Being a native Californian like my mom, I grew up with California wines that my parents still prefer to this day. As a college graduation gift, they gave me a membership to the California Wine Club, which started my journey to becoming passionate about wine beyond just drinking it. When I moved to Virginia I was surprised to learn about the wine industry and as I’ve been writing about, I love so many VA wines. I was skeptical about the Yadkin Valley wineries in North Carolina but when I was offered a chance to explore them I couldn’t say no. I had one North Carolina wine when I first moved to VA and was out to dinner with one of my best friends. We’d ordered an NC Sauvignon Blanc. I wasn’t overly impressed but remember thinking it wasn’t terrible.
I was excited to start my North Carolina wine experience at Westbend Vineyards located in Lewisville. The winery released its first commercial wine in 1988 and grows its grapes on 60 acres of land that seem to go on forever. Driving in was gorgeous and I fell in love with the large outdoor seating and different views of the vineyard. Walking in, we were greeted and offered a tour of the winery with another couple that had just finished tasting. I wasn’t about to turn that down and I enjoyed learning the history of the winery.
Back in the tasting room, it was time to start tasting my first round of North Carolina wines. In total I tasted 12 wines and was surprised at what ended up being my favorites. I began the tasting with the 08 Viognier that was recently released and aged in stainless steel. It was a gorgeous pale yellow in the glass. On the palate I tasted apricot and pears with a clean, refreshing finish. I enjoyed this wine and it was a perfect one for the hot day outside. Up next was the 08 Sauvignon Blanc, which caught my interest when on the nose I got grapefruit. On the palate I tasted melon and lemon with some acidity and a clean finish. Those looking for a nice Sauvignon Blanc and not much Grapefruit should give this wine a try. I had the 09 Riesling next and it was a tad too sweet for my palate. However, it’s a well-done wine for those who like that. The First in Flight was poured last for my whites and it was the surprise white for me. This wine is a blend of 68% Seyval Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 2% Riesling and is around 2% in residual sugar. I have delicious written twice on my tasting sheet. It was perfect for a hot summer day.
Reds were next and here’s where my curiosity really came alive. I’m a big red girl and had no idea what to expect. We started with the 08 Chambourcin and I admit I was a little nervous. I got pepper and blackberry on the nose and on the palate it was smooth, elegant with plenty of dark fruit, a touch of spice and blueberry on the finish. I loved the soft tannins and it was a delightful introduction to North Carolina reds. The 07 Merlot was next and I learned that like Virginia, 2007 was a great year for NC. This was a medium-bodied red with black cherries and a slight smokiness. Overall it was delightful. I have a huge smiley face on my tasting sheet for the 06 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is full, smooth, lots of dark fruit, great structure and a long finish. We then tasted the 07 Reserve “Les Seurs” Cabernet Sauvignon, which took the 06 to a next level. Delicious is written three times next to this wine and yes, that means it’s a big red with a long, smooth finish. We finished the red wine tasting with the Cabernet Franc and Vintners Signature. The Vintners Signature is a blend of 22% Cabernet Franc, 68%Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. I got raisons on the nose and cloves on the palate. The finish was velvety and this wine made me hungry. I can think of numerous dinners I’d pair this with. I loved the Cab Franc.
The tasting ended meeting with the owner who showed us a book of labels over the years starting with the first in 1988. I love looking at stuff like that so it was awesome to gain insight on the changes and feedback that influenced the labels currently on the bottles. We were also fortunate to catch up with Mark Terry, the winemaker who got us to taste the dessert wine as well as a sparking wine. Both were delicious. But the sparking, a Blanc de Noir, really stood out.
For my first North Carolina vineyard I can’t think of a better place to have started. The people at Westbend were friendly, knowledgeable and the atmosphere was happy and relaxing. I can’t wait to go back to enjoy a glass of wine outside with a picnic. There’s no doubt that North Carolina, like Virginia, is a hidden gem on this side of the country. This winery is worth a visit and has a wine for every palate.