A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Leslie Messick can feel excitement in the air. Today is fall’s first brisk Saturday, and in a few hours, her Yadkin Valley vineyard will host this season’s inaugural llama trek.

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Leslie Messick can feel excitement in the air. Today is fall’s first brisk Saturday, and in a few hours, her Yadkin Valley vineyard will host this season’s inaugural llama trek.

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Leslie Messick can feel excitement in the air. Today is fall’s first brisk Saturday, and in a few hours, her Yadkin Valley vineyard will host this season’s inaugural llama trek.

The North Carolina Winery Guide: Four Natural Pairings

Leslie Messick can feel excitement in the air. Today is fall’s first brisk Saturday, and in a few hours, her Yadkin Valley vineyard will host this season’s inaugural llama trek.

“Divine Llama Vineyard actually started as a llama farm,” Messick explains. “With more than 90 llamas, we’re one of the largest llama farms in the southeast.”

From the mountains to the Coastal Plain, North Carolina vineyards share the secret that viticulturists discovered ages ago: Wine is all the more divine when sipped in the fresh air, surrounded by the peaceful symmetry of vineyard rows and trailing fruit. The following four destinations offer patrons the perfect pairing: wine and nature.



Embrace your inner farmer at The Vineyard & Winery at Catawba Farms

It’s hard to know where to begin at Catawba Farms in Newton. Less than an hour’s drive from Charlotte and just 15 minutes from Hickory, 17 pastoral acres of rolling hills and picturesque vineyards await. Step out of your car and breathe in the fresh air. “On the weekends, we have a lot of visitors from the Charlotte metro area,” part owner Dennis Baucom says. “Most guests don’t come for a wine tasting and leave. They get here around noon and stay until early evening.”

Baucom suggests starting your visit at the tasting room, where you can sample the wine and pick up a bottle of your favorite. “Most of our wines are dry, but we do carry two sweet wines, and our best-seller is a peach chardonnay. People also love the Pleasling, a Riesling blend made with pureed green apples,” Baucom says. If wine’s not your thing, no problem — there’s also an on-site brewery with hoppy options alongside lighter wheat varieties.

Drink in hand, it’s time for a stroll: “The entire property is open for you to explore,” Baucom says. Walk in one direction, and you can explore the vineyard and historic farm buildings — farm house, grainery, leather shop — dating back to the mid-1800s. Children love the petting zoo, complete with goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, Henry the peacock, and Tom the horse.

Here on the farm, time slows way down, and to help you enjoy every minute, Baucom and his partners have strategically placed about 20 picnic tables in scenic nooks throughout the property. So there’s plenty of tucked-away hideouts to pass the afternoon with family or friends. And when you get hungry, a food truck with gourmet burgers, sandwiches, and fries satisfies every craving.

Enter full-on farm mode by booking a room at the historic Peacock Inn, the property’s bed and breakfast housed in the late-1800s farmhouse. “You can check in Friday night, check out Monday, and never leave the property,” Baucom says. “Between the wine, beer, food, space to wander, and quiet places to read, there are no outside pressures or stressors. It’s a special place.”

 

Restore your body and spirit at Saint Paul Mountain Farms

Just a 30-minute drive southeast of Asheville, Saint Paul Mountain Farms is a balm for the soul. With the dreamy Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, 29 acres of apple orchards and 15 acres of grape vines fill the foreground.

Take it all in from your perch on the deck of the vineyard’s 100-year-old barn. Here, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, you can unroll your yoga matt for a Vinyasa Flow class taught by trained yoga instructor Ann VanLandingham, creator of the traveling yoga studio Unearthed Yoga. As an expert on Saint Paul Mountain Farms’ wines, VanLandingham will pour you a complimentary glass of your choice after the lesson. 

All 16 of the wines are made from French vinifera grapes — many of which are grown on property — and the six hard ciders are made from the surrounding apples. “I’m a white wine drinker, and the Vidal Blanc is my favorite of our wines,” says manager Barbara Walker. “It’s a lot like a Sauvignon Blanc, with a crisp, tart, green apple finish.”

The Saturday morning Flow yoga class comes with a complementary cup of drip coffee from the Sharewell Coffee Co. & Roastery, which happens to roast their beans and operate an 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. espresso bar in the barn’s basement.

“This land has been in Alan, the owner’s, family for more than nine generations,” Walker says. “It’s all in a farm conservation, so it’ll stay farmland forever.”

 

Catch a view at Treehouse Vineyards

First came the “Date Nite” treehouse — 30 feet up in a 100-year-old white oak tree. That was in 1998, before the grapes, before the vineyard, before the wine. “Mr. Phil built it for his wife, Ms. Diane, for their date nights,” explains Torie Manning, general manager and director of events at Treehouse Vineyards.

Today, Date Nite is surrounded by a 40-acre vineyard, complete with a tasting room and dotted with two other treehouses. Most every night, all three treehouses are filled with guests who find the view just as romantic as Phil and Dianne did 20 years ago.

“Grown adults get so excited about getting to be up in a treehouse,” Manning says. “We think of it as being a kid’s thing, and it adds this element of fun and spontaneity.”

From the grand, rustic deck of Date Nite, guests can sip wine and savor a picnic with unmatched views of the vineyard’s pond, rolling hills, and eight acres of grapes. “It can accommodate 6 people, so a lot of times couples will rent it and come listen to the music — it sits right above our event space, so there’s a great view of the performers on music nights,” Manning says.  

For overnight stays, she recommends Papa’s Dream and the newest addition, Horsefeathers, each complete with decks, kitchenettes, bathrooms with showers, and heating and air conditioning.  “Horsefeathers is our largest, at 1,000 square feet with a 400-square foot wraparound deck,” Manning says.

 

Take a trek at Divine Llama Vineyards

Back in Yadkin Valley, Leslie Messick greets about a dozen visitors who arrive for their trek, giddy at the prospect of being paired with a llama they can walk on a leash through the breathtaking Yadkin Valley farm. “We walk along a single-person, two-mile trail for about two and a half hours, through the rolling mountains and a couple of small creek crossings,” Messick says. “Llamas are pretty cool animals, each with their own unique personality, and our trekkers will let you pet them and hug them.”

Have a sip. The llama won’t judge you. photograph by Getty Images / phadventure

After the trek, guests can enjoy the fruits of the vineyards. From the four grape varieties, including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonel, and Traminette, 11 wines are available for sampling at the renovated 1940s farmhouse tasting room. All are named after the llamas, of course, and range from big, bold dry reds and whites all the way to sweet wines. “Our most popular red is called ‘In a Heart Beat,’ and our best-seller is a white wine called ‘Versailles,’ made with the floral Traminette and 10 percent peach juice. It’s sweet and is delicious when it’s cold,” Messick says.

While the llama treks run from late September through May, Divine Llama Vineyard is open year-round, and the llamas are always pleased to greet you.

This story was published on Jun 26, 2020

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.