Ways to celebrate Wine Month on the Outer Banks

Published 10:59 am Saturday, September 10, 2022

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According to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR), September is coined as “Wine Month” in our state. The history of wine in our country stems back to the very first and oldest known producing grape vine: the “Mothervine,” located right here on Roanoke Island. Wine cultivation, it is believed, goes way back to the 1580s, when the first colonists arrived and cultivated this historic grape vine, which still thrives today.

Charles Harry Whedbee writes in his book Legends of the Outer Banks of the Mothervine: “It had a main stem as big as a man’s body, and the place where it grew was known over many parts of the world as the Mother Vineyard. Slips or cuttings from this Mother Vineyard were carried to England and to France and there planted and tended. Many of the slips are said to have been carried to California, where they grew, and still grow, in great profusion.”

Grape harvesting goes into full swing during the month of September. This is a prime time for wineries and vineyards to offer an abundance of wine that can be swirled, sipped and celebrated. Those who make their way to North Carolina during the onset of fall can enjoy festivals, wine pairing dinners, tastings, vineyard tours and more.

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According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there are around 200 wineries in the state and six American Viticultural Areas (AVA). An AVA is the United States’ official designation of wine-growing regions, located in growing regions with same or similar climate, soil, elevation and physical features. The AVA is used on wine labels to indicate the region of origin. To be eligible for the distinction, 85% of the grapes used in the wine must be grown in the designated AVA wine region.

According to DNCR, early North Carolina farmers found favor in the scuppernong and muscadine grape varieties. These grapes do well in the sandy soils of eastern NC. Farmers would raise grapes to provide fruit, jams, jellies and wine for their families.

The Mothervine is a nearly 500-year-old scuppernong vine. Southern natives recognize scuppernong grapes by their greenish-golden skin, sweet aroma and late-summer appearance. They are a variety of muscadine grape known scientifically as Vitis rotundifolia.

Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) are hardy grapes with a tough skin; the skin is actually where the health benefits come from, providing antioxidants to their consumers.

In the early 1800s, North Carolina was a national leader in wine production and in 1840 was the nation’s top wine producer. Thomas Jefferson compared North Carolina wine to that of Europe, a noteworthy compliment at the time. Today, NC is still is among the country’s top ten wine producers.

If you’re on or near the Outer Banks during September, there are several wineries, vineyards and wine shops nearby to check out. Nestled right in the heart of Manteo is NouVines, which doubles as a wine bar and shop. Co-owner Lori Wilkinson shared that NouVines focuses on global small batch wines, carrying brands from all up and down the east coast to all over the world. The majority of wines carried at this local shop are organic or self-sustaining, with no added chemical or preservatives. If you happen to stop by on a Thursday, stay for a sip and try your hand at trivia. Or catch some live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

Vineyards on the Scuppernong offers another wine tasting option in downtown Manteo. Their wine is made from six varieties of grapes producing beautiful blends such as their Strawberry Riesling, Black “Beary” (a 100% blackberry wine), Tropical Somerset and their flagship wine, the Jack Ass Red – a smooth and sweet red muscadine wine – to name a few. Business manager Charley Bishop shared that their wine is made locally on the mainland in Columbia. Wine tastings are free and are offered seven days a week so visitors can stop in any time.

At the southern tip of the Outer Banks resides the tiny island of Ocracoke. Hop on the ferry and be immersed in legendary history, breathtaking sights and delicious food. While you’re in town, stop by Zillie’s Island Pantry, which offers gourmet wines and craft beers. Owner Ray Murray noted that Zillie’s global wines “runs the gamut” in terms of selection. “We try to carry a little bit of everything,” he said. Take a seat on their outdoor deck and enjoy a wine pairing, where you can sample five wines with different snacks from the pantry while enjoying the warmth from their fire pits on a cool fall afternoon.

If you find yourself shopping at the Outlets Nags Head, be sure to stop in Outer Banks Olive Oil Company for a wine tasting. The six wines included in a tasting rotate seasonally and owner Laura Wayland shared that the bar offers wine, beer and sangria by the glass so you can sit and sip a while. “It’s nice to have our shop there so visitors can take a break from shopping and do a wine tasting or enjoy a glass at the bar.” They have two additional locations in both Kill Devil Hills and Duck, which all offer special orders for a particular bottle of wine (or two) and/or have a wine gift basket made.

Sanctuary Vineyards, a staple when it comes to muscadine wines, is a great place to stop while in the area. Offering quite the selection, Sanctuary Vineyards carries several award-winning NC blends. General manager John Wright noted how the vineyard and tasting room is gearing up for fall with their lineup of events, starting with the PIK’N Harvest & Whole Hog Throwdown in September, followed by the Crabdaddy Fall Festival in October and The Big Currishuck in November. Live music is hosted every Friday evening from October through December and wine tastings are offered daily.

Martin Farm and Winery is located in Knotts Island and is a small family owned and operated farm, winery and event venue. They operate on a “u-pick” farm schedule where visitors are welcome to pick strawberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins depending on the season. The winery carries their own sweet wines including peach, apple and blackberry. This year Martin Farm will host a harvest market on October 2, offering wine tastings, wine slushies, food trucks, artisan vendors and apple picking on site. Bring your friends and family to enjoy some scenic sights and sweet sips.

These and many other local wine stops and shops are open for business and ready to satisfy your sweet and smooth sip cravings this month. What are you waiting for? Start wine month off right and check out all these local spots this fall!