When Debra Blanton retired from her 27-year career, she kicked off the next phase of her life with an unusual celebration: “I planted a two-acre vineyard of muscadines,” she says.
Three years later, Triple BBB Vineyard in Shelby had its first harvest of that speckled, thick-skinned fruit native to our state. It didn’t take long for Blanton to open her farm to guests, who came to share in the delight of picking juicy grapes fresh off the vine.
In North Carolina, grape-picking days start in late August and, depending on the variety, last until fall’s first frost. For some, those days signal the arrival of homemade wine and juice, jams and jellies, pies and cakes. For others, they represent a reprieve from the sweltering heat of summer — a time to gather together and share in the harvest. Whatever your preference, read on to discover North Carolina vineyards that welcome guests to pick their own.
Crooked Run Vineyards
For a few days each September, John and Deborah Thompson invite their community to Crooked Run Vineyards’ annual U-Pick celebration in Clinton. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., folks of all ages meander along perfectly manicured paths, filling their baskets with sweet muscadine grapes.
“It’s just a good time for people to come out and experience the farm,” Deborah says. “A lot of people don’t understand where their food comes from, so it gives them a great opportunity to make that connection.
She also adds that it’s a flavorful opportunity: “I think the taste is unique. It doesn’t taste anything like a grape you’re used to getting in the grocery store. To me, it’s a richer flavor.”
Can’t make it to the farm’s U-Pick days? You still have an opportunity to sample one of Clinton’s sweetest delicacies at Simply NC, the Thompson’s downtown gift shop. “Our muscadine slushy is one of the most refreshing things you can drink on a hot day,” Deborah says. “It’s sweet, but not overly sweet. It’s just like eating a grape — but you don’t have to worry about all the seeds.”
Herndon Hills Farm
At Herndon Hills in Durham, visitors find a farm oasis minutes from city life. On the 80 acres of land protected by a conservation easement, blueberries, blackberries, and 10 varieties of muscadines — including Darlene, Pam, Supreme, Nesbitt, Carlos, Ison Black, and Triumph — grow on fields cultivated by the same family for 200 years. “It’s peaceful and beautiful out here,” Nancy Herndon says. “You can smell the sweetness of the grapes.”
Starting in late August and running through early October, come breathe the fresh air and fill your pail with seven different varietals of certified organic muscadine grapes.
Herndon shares a few picking tips: “Pick only the soft ones, and pick them one by one. Kids can pick a lot of grapes fast, but teach them to feel each one and to be deliberate about the ones they decide to put in their pail.”
Cauble Creek Vineyards
Cauble Creek’s events, ranging from live music and food trucks to fishing at their property’s pond, give Salisbury locals plenty of reasons to come out and experience life on a vineyard. But the annual Pick Your Own Grapes event has gone from a favorite pastime to a full-fledged fall tradition. “We’ve been fortunate to watch the kiddos grow from toddlers on up,” Co-owner Anita Yost says.
For $1.50 a pound, you can fill your bucket with three muscadine varietals: Carlos, Doreen, and Nobles. “My personal favorite is the Nobles,” Yost says. “I eat the whole grape — skin, seeds, and pulp! Muscadines are high in antioxidants.”
The Cauble Creek Vineyard & Winery. photograph by Cauble Creek Vineyard & Winery
Muscadine grapes’ shallow roots feel right at home in sandy loam soil, so Benjamin Vineyards’ home along the Haw River in Saxapahaw produces some of the sweetest grapes around. During the harvest season, from September through October, anyone is welcome to come share in the bounty.
With a basket full of muscadines, you’re well on your way to the perfect picnic. Now head over to the Saxapahaw General Store for an impressive selection of cheeses, specialty meats, and sparkly beverages — everything you need for lunch followed by a hike along the Haw River.
Grietje’s Garden of Rocky Ridge Farm
In the foothills of northern Iredell County, Reid and Penny Ledbetter have devoted three acres of their 116-acre Rocky Ridge Farm to cultivating muscadine and scuppernong grapes and blueberry bushes. They call this section of the farm “Grietje’s Garden,” named after Penny’s great grandmother, who was from the Netherlands.
“The vineyard is cozy and peaceful,” says Penny, a children’s book author and retired educator. “The birds are singing and the honeybees are buzzing.”
Her favorite time of year is fall, when the days get a little cooler. For the muscadines and scuppernongs, that’s picking season. “The grapes will come out in September and October,” she says. “Call me to make an appointment, so I can let you know that there are plenty of grapes and you’ll have plenty of space to pick.”
Before you leave, pick up a jar of muscadine jelly and a copy of Woulda Been, Ledbetter’s latest book.
The vineyard in Grietje’s Garden. photograph by Grietje's Garden
Griffin Evergreens & Vineyard
From their Sanford farm, known for Christmas trees and grapes, A.K. and Mary Griffin love hosting visitors who come to pick muscadines.
“We’ve got about 1.5 acres of muscadine grapes that are usually ready around the end of August or by the first week of September,” Mary says. “Just give us a call and make an appointment to come pick.”
According to Mary, most visitors pick the grapes for their annual batch of muscadine wine or scuppernong jelly. “But a lot of people just like to eat them.”
This year, Mary says she’ll be in the second camp: “The big bronze ones have a great taste to them. I’m not too picky about the seeds. If I find them, I spit them out, and if not, I just eat them,” she says. “They’re good for you.”
Get our most popular weekly newsletter: This is NC