It’s mind-blowing that we’ve lived in North Carolina for years and it took that long to make our way to visit Yadkin Valley wineries. People always talk about the mountains and beaches in North Carolina – and those are great too. But we believe that the Yadkin Valley has so much to offer when it comes to its scenery and dry wines. As in people should be saying they love the mountains, beaches and wineries in NC too!
We loved it so much, we were comparing it to other amazing wine regions in the United States all weekend, like Napa Valley in California, and Loudoun County in Virginia.
Where are the Yadkin Valley wineries?
It just takes about two hours to get to this area in the Piedmont region of NC from downtown Raleigh. You will see beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from a few of the wineries (read on to find out which ones) and it’s an easy drive to get to all of them. And it’s a pretty drive, at that, as you meander through the North Carolina countryside from the highway to your vino destinations.
The Yadkin Valley and its wineries are west of Raleigh and east of Asheville. If you’re driving from Charlotte, it’s just over an hour north of the Queen City, or the Lake Norman area.
Our Three Day Schedule, Visiting Six Wineries
We visited six fabulous wineries during our weekend getaway. Four of them are considered part of the Swan Creek Wine Trail, and two others are Italian wineries with their own vineyards right next door to each other.
We’ve listed the wineries below in the order we experienced them, which was carefully and purposefully planned:
- Piccione Vineyards
- Raffaldini Vineyards
- Windsor Run Cellars
- Shadow Springs Vineyards
- Laurel Gray Vineyards
- Dobbins Creek Vineyards
The order we visited is what we recommend if you want to visit them all in three days, Friday to Sunday. And yes, particularly those three days of a weekend, because they’re only open certain days. For instance, some of the wineries are closed on Sunday, which is partially why we saved Laurel Gray and Dobbins Creek for a Sunday: those two are the Yadkin Valley wineries of the six that are open Sundays.
There’s another reason we know now, in retrospect, that our schedule was great. It was thoughtfully planned with the proximity of the wineries in mind. But how we experienced them from a topographical standpoint also worked out because of the views.
It was wonderful to enjoy a stunning view to start, for instance, at Piccione Vineyards, as an introductory winery for the Yadkin Valley. They had a phenomenal view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, past rows of vines on their hill.
We continued with a stunning view the next day at Raffaldini Vineyards, which also overlooks the mountains. The next two wineries we went to on Saturday gave us a break from mountain views (Windsor Run Cellar and Shadow Springs Vineyards) but it was a nice change of scenery. Finally, we ended the weekend with more beautiful views at Laurel Gray Vineyards and Dobbins Creek on Sunday, though very different from Raffaldini and Piccione.
We’ll elaborate on the views within the information we’ve included for each winery below.
Where We Stayed for our Yadkin Valley Wineries Weekend
While Yadkin Valley wineries are fabulous, the pickings are slim for places to stay there. We saw a few rustic cabins on Air BnB and VRBO, but ultimately nixed the idea. They’re not really our style, even though we love a modern log cabin. We need the assurance of strong wifi or a good cell phone signal when we’re away because we own our own businesses and need to access email regularly, when possible.
Elkin, NC is probably the closest small city to the wineries we visited, however the closest big city near Yadkin Valley wineries is Winston-Salem. And when it was between there or Elkin for hotels, there was no question we’d head to Winston-Salem because we love it. We have a blast every time we visit Winston-Salem. It’s such a fun area.
Another benefit of staying there was we had our choice of things to do after the wineries closed, which was around 6:00pm if not earlier. This is the time the wineries close even on weekends.
Staying in Winston-Salem meant we could go back to our hotel and refresh after a day of wine tasting, before heading out to dinner at one of Winston-Salem’s restaurants. For instance, after a day of tasting delicious dry wines on Saturday, we retreated to Winston-Salem for an hour of rest and were able to enjoy live music that evening at Earl’s, where we also had a casual dinner. There’s no way we would have been able to have that same experience if we stayed in Elkin.
If you’ve never been to Winston-Salem please see our First Timer’s Guide. Visiting Winston-Salem breweries is also a must! They are open later than wineries on the weekends, so you could do potentially do both if you’re ambitious. (Please drink responsibly!)
Elkin Vine Line: Yadkin Valley Wineries Shuttle Service
Speaking of safe drinking and driving, we noticed the Elkin Vine Line while we were out and about. It’s a car service to ensure safe drinking and (not) driving. It picks you up from Elkin after you reserve a space in advance. The Vine Line spends the day running between wineries to safely transport visitors.
It’s a super smart system and the way to go if you plan on getting drunk, whatsoever, and don’t want to have to worry about your driving. Expect to spend five to six hours exploring the wineries for the day you sign up.
The Vine Line starts at a spot in Elkin’s downtown historic district, where you park your car. It’s a bit past the wineries if you’re driving from Winston-Salem, but on the way if you’re driving from Charlotte, a city west of the wineries and Elkin. Regardless, there’s not substitute for being responsible even if you need to drive 20 minutes past the wineries from Winston-Salem to do so.
The Vine Line costs between $40 and $46 per person, depending which of their five lines, or routes, you choose to do. Choose their blue and green lines if you want to visit the vineries we spent time at.
Disclaimer that we haven’t used it ourselves, but it seems like a pretty great option that’s worth looking into!
Winery Tour from Charlotte
If you’re coming from Charlotte and want to drink responsibly all day without driving, you have a great tour option that will take you to several wineries. Not all of the six wineries on the list are included in this Bubbles and Blush Food & Wine Tour by NC Wine Gals, but the 7.5 hour day tour does includes Piccione Vineyards and Raffaldini Vineyards. They were the two Italian style wineries we stopped at with the best views.
Piccione (pronounced Pitch-ee-own-nee) is a small, beautiful winery with a breathtaking view. It’s one of two Italian wineries that we visited the weekend we explored Yadkin Valley wineries (the other was Raffaldini).
We drove up the hill to Piccione and were in awe of its acres of vineyards. We couldn’t believe it was in our home state! A small structure (that looks like a ranch style home) overlooks the rolling hills and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. Flower beds decorate patio areas in the immediate area where guests can sit outside, on two terraces.
Spring was a wonderful time to be in the area; we visited during late April. Though the vines hadn’t fully blossomed (and unfortunately they had suffered some frost damage in the weeks prior to our visit) the roses, lavender, ivy and perennials were in bloom at Piccione.
History of Piccione Vineyards
This Italian vineyard was established in 2010, by Dr. William Piccione and his sons, Billy and Steven. Giuseppe and Vita, Dr. Piccione’s grandparents, immigrated to the United States in 1921, straight from Marsala, Italy. Giuseppe found employment in NYC after entering the states through Ellis Island, as most immigrants from Europe did in those days.
Despite working in the garment industry, Giuseppe Piccione made wine at home. (You can take the man out of Sicily but you can’t take the Sicilian out of the man!) His grandson, Dr. William (or Bill) Piccione, had fond memories of watching his grandfather make wine with a hand press, small oak barrels and a manual bottling machine. After Dr. Bill Piccione retired from 20 years of Cardiovascular Thoracic surgery (whoa!), he studied wine and earned a sommelier certification. What was the logical next step for him? Opening a winery with his sons!
Healthy hearts are still a priority just in a different way for Bill and his sons at Piccione Vineyards. As they say in Italy, “In vino, salute.” In wine, is health. (Maybe red wine helping the heart is true!)
Wines at Piccione Vineyards
We went inside the tasting room to place our order. I got a flight, which includes four wines of your choosing. Dan ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, a household favorite.
The wines at Piccione Vineyards were tasty and dry – the way we like them! The plastic cups they use for their tasting are perhaps a result of changed ways from COVID. They’re not very photo-worthy, which is why the image below shows a full glass of wine (Dan’s) and my taste of 2 oz. of wine. (It was one of the flight cups that I poured into my wine glass.)
Their frosé looked delightful and when we asked a group of people sitting next to us if it was good they replied it was really good and not too sweet. Well balanced. I may have ordered some if not for the wind that was sweeping through the hills that Friday afternoon, which made it a bit chilly. Another factor in my decision not to get it was wanting to go “classic” for our first Yadkin Valley wineries tasting that weekend, so I stuck to pure wine.
I ended up craving a glass of cold, slushy wine from that point until we found some more frozen options the following day.
Hours: Open daily, 12:00pm to 6:00pm; Closed Tuesdays
Address: 2364 Cedar Forest Rd., Ronda, NC 28670
Our afternoon at Raffaldini Vineyards was our favorite stop of the entire weekend. If we could only stop at one winery, this would be it for us. It reminded us a lot of stopping somewhere like Pippin Hill in Charlottesville.
Raffaldini Vineyards is just next to Piccione Vineyards. We saved our visit to Raffaldini for the next day, however, because of the wineries’ operating hours. So instead of going there Friday after we got to town and after Piccione, when all the wineries were closing, we made it our first stop on Saturday, when it opened. We arrived at 11:00am and maximized our time there.
The Views at Raffaldini
If a picture is worth 1,000 words just look below. You park your car in the local lot at Raffaldini then step along the walkway to go to the tasting room and the image below is your view. Wow.
Acres of vineyards roll down the hill towards the forest and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. And it’s all perfectly framed by the greenery around Raffaldini upon your “vista” approach too.
Learning about the Vines at Raffaldini Vineyards
The head winemaker, Chris Nelson, gave us a took a tour of the vineyards. He often hosts events at the vineyard, including a winemaking class during their September Annual Festa Italiana, or even a playful wine blending competition in November.
Anyone who visited Raffaldini Vineyards can book a tour and tasting through their online reservation partner, Tock.
We walked just a portion of their acres of vines together (they have over 100 acres) and we learned so much from Chris. Our education began, learning that prior to Jay Raffaldini planting some Italian grapevine varietals in the United States, no one was planting them! That was back in 2001. Their Italian vines are why Raffaldini, a family-owned winery, is sometimes referred to as “Chianti in the Carolinas.”
The wines at Raffaldini are dry (and delicious) and all Italian, including reds like Sangiovese Classico (the same grapes used in Chianti), Montepulciano Riserva, Sagrantino and Grande Riserva. Their notable white is Vermentino.
We inspected the vines with him during our April trip and saw some clusters of berries growing. He shared how we could identify frost damage, like he did that month. Unfortunately, they lost about 50% of their vines due to frost in April 2021, whose harvest will affect the product two years down the line. Whatever grapes they get this year will be harvested the first week of August through October.
He also taught us about the types of grapes that were best for making wine. They want a small and compact cluster of grapes with a higher skin to juice ratio, which is the opposite of table grapes. When you snack on grapes, you want a high juice to skin ratio, meaning more juice and less skin. And most people like a large juicy grape to eat as dessert or for baking. (NC’s muscadine grapes are very sweet, plump and juicy, but they’re a different beast and the grapes in the Yadkin Valley are entirely different.) Also, the seeds are okay in wine production; it’s one of the prime sources that produce tannins. And tannins are part of why red wines taste dry.
He also showed us inside their wine making area. This is where we saw vines sitting in blue buckets with water, ready to be planted.
Learning about Wine Productions at Raffaldini Vineyards
Winemaker Chris Nelson had been out in California’s wine country making wines for many years before coming back to the east coast to head up the wine production at Raffaldini. We absolutely loved that while Chris was wearing a Tar Heels hat, for the University of North Carolina, he had a laid back and chill California vibe. (And we love California, particularly San Diego where Dan used to live.)
Growing grapes and making wine in California versus North Carolina is totally different. While it’s very dry in California most of the time, there is too much rain in North Carolina for the vines. He shared information about the locations and wine production thereafter as the three of us stood in the facility pictured below.
His teaching style was approachable and understandable. He took us outside to show us where the Appassimento process, or the partial drying process of the grapes happens. This is to make their wines more concentrated with flavor. Then we went inside, where he showed us the stainless steel fermentation tanks wines go into, the oak barrels some wines are put in to age, and Raffaldini’s wine labeling machine.
Enjoying Raffaldini Vineyards Property
After our tour, we sat down to enjoy a full tasting with four glasses of wine. Tastings at Raffaldini are a little different than the other vineyards we visited that weekend. Instead of picking four wines off their list, you choose one of their preset wine tasting menus. This would be either a Bianco (white) tasting, Rosso (red) tasting, or Rosa (rosé) tasting.
In addition to wine tastings, Raffaldini has assorted snacks you can purchase. We nibbled on a charcuterie and cheese plate (we brought our own NC cutting board for a photo opp, knowing they had these snack options).
The pimento goat cheese was local, from Heritage Homestead, and so good I still dream about it. We had water to stay hydrated as we responsibly drank our dry wines (I was driving so Dan had most of my wine!) even got a pizza to share from the “food truck” that was onsite that day, which was truly more like a portable brick oven the pizza makers had. It was great and, all the while, we were within eyesight of an astounding view.
Raffaldini’s Operating Hours
We left truly excited to return again soon. And as if all the beauty we saw while we sat and sipped wine wasn’t enough, we exited to a gorgeous view of the villa in the background and pond with a fountain in front of us, and saw a field of stunning yellow wildflowers just shortly after we exited the gates.
Hours: Sunday, 12:00-5:00pm, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 11:00am to 5:00pm, Tuesday: Closed
Address: 450 Groce Road, Ronda, NC 28670
Windsor Run Cellars
This winery is much, much smaller compared to Raffaldini. But going from Raffaldini to Windsor Run Cellars was a nice change. Windsor Run Cellars isn’t trying to be Raffaldini – it’s its own thing. That is apparent as soon as you reach the somewhat “roadside” destination, not just in the landscape and tasting room but also the wines.
There aren’t hills here. Instead, there is a small plot of land under vine with a brown house behind it that serves as its wine tasting room. It has a few seats on a side terrace and some out front under its covered porch. There aren’t seats inside, which is likely a result of COVID restrictions. (We imagine there were pre-COVID and they will add seats again inside one day.)
They have a total of of 40 acres of vineyards but just 15 are onsite, at the winery. The rest are located off-site.
Tasting Wines at Windsor Run Cellars
I mentioned that I had been craving frosé since we saw it the day prior at Piccione Vineyards. Luckily, I was able to partake in a frozen option at Windsor Run Cellars! They had two to choose from and I chose the Cherry Slush, which has alcohol in it. Their slushy flavors rotate; they often have a sangria slushy too.
Dan got a flight of four of their wines, always sure to include a Cabernet Sauvignon option (a favorite in our home).
The mantle above the fireplace in their tasting room had dozens of bottles with awards. We spent some time reading them and were intrigued by their unique creations, including their Mighty Mojito wine cocktail. It won a bronze award at the Dixie Classic Fair, a Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition in nearby Winston-Salem. They also have a G&J in the tasting room, which is a gin and juice inspired wine cocktail.
If you want a souvenir from your day wine tasting at Yadkin Valley Wineries, there’s a small area near the bar with wine-themed trinkets and gifts.
Windsor Run Cellars also has a Distillery
If you’re not into wine then this is a great place to visit because they also have a distillery. The distillery is only open to visitors on Saturdays and you can only see it with a tour guide. Space is limited so we recommend making a reservation in advance. They have them regularly on the hour from 11:00am to 4:00pm.
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday 10:00am to 5:00pm, Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm; Distillery open Saturdays only
Address: 6531 Windsor Road, Hamptonville, NC 27020
Shadow Springs Vineyard
We drove less than five minutes to Shadow Springs. It’s practically across the street! Windsor Run Cellars and Shadow Springs are both owned by the Johnson family.
Shadow Springs Vineyard was planted on old tobacco land (tobacco was a huge crop in North Carolina, many years ago). White and red grapes are grown on the eleven acres of land under vine at Shadow Springs. Their tasting room, pictured below, was opened in 2008. They have a small gift shop inside along with some indoor seating on their lower level.
Tastings at Shadow Springs Vineyard
Like Windsor Run Cellars, Shadow Springs has both wines and slushies. Their frozen alcohol options, when we visited, included a Shadow-Rita (drinks like a margarita) and a Shortcake, made from strawberries. The person helping us in the tasting room said people like to mix the two for a Miami Vice kind of mixed blended cocktail!
We each got a tasting with slightly different wines – our one common denominator is usually a Cabernet Sauvignon! The tasting blocks are nearly identical to the ones at Windsor Run Cellars, though the wine offerings differ.
Detailed Description of Each Wine We Tasted at Shadow Springs
Here are the wines Dan selected for his tasting:
- 2017 Cabernet Franc: medium bodied red with aromas of cherry and oak. Lively acidity and fruity finish.
- 2017 Chambourcin: aged in oak for 18 months, silky tannins and long finish. Hints of black raspberry, dark sugars, and blackberry.
- Tangled Oak Select: Cab Franc, Chambourin, Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Petit Verdot aged in our Shadow Hawk brandy barrels. Bold wine with smooth luxurious finish.
- 2016 Petit Verdot: full boded red with hearty flavors of plum and cherry aged in premium oak barrels. Perfect match for smoked meats or grilled veggies.
And here are the wines I tasted:
- Rose: dry rose blend with aromas of fruit cocktail, raspberries, and soft florals. Mouthwatering acidity balances the perception of sweetness.
- 2019 Seyval Blanc: stainless steel fermented, light, crisp, and clean off-dry wine. Drinks like a softer Sauvignon Blanc. Dinner party crowd pleaser.
- 2014 Meritage: Bordeaux blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Petito Verdot with nearly 2 years in barrel. Classic wine with complex flavors.
- 2016 Petit Verdot: full boded red with hearty flavors of plum and cherry aged in premium oak barrels. Perfect match for smoked meats or grilled veggies.
You can take your drinks – whether slushies, glasses of wine, or a wine tasting – outside to their “backyard” space and enjoy it all from outdoor tables or Adirondack chairs by their pond.
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday: 10:00pm to 5:00pm; Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm
Address: 5543 Crater Road, Hamptonville, NC 27020
Laurel Gray Vineyards
On Sunday morning we had breakfast in Winston-Salem at Young Cardinal Cafe, as we awaited the time our last two wineries of the weekend would open.
We drove to Laurel Gray Vineyards and were amongst the first visitors there on Sunday, at 1:00pm, its opening time. The land has been in the Myers family for 10 generations, since Queen Charlotte of England gave the family a land grant in 1773. Over time, the original 400 acres she granted have become 85 acres. Ten and a half of those acres have are under vine with French grapes.
Benny and Kim Myers have owned and operated Laurel Gray Vineyards for over 20 years. Today, the tasting room is in the remodeled structure that was one an old milking parlor.
Wine Tasting Experience at Laurel Gray Vineyards
I ordered a flight of wine and Dan ordered a glass of the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon wine inside the tasting room at Laurel Gray Vineyards. We then carefully carried them outdoors to their patio.
My tasting included the Cab Sauv Dan chose for his glass, the 2018 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, 2019 Charlotte rosé, and the 2018 Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon. The bourbon Cab Sauv is aged in bourbon barrels for an additional five months. (If you’re wondering, the two Cabernet Sauvignons did, indeed, taste different from one other.)
It feels as if you’re in someone’s beautifully designed backyard on their covered patio, complete with attractive gray and black furniture with potted flowers and tropical plants around you. We imagine their outdoor fireplace is lovely in the fall when the temperatures drop but people still want to enjoy their lovely outdoor environment.
They also have umbrella-covered tables out front within their white picket fenced-in area, surrounded by a garden.
Enjoying the Laurel Gray Vineyards Property
We chose to sit in two Adirondack chairs and turned them out to the pond to face the growing vines. What do ya know, we actually enjoyed a bit of bird watching there too! It was truly a lovely spring afternoon and a most enjoyable place to be together.
Next time we’ll be sure to pack some picnic food – we saw a few couples who were smart and thought to bring all sorts of snacks in coolers. Laurel Gray even has some great recipes online that would be perfect to make at home and bring to the winery to enjoy onsite.
However, if you’re hungry and didn’t bring anything to eat, they have Ashe cheese (one of our favorite North Carolina cheese companies), beer (if you want a non-wine option), crackers, and the like inside for purchase.
They also have a small gift shop by the tasting bar, with things like wine charms and cocktail napkins, and even wine sauces. This included options such as a Chocolate Cabernet wine sauce, and Caramel Chardonnay wine sauce. They reminded us of the sauce options available for purchase at North Carolina’s Seven Springs near Warrenton.
Hours: Open Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, and Sundays from 1:00pm to 5:00pm
Address: 5726 Old U.S. 421 W., Hamptonville, NC 27020
Dobbins Creek Vineyards
The final stop of our trip was Dobbins Creek Vineyards, which was the perfect place to wrap up our weekend exploring Yadkin Valley wineries. The log cabin tasting room is everything you’d want in a cozy, welcoming space to taste wines, especially if it’s cold outside. The weather the day we visited was ideal, so we opted to sit on the porch after our tasting to enjoy the serene views and chat with other visitors.
Wine Tasting at Dobbins Creek Vineyards
We each did a tasting inside at the bar. The person who helped us was young but incredibly knowledgeable about wines. It was fun to do a tasting with him at the bar at Dobbins Creek Vineyards, enjoying that ambiance first, then choose our favorite glasses for us each to take outside to sit and simply enjoy the day.
The wine tasting included a sampling of all of their wines currently available. Dan and I loved the Ram Cat Red, a 2018 Bordeaux style blend; we each ordered a glass of that after the tasting to enjoy on the porch. We sat there for about an hour, enjoying our glasses of red wine and being grateful for the weather, scenery and a wonderful weekend together exploring Yadkin Valley wineries.
To finish up our time at Dobbins Creek Vineyards, we walked in the vineyards and looked back at the tasting room. It was a lovely walk through the crop and land that provides such a wonderful harvest and product with the help of human hands. What a tribute to our human connection to the land!
Hours: Friday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm; Saturday from 11:00am to 5:00pm; Sunday from 1:00pm to 5:00pm
Address: 4430 Vineyard View Lane Hamptonville, NC 27020
Swan Creek Wine Trail
We want to note that four of the wineries we went to are part of the “Swan Creek Wine Trail.” It’s called this because they are part of the Swan Creek American Viticultural Area (AVA) of North Carolina.
This includes the following wineries:
- Windsor Run Cellars
- Shadow Springs Vineyard
- Laurel Gray Vineyards
- Dobbins Creek Vineyards
Knowing this won’t affect anything during your visit! We simply wanted to note it because you may see it referenced during your trip or as you research a Yadkin Valley wineries weekend. And you may be a wine connoisseur who enjoys additional background information about North Carolina viticulture and geology.
The Swan Creek Wine Trail website states, “The Swan Creek AVA was established in 2008, making it the second federally designated wine growing region in NC (behind the Yadkin Valley AVA).”
They’re not the only four wineries in this AVA area, but they’re the ones who have partnered to distinguish themselves as an associated group of wineries, hosting some events together throughout the year.