whose graduates go on to helm wineries in the region, lush European varietals like merlots and cab francs have flourished in soil most often associated with muscadine and catawba. And with charming bed and breakfasts, farm to table dining, and scenic châteaus, travelers can almost be convinced they've arrived in France's Burgundy or Italy's Piedmont regions. If you're planning on a weekend wine getaway to get a taste of what this region has to offer, this helpful itinerary will lead the way.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

The Main-Oak Building Emporium, Mt. Airy, NC
J. Michael Jones / Getty Images

9 a.m.: There aren't too many hotel options in Yadkin Valley, but the Hampton Inn & Suites Dobson is a perfect choice for a wine getaway: aside from its central location in the heart of the region, it's the only Hampton Inn with a wine bar, which is completely stocked with wines from local Yadkin Valley vineyards. Drop off your bags and head to Mount Airy, best known as the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show." Fans of the show can pay respects to the hometown hero at the Andy Griffith Museum, or, for extra fun, take a ride in a 1963 Ford Galaxy as part of a Mayberry Squad car tour. Grab a coffee and pastry at hybrid bookshop and café Pages Books & Coffee, then soak in the town's throwback charm.

11 a.m.: One of the most unique things about the Yadkin Valley wine region is its close relationship with the Shelton-Badgett Center for Viticulture & Enology at Surry Community College. Providing wine education for aspiring winemakers as well as industry support and training for wineries across the Southeast, the school has played a large part in the region's success; many Surry students and graduates are bold names in the Yadkin Valley wine scene. Get a taste of what the future of Yadkin Valley winemakers are up to by taking a tour of Surry Cellars, the school's teaching winery.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Haze Gray Vineyards

Courtesy of Haze Gray Vineyards

12 p.m.: After an educational morning, keep exercising your palate at Shelton Vineyards, North Carolina’s largest family-owned estate winery. Founders Charlie and Ed Shelton, who founded the wine program at Surry Community College, have played a major part in putting Yadkin Valley on the map, including petitioning for the region's American Viticultural Area recognition in 2003. Kick back with an award-winning chardonnay or a juicy cabernet franc and enjoy lunch at the winery's on-site restaurant, Harvest Grill, serving up bistro-style comfort food.

2 p.m.: Owned by U.S. Navy veteran Deane Muhlenberg and wife Becky, Haze Gray Vineyards is nestled in the center of a scenic farm and grows nine varieties of grapes. For red wine lovers, their chambourcin is excellent; white wine lovers will be delighted by the traminette here. If you visit on a weekend, make sure to order one of their refreshing wine slushies.

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03 of 06

Day 1 : Evening

JOLO Winery & Vineyards

Courtesy of JOLO Winery & Vineyards

4 p.m.: If it's more beautiful views you're looking for, Round Peak Vineyards should be next on your list. Home to a lush outdoor space and perfect patio for sunset watching, this winery is known for its French and Italian varietals like its juicy pinot noir, delicate nebbiolo and rustic Montepulciano. It also serves beers from its sister brewery, Skull Camp Brewing.

7 p.m.:  After a day of tasting what the valley has to offer, head to dinner at JOLO Winery & Vineyards. During warm weather, the unobstructed views of Pilot Mountain you'll see here during your meal are among some of the best views on the east coast. JOLO's wines are heralded across the state—their red blends and dry whites are particularly top notch.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Pilot Mountain, NC
Zach Frailey / Getty Images

8 a.m: If last night whetted your appetite for a visit to Pilot Mountain State Park, this morning is the perfect time to explore. Have a light breakfast at the hotel and lace up a pair of hiking boots to hit the trails at Pilot Mountain, an iconic geologic wonder considered one of the most unique natural features in North Carolina. Hundreds of years ago, the mountain served as a key navigational point for the Saura tribe, and its peak offers jaw-dropping panoramic views that are heavenly at sunrise. Experienced hikers can challenge themselves on the 6.6-mile Corridor Trail, while beginners will likely feel more comfortable on the Bean Shoals Canal Trail, a one way 1/2-mile slope trail along the Yadkin River.

11 a.m.: After an active morning, the scenic Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery is the perfect post-hike treat. As you turn into the driveway that ascends to the vineyard, you'll be treated to breathtaking vistas reminiscent of the Italian countryside. Once inside the winery's tasting room, seek out the excellent Italian reds inspired by owner Jay Raffaldini’s family ties to Mantua, Lombardy—their chianti-style Sangiovese is particularly well done.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Southern on Main

Courtesy of Southern on Main

12 p.m.: Head to lunch at Southern on Main, a charming Southern eatery in a historic Elkin, North Carolina building lined with local art, a sophisticated kitchen, and a generous selection of local wines. This is the spot to dig in to a simmering pot of collard greens, a mouth-watering chunk of pimento cheese, or a fresh blueberry sonker, an Appalachian cobbler-style dessert rarely found outside of this region.

2 p.m.: For a taste of Oregon in Carolina, make your way to McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks, specializing in artisan wines and hard cider from Sean McRitchie, a second-generation winemaker from the Willamette Valley. The small tasting room is one of the region's most charming, and its outdoor space features plenty of wooden patio chairs with delightful views of its surrounding vineyards. Cider lovers are in for a treat here, as McRitchie serves up a number of refreshing ciders in flavors such as pear, cranberry and black cherry that are available to purchase in growlers.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Jones von Drehle

Courtesy of Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery

4 p.m.: Just a short drive away from McRitchie and also worthy of a stop on your trip is Jones Von Drehle Vineyards & Winery. This estate winery excels at floral and spicy reds, with its cabernets and petit verdots being particular standouts. The property includes a wine education center and a soon-to-debut amphitheater that will be used for outdoor concerts in the spring and summer. 

7 p.m.: Cap off your trip at Elkin Creek Vineyard. Owned by former crew members of the performance art company Blue Man Group, Elkin Creek is best known around the region for their made-to-order artisanal pizzas, available only on Sundays; due to demand, reservations for their famous pizza are highly recommended. The vineyard specializes in Sangiovese, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, with special vintages available by time of year. Explore the vineyard's grounds along Big Elkin Creek, sip on great grapes and enjoy brick oven pizza while celebrating a 48 hours well spent.