A day or weekend exploring the best North Carolina wine trails is a great way to spend time together. You can enjoy each other’s company while tasting delicious NC wines, admiring some of the most beautiful scenery our state offers. Here, we highlight the best North Carolina wine trails, featuring wineries in close proximity to each other which can be visited in a day or a weekend.
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Each North Carolina winery offers something unique. Some wineries charge for wine tasting, others do not. Some use plastic cups, some glassware. Some wineries offer curated tours, led by the owners or a sommelier, others just pour and let you experience on your own. Likewise, the food offerings at each vary, from allowing you to bring your own to food trucks to serving crafted local offerings. You’ll want to check each winery website in advance.
Because of their outside spaces and gorgeous views, wineries are best visited in the spring, summer, and fall. Recognized as NC Wine and Grape Month, September celebrates all North Carolina’s wine industry. Look for special celebrations and festivals with a vineyard visit and you may be surprised with a grape stomp!
What’s the difference between a winery and a vineyard?
As you look at descriptions, you’ll see the terms “winery” and “vineyard” used throughout. A vineyard grows the grapes while a winery makes the wine. A vineyard doesn’t necessarily make its own wine. A winery doesn’t necessarily grow its own grapes. Hopefully, this tip will help you
show off to explain the difference to your friends the next time you see “winery” or “vineyard” in a name.
North Carolina Wine Trails to Visit
The largest wine-growing region of the state lies in the Yadkin Valley, outside Winston-Salem, home to several wine trails. But they aren’t the only ones! Here are some of the best NC wine trails for you to explore:
Surry County Wine Trail
Located in the Yadkin Valley, the Surry County Wine Trail is the most densely populated of all the wine trails on this list with sixteen wineries in and around Dobson, Elkin, Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain, you will need multiple weekends to do the area justice.
Recommended Winery: The winery that pushed for Yadkin Valley to be North Carolina’s first American Viticultural Area in 2003, Shelton Vineyards. Started by two brothers, Shelton Vineyards is one of the largest vineyards on the East Coast and grows about ten kinds of grapes. Their property features a small lake and walking paths. The vineyard has its own restaurant, the Harvest Grill, winning USA Today Readers’ Choice award.
What to Try: Lots of award-winning wines to choose from here! Try the Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Port.
Where to Stay: The Hampton Inn & Suites at Shelton Vineyards, of course! It is the only hotel in the chain featuring a wine bar open nightly from 5 to 10 pm.
East Bend Wine Trail
The Yadkin Valley East Bend Wine Trail features wineries located along the Yadkin River, to the northwest of Winston-Salem. This trail includes five wineries that feature a llama farm, miniature horses, and an organic vegetable farm.
Recommended Winery: We couldn’t resist – Divine Llama Vineyards. A winery and the largest llama farm in the southeast combine for this unique experience. Book a weekend two-mile trek with your four-legged pal, stopping for photo ops along the way. Divine Llama offers eleven wines from four grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonel, and Traminette).
What to Try: With several award-winning wines in their collection, there are plenty of options to choose from. Sticking with the llama theme, try the Red Rita Rosé, a light, crisp wine with notes of strawberry and mandarin orange named after the matriarch of the llama herd.
Where to Stay: The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in Winston-Salem earns all the reviews. Recognized as one of the South’s best hotels by Southern Living, the building served as the architectural muse for the Empire State Building. Just make sure you’re back in time for the daily 5 pm wine hour. Or spend some time in the adult playground themed rec room featuring a slide, basketball, bowling alley, or ping pong. Plus you’ll be centrally located to enjoy all the city has to offer.
Swan Creek Wine Trail
Technically part of the Yadkin Valley, the Swan Creek Wine Trail loops about 31 miles about 35 minutes from Winston-Salem with six wineries, though four of them are within five miles of each other. Those on bicycles will want to try the Tour de Vino, a challenging ride along the rolling hills. Plus it’s only about an hour from Greensboro and Charlotte.
Recommended Winery: Find a piece of Italy in North Carolina at the Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. Known for their Italian red wines, Raffaldini hosts a Festa Italiana every September. As you drive up to their main building, you’d think you were approaching a Tuscan villa. Their patio boasts beautiful views of beautiful mountains and vineyards.
What to Try: Pinot Grigio or Bella Misto (a red blend) – fans of Italian wines will feel transported to the Old Country.
Where to Stay: Frog Holler Cabins in Elkin. Return to one of five cabins with a hot tub or a fireplace after your wine trail exploration. Frog Holler even offers wine tours if you’d like to leave the driving to someone else, which can even accommodate groups of 12 in their van.
Shallow Ford Wine Trail
Twenty minutes west from Winston-Salem, four wineries can be found only minutes from each other. This historically important area during both the American and Civil War eras serves as the backdrop to the Shallow Ford Wine Trail.
Recommended Winery: Offering wine tours and tastings, Medaloni Cellars Winery & Vineyards also serves as a venue hosting events. Enjoy the sunset while watching the Blue Ridge mountains with a glass of your favorite Medaloni Cellars wine in your hand. Their fire pits and friendly atmosphere draw rave reviews.
What to Try: Chardonnay – all the whites are popular but the Chardonnay receives high praise.
Where to Stay: An alternative to the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel listed above is Pandora’s Manor, a boutique inn oozing Southern hospitality. Each of the six bedrooms was designed by a high-profile interior designer. Enjoy modern luxury in a restored antique home.
Uwharrie Mountains Wine Trail
Located in Stanly County, on the way to Uwharrie National Forest, heading northeast from Charlotte, three wineries form the Uwharrie Mountains Wine Trail. The vineyards here grow a mix of grapes, from the local muscadine to the traditional European varieties.
Recommended Winery: Family owned Dennis Vineyards uses the muscadine, the traditional native southern grape, to create a variety of wines of varying sweetness levels. As one of the oldest vineyards in the state, their experience has broadened their flavors to include fruity and French varieties. This winery is best for lovers of sweet wines. Enjoy sitting on the large patio overlooking the rows of vines.
What to Try: Carlos Sweet, the grown-up version of eating sweet grapes fresh off the vine. Carlos is a smooth, light white muscadine.
Southern Gateway Wine Trail
Lexington, known for its Historic Barbecue Trail, claims the title of “Barbecue Capital of the World.” So the five wineries in Davidson County that form the Southern Gateway Wine Trail have shown that they too have earned international recognition.
Recommended Winery: NASCAR team owner Richard Childress’ signature vineyard and winery Childress Vineyards. Wine Enthusiast recognized Childress Vineyards as one of the top tasting rooms in America. The accolades continue with Open Table voting the onsite restaurant, Bistro, one of the Top 100 Scenic Restaurants in America. Their wines win awards, including twice having wines named to the 50 Best Wines of the World.
What to Try: Reserve Cabernet Franc or the Riesling. New for 2020, the vineyard offers both red and white Sangria!
Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lexington NW – The Vineyard located directly next door to Childress Vineyards. Request a room overlooking the vineyards.
Tryon Foothills Wine Country Trail
The mountains of eastern Polk county protect the crops, offering the longest growing season in North Carolina. This isothermal belt at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountain range has been home to vineyards since 1890! There are five wineries welcoming visitors near Tryon and Columbus, close to the South Carolina border, forming the Tryon Foothills Wine Country Trail.
Recommended Winery: Overmountain Vineyards creating French-style wines in the North Carolina foothills. The owners’ Great Danes will welcome you to the vineyards. Sit on the front porch sipping on your glass of wine while enjoying views of the hills.
What to Try: Petit Manseng, a dry white, though the sangria is popular in the summer heat.
Where to Stay: 1906 Pine Crest Inn in Tryon is a magical find. The Inn is perfect for couples and not too far from Lake Lure and Greenville.
Catawba Valley Wine Trail
Near Lake James State Park, visitors can find three vineyards with wineries, located just a few miles off I-40 between Marion and Morganton in Burke County. The rich soil creates ideal growing conditions worth the stop to these wineries comprising the Catawba Valley Wine Trail.
Recommended Winery: Visit the Silver Fork Winery near Morganton, not far from I-40. Sit back on an Adirondack chair, enjoying live music, overlooking rolling hills. Fans of French wines will find their happy place here.
What to Try: Nonsense Red Blend, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Where to Stay: Voted the best inn in the NC mountains several years in a row, The Inn at Glen Alpine is a must-experience property. Use it as your base not only for the wine trail but also to explore the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. Hike the Linville Gorge and visit Linville Falls, perhaps the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina.
Haw River Valley Wine Trail
Perhaps the longest of the wine trails on the list at 50 miles, the Haw River Valley Wine Trail is the easternmost of the NC wine trails. Trailing the Haw River forming an arc around Burlington, the Haw River Valley grape-growing region offers four wineries open to the public. Due to its proximity to Raleigh and Durham, the Haw River Valley Wine Trail is popular with visitors in the Triangle and easily accessible from I-40 and I-85.
Recommended Winery: Tucked away in Mebane, not far from all the outlets, lies Iron Gate Vineyards & Winery. As the only winery in Alamance county, Iron Gate transformed an abandoned tobacco farm into a vineyard. They adopted sustainable farming practices early on, placing them at the cutting edge of the movement. A weekend visit includes a tour of the processing center and a tasting experience.
What to Try: Chambourcin, a dry red wine blending flavors of oak, vanilla, a cherry finish with a touch of spice.
Where to Stay: Stay about 30 minutes away at the Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill. With convenient shuttle service to many locations in Chapel Hill, you can also explore this cute college town. This home away from home features a pool, tennis and basketball courts, and includes snack bars on each floor so you can enjoy popcorn while watching a movie in bed or a late-night ice cream snack.
Ridgeline Craft Beverage Trail
Traversing Gaston and Cleveland Counties, a short drive from Charlotte is the Ridgeline Craft Beverage Trail. Technically not an NC wine trail, but featuring two fantastic vineyards and wineries, it is worth a visit.
Recommended Winery: Veronet Vineyards & Winery, sip on a variety of wines while overlooking a panoramic view of Crowder Mountain and the Pinnacle. Offering eight wines in an elegant environment, including flights. The fancy charcuterie plate features local products and food trucks offer more substantial meals.
What to Try: Rosé (light and refreshing) or the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Where to Stay: Spend the weekend in nearby Shelby with small-town charm and strong music roots. Stay at Morgan and Wells, a cozy bed and breakfast. Offering an intimate experience with only five guest rooms, this is Southern hospitality at its best. Check out their special packages for a romantic, anniversary, or weekend package.
Wine Trail Etiquette
Designate a driver:
Choose someone ahead of time who will act as the designated driver or pay a service to drive you around. Pick out a bottle or two that you think the designated driver can enjoy once you get back home or to your hotel.
Clear your schedule:
North Carolina wine trails feature three to six wineries each. They are best enjoyed slowly, over a day or even a weekend. Plan on spending between 30 to 60 minutes at each winery between the tour and tasting. Add the time to get from one winery to another and you can see that you need at least a day to not feel rushed. Many tastings stop about an hour before closing time.
Have fun learning:
Tasting room personnel know their wines. This is your chance to ask questions about something they are passionate about — their wine! They can explain the different nuances of wine, how to pair it with food, why the same grape can taste different, etc. Think you don’t like red wines because you tried one you didn’t like five years ago? Here is your no-pressure opportunity to experiment with different flavors to discover what you like. Have fun!
Plan to eat:
Not every winery offers food and nothing spoils a wine trail trip than getting tipsy due to an empty stomach. Make sure to eat some food before embarking on your adventure. Plan the order of your stops taking into account which wineries offer food or bring your own snacks.
Leave the kids at home:
Wine tastings require your attention and time. Children need both. Make this an enjoyable and safe outing for yourself and other guests by leaving your children at home.
Final Thoughts on the Best North Carolina Wine Trails
North Carolina’s wine scene grows by leaps and bounds. While formerly everyone assumed that only muscadine grew here, more and more grapes varieties are being successfully cultivated to create some world-class wines. Grab a loved one and some friends and enjoy some or all of North Carolina’s wine trails.
Have you explored some of NC’s wine trails? Do you have a favorite?
Looking for more ways to explore in our great state? Check out these posts:
- The best lavender farms in NC you can visit
- A complete tour of all of NC’s lighthouses
- Can’t miss things to do in NC
- NC’s veteran-owned breweries
Annick, The Common Traveler