Mountain Moods series: In western North Carolina, there’s a place for everyone: artists and epicures, locals and visitors, explorers and kick-back-and-relaxers. Down in the valleys, high on the peaks, around
Mountain Moods series: In western North Carolina, there’s a place for everyone: artists and epicures, locals and visitors, explorers and kick-back-and-relaxers. Down in the valleys, high on the peaks, around every bend in the road, communities with identities all their own remind us that our mountains contain multitudes.
If you’ve never heard a car whisper down a country road, you haven’t explored the Yadkin Valley. There’s a hush over the whole area — a pleasant slowness that you’ll notice as soon as you exit the freeway, exhale, and finally let your foot off the gas. On a Saturday afternoon, cotton-ball clouds hang low in the sky. A few remaining tobacco fields stretch lazily to the horizon. And even the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, with their gentle rises and curves, seem to be in a state of repose.
It’s easy to imagine why Native Americans gathered in these foothills as far back as 10,000 years ago. And why settlers who stumbled into the area in the 1700s stayed for its fertile soil, lush forests, and abundant water. The Yadkin Valley is where Daniel Boone learned blacksmithing and weaving, started a family, and sharpened his hunting skills before leaving for the western frontier. And more than 25 years ago, when the Shelton brothers bought a foreclosed dairy farm at auction, they, too, were entering unknown territory.
Inside its iron gates, grapevines in tidy lines cover rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Neither of the brothers had experience in the wine business, but they had a hunch that the Yadkin Valley could produce good wine — and, if so, that it would boost the local economy after anti-smoking campaigns had left local tobacco farmers looking for new crops. The Sheltons’ pioneering instincts proved correct — and, of course, others soon followed. Sharing climate conditions with Bordeaux, in the south of France, and featuring soil with striking similarities to northern Italy, the Yadkin Valley is now home to more than 45 wineries. Shelton Vineyards is the largest estate vineyard in the area.
Inside its iron gates, grapevines in tidy lines cover rolling hills as far as the eye can see. The white, red, and pink rosebushes at the end of each row provide a pop of color. A winding driveway ends at the edge of a glassy pond, where weeping willows graze the water. Birdsong pierces an expansive silence.
A footbridge over water leads to the 33,000-square-foot winery, which is surprisingly intimate and serene for such a large enterprise. Today, just two people recline in the shade on the patio, sipping and swirling as they quietly take in the view. They say they’ve been to wineries all over the country, and the way they handle their glasses suggests that they know what they’re doing. “It doesn’t get better than this,” the man says with a smile.
“So much of wine-tasting is about scenery,” the woman beside him murmurs, eyeing the beauty before them. She’s savoring a Moscato with a honeysuckle aroma.
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Just up the road from this sprawling vineyard is Mount Airy, the place that The Andy Griffith Show turned into the small-town utopia of Mayberry. But peace has not always prevailed among neighbors in this area. Civil War markers announce where violence erupted among Confederates, Unionists, and the anti-war Quakers who also called this valley home. Today, Mount Airy seems to have not only embraced such differences, but also transformed them into a vibrant community. Head one direction on Main Street for a famous pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch. Walk the other way to Old North State Winery for a seven-course dining experience at the chef’s table, with local, seasonal ingredients and sommelier-selected wine pairings for each dish. Or cut through Melva’s Alley — under the kind gaze of local jazz, blues, and gospel great Melva Houston, who’s memorialized in a mural on the brick wall — and head to Thirsty Souls, where Slovakian proprietors Jan and Maria Kriska brought their beer and wine savvy from the old country and turned a former funeral home into a lively pub in the heart of downtown.
And if you wake up the next day feeling a little foggy, stop by The Copper Pot on your way out of town for a generous serving of faith and fellowship along with breakfast. “Peaceful and kind” is how one server describes her hometown. The Bible verse on her uniform is about being content with what we have, and that’s how people across the Yadkin Valley area seem: at ease in their own skin, with one another, and with the green and generous land that they call home.