Viticulture and Winemaking in the Tryon Foothills.
The Tradition of Tryon Grape!
Four wineries in the Tryon Foothills are keeping the viticulture and winemaking tradition going with live music, fine wine, and smiling faces serving up the weekend fun. Each winery offering a vibe unique and different yet intrinsically enticing. Weekend regulars pour in from nearby communities including many from the Upstate of South Carolina. The local winery scene continues to develop with vigorous sustainable growth, however viticulture and winemaking in the Tryon Foothills is fermented in a storied grape history.
The Grape History
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, wines produced from grapes grown in this region were served in the finest restaurants all over the United States of America. Often ordered in fine dining establishments throughout New York City with a familiar request, “give me Tryon Grape.” The wines became known for quality to the wealthiest of connoisseurs and these wines shipped all over the developing country. Many of these historic Tryon vineyards were planted in the late 1800s and some twenty plus vineyards existed in the early 1900s growing grape varieties such as Muscadine, Norton, Catawba, White Niagara, and Red Delaware table grapes.
The vintners of the early 1900s were especially of intriguing interest; such as Harold Doubleday, the nephew of Abner Doubleday of baseball fame; Sidney Lanier Junior, son of the famed poet; and Alex Lamort, immigrant from Bordeaux, France, brought to the United States by George Vanderbilt. In fact, Lamort’s 1916 obituary mentioned his wines as being known favorably all the world. One of the highest acclaimed was William T. Lindsey, whose grapes were honored at the 1893 New York State Fair.
The favorable growing conditions of the Tryon foothills have been long promoted. Along the southern slopes of the area’s mountain foothills exist a weather phenomenon known as the Thermal Belt. A zone along the mountainsides where frost is less likely to occur. The Tryon Foothills Thermal Belts are considered some of the more pronounced in the country. Temperatures along these belts range about 20 degrees warmer than found along the base of the foothills. It is this climate that not only makes the area ideal for growing grapes, but also contributed to the area becoming a renown equestrian and summer resort destination. The later also contributing to the development of the Tryon Foothills in Polk County as a respected wine region.
In the early 1900s, travel by train was the popular means of travel up and down the East Coast. The passenger trains traveling from Miami to New York stopped in Tryon as often as 10 times each day. The area growers would peddle their fruit and wine at the train depot. Tryon wine gained notoriety as it was transported up and down the East Coast. Tryon wines are known to have been served at the Waldorf Astoria during the 1920s. The Tryon Foothills came to be known as one of the finest grapes producing regions of the country.
Shady dimmed lit back road Speakeasies and mountain-born enterprising bootleggers with fast cars did their best to keep alcohol in supply. However, quality significantly suffered in wine and certainly it was so much easier due the cost effectiveness to produced distilled moonshine than to grow grapes and make wine.
Prohibition in North Carolina went into effect in 1909 and lasted through 1933. North Carolina became the first state in the union to enact laws prohibiting the sale of intoxicating wines and spirits yet didn’t fully ratify the 21st amendment ending prohibition until 1937. The full effects to the viticulture market lasted for many decades to follow.
Moonshine, the drink of Prohibition choice, was distilled mostly from corn. Fields of grape vines were uprooted and planted with crops to feed the struggling families. Apples were plentiful as higher elevations up the Blue Ridge Mountains in Henderson County provide an excellent apple growing environment. Therefore, apple brandy moonshine was popular in the area, though corn mash moonshine was undoubtedly the prohibition drink of choice.
Few vineyards were planted as Prohibition laws were lifted as hard times followed for most families in the region. Therefore, by the 1950s there were no known acreage planted with wine producing grape. The Great Depression and World War II saw Americans prefer beer and spirits more so than fine wine.
Site of Former Speakeasy at Parker-Binns Vineyard.
The Grape Resurgence
In the Green Creek community, Lee Griffin and Johnny Mize pioneered a viticulture resurgence in the 1990s. Griffin and his wife Marsha, planted in 1991 the first of what would become ten acres under vine. Lee and Marsha operated Rock House Vineyard and Winery for close to twenty years.
Mize and his wife Jeanne owned a tree farm in the Green Creek community. They first planted vinifera grape in 1998 and within five years had thirty acres under vine. The vineyard is now under different ownership and at over 20 years of age is likely nearing its expected peak productiveness lifespan.
In 2003 Marvin Pack initially planted approximately five acres under vine. His brother Alvin would follow two years later with opening the regions second winery of the resurgence, Green Creek Winery.
Pack and Green Creek Winery made national news back in 2007 with their Chardonnay Rosso. Chardonnay juice macerated on pressed Chambourcin skins and aged eight months in Hungarian oak.
The tiny winery at Judd’s Peak in the Saluda community produced small craft vintages of estate grown Chardonnay. The earliest reference found to Judd’s Peak Vineyard is 2011, and the final harvest came in 2015.
These earlier wineries have all closed, vines at Rockhouse and at Judd’s Peak have been uprooted. Mize Vineyards doesn’t support a winery and has changed ownership. However, some twelve plus vineyards now exist in the Tryon Foothills, and four celebrated wineries continue the fine wine tradition.
Parker-Binns Vineyard is a 40-acre estate with 12 acres under vine in the Mill Spring community. Owned and operated by “semi-retirees” Bob and Karen Binns along with their daughter Kelly, and Grandson Cory, along with winemaker Justin Taylor. Bob Binns said “when we moved here, had to clear the entire farm.” A vineyard is no doubt a farm, and Parker-Binns Vineyard is a labor of love, family, and friends.
The winery offers a fun-time laid back party vibe. These guys are always hopping on the weekends and greet every customer with a smile. Mouth-watering burgers and delicious sandwiches are served from the Burger Barn grill to complement their selection of award-winning estate grown wines. Each third Friday of the month the winery hosts a festive sunset party. Each weekend is capped with Sunday Funday offering live music and free hand-tossed thin crust pizza made from scratch. Sunsets viewed from tasting room overlooking the vineyard are nothing short of spectacular.
Cultivating estate grown Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Menseng, and Chardonnay on mostly Southern sloping hillsides. Recently canned in 12oz pop-tops was Parker-Binns kan-gria and hard apple cider. Parker-Binns features a large barn-themed tasting room, which is nestled on higher ground overlooking the vineyards. The barn offers exceptional mountain views and a large wrap-around bar plus an expansive green area for the weekend wine loving crowd to socially spread. Several wines are named after the vineyard rescue dog Lulu.
Overmountain Vineyards is a family owned 70-acre farm with 18 acres under vine in the Green Creek community. Owner and winemaker Frank Lily and his daughter Sophia produce distinctive French style wines. The vineyard was first cultivated in 2000 and in the early days they did as most vineyards of the region, sell their harvest to Biltmore Estate Winery. The tasting room first opened back in 2010. Now with the Tryon Foothills wine movement in a full upswing, Overmountain Vineyards has greatly increased their own annual production of hand-crafted French-style estate grown wines. Frank studied Viticulture and Enology at Surry Community College and further apprenticed under the tutelage of Lee Griffin. Sophia Lily is currently studying to become a certified Master Sommelier.
The vineyard features eighteen acres under vine growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Petit Menseng. The Overmountain tasting room boast a distinctive “Sonoma” feel with its spacious front covered patio offering enchanting views of the rolling foothills. The patio steps lead to a beautiful lawn resting slightly above the Northern sloping vineyard. Nestled along the edge of the front vineyard is a firepit for those cool romantic evenings. Luxury villas tucked away behind the lower vineyard are available for overnight accommodations. The vineyard farm is guarded by majestic Great Danes Shamus and Maximus.
Mountain Brook Vineyards
The original root stock was planted in 2002 and the winery opened in 2012. Under new ownership in 2018, the winery embarked upon a grand redevelopment. This craft winery sits beautifully nestled atop one of the Tryon Foothills offering stunning mountain views. Approximately 7 acres under vine growing Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, plus a vineyard team that manages other local vineyards under the direction of esteemed winemaker Tim Crowe. Two distinct labels are produced. Mountain Brook wines are produced from either estate grown or local North Carolina produced fruit. Their Discovery Heights brand showcases fine wine produced from grape grown outside of North Carolina.
Mountain Brook wines have won awards from coast to coast. The winery features live music, charcuterie boards and local cheese, plus stunning 360-degree views from the wrap-around porch and exquisitely designed open-air patio. The grand improvements created beautifully manicured grounds, a new production facility, and remodeled tasting room that well reflect the award-winning quality of Mountain Brook wine. A large magnificent circular firepit just below the tasting room enhances your tasting experience on those cool weather evenings. The Club Cooper wine club named in honor of Cooper the vineyard Golden Labrador, allows members early access to new releases. Owners Jonathan and Vickie Redgrave stated, “we are honored and humbled to continue and build upon a legacy of warmth and hospitality in an incredible place.”
Russian Chapel Hills Winery
Russian Chapel Hills Winery cultivates 17 acres under vine, including the nine acres formerly known as Green Creek Vineyards. The winery is under the direction of Andrey Medvedev, who normally greets arriving guest with a smile. Russian Chapel is growing Chardonnay, Muscadine, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. The tasting room offers a wrap-around porch and grassy area under the shade of several large trees. A short walk through the vineyard takes you to the beautiful St. Anna Chapel which majestically overlooks the vineyard. The beautiful and authentic seventeenth century style St. Anna Chapel completed in 2011, is now a part of the Eastern Diocese of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.
The Grape Future
The future is budding in the Tryon Foothills for a grape resurgence. Each harvest leads to further planting, enhanced tasting room experiences, and refined award-winning wines. Recent NC Fine Wine showcase award winners include the 2015 Cabernet Franc, and the 2017 Merlot from Parker-Binns Vineyard plus the 2015 Chardonnay and the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from Mountain Brook Vineyards.
Mountain Brook Vineyards continues their expansion and renovations. Parker-Binns Vineyard is enhancing their landscaping and tasting room experience. Sophia at Overmount Vineyards is studying towards her Master Sommelier certification. Staffs at all the wineries continue gaining more experience and knowledge with each harvest and wine release. The deep-rooted vines are now maturing to produce some of the state’s highest quality fruit. The winemakers currently on staff at these four wineries have developed through extensive training and study a high level of impressive knowledge in the fields of viticulture and winemaking.
Now is the perfect time to discover this developing gem of a wine region. The wineries are amazingly beautiful, delightfully charming, and just minutes from the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Each offer in their own unique style the perfect party or wedding venue. Plan your getaway to discover the resounding new buzz about “Tyron Grape” and the four award-winning wineries of the Tryon Foothills.