California will always dominate American wine, but a cross-country flight is no longer required of East Coast oenophiles looking to enjoy a vintage amid the vines. Just an hour and a half east of the popular North Carolina towns of Cashiers and Highlands and thirty minutes south of Asheville is one of the country’s newest American Viticultural Areas, Henderson County. Nicknamed the Crest of the Blue Ridge, the region earned its AVA designation in 2019, joining the likes of Sonoma and Napa Valley.
In the past decade, seven (soon to be eight) wineries have taken advantage of Henderson County’s elevation, high water quality, distinctive soil, warm days, and cool mountain nights, adding enchanting vineyards to an agritourism scene dotted with apple orchards. In April, the Cider, Wine & Dine Weekend pairs award-winning wines with artisan hard ciders for a brilliant imbibing experience timed to apple blossom season. But any time of year is ripe for a visit. Tip: Start your Friday evening with a sunset view on Shine’s rooftop bar in downtown Hendersonville, and book a stay at the Henderson, a food-forward inn where chef and co-owner Michael Gilligan can recommend stops on the Crest of the Blue Ridge wine trail.
For a carefree wine tour, leave the driving to another and book a seat aboard the Regal Ride, a locally owned and operated tour company that offers wine excursions throughout Western North Carolina. Wend your way to a higher elevation and be rewarded with mountaintop vistas and juicy red blends at Point Lookout Vineyards. At your next stop, Burntshirt Vineyards, ten dollars gets you a tasting of seven pours and a seat on the veranda enjoying the estate’s twenty-plus acres of Grüner Veltliner, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Chardonnay grapes.
If someone in your group prefers cider to wine, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Saint Paul Mountain Farms. The family operation includes both a winery and a cidery, and the former offers thirty libations from both. Be sure to sample its award-winning Vidal blanc, and check the website for a schedule of live performances from area musicians.
For dinner, steep yourself in serenity at Season’s at Highland Lake. Its extensive wine list has received the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator for more than twenty years, and it’s sure to house the perfect pairing for dishes like seared jumbo scallops, a dry-aged Duroc pork chop, or roasted Cornish game hen. End the trip on a sweet note: Close the evening with a crème brûlée or chocolate torte, and in the morning, once you’ve secured your to-go bottles, grab a pastry from Flat Rock Village Bakery for a cinnamon-swirled salute to a brand-new wine region and a weekend well spent.