ALBEMARLE — The Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation will host its11th annual Stanly Winter Wine Festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Feb. 29. The event, which highlights area wineries, will be held at Market Station, which is at 100 Railroad St. in Albemarle.
There are 13 wineries participating, according to the event’s website, including three from Stanly County — Dennis Vineyards, Stony Mountain Vineyards and Uwharrie Vineyards, all based in Albemarle.
Lauren Hutchins, who handles public relations for Dennis Vineyards, told SCJ that they’ve been involved in the event since the first year it was put on, and that it’s an important showcase for the growing industry. Named after founder Pritchard Dennis, Dennis Vineyards is Stanly County’s oldest winery, turning 23 years old in March of 2020.
“It’s definitely a good show,” Hutchins said. “We’ve done it since the beginning and it’s gotten bigger every year, with more participants as far as vendors as well as guests coming. More than anything it helps draw awareness to the fact that little old Stanly County does have some wineries. And so it helps bring tourism to the area, which is always important.”
Stony Mountain Vineyards, another Stanly County winery which started around the same time as Dennis Vineyards, has also been coming since the festival’s first year.
Stony Mountain Vineyards owner and winemaker, Ken Furr, told SCJ they do about 20 festivals a year, “and this always been a pretty good one for us.”
“We look at the festivals as our form of advertising,” Furr said, and with most of the customer base in Charlotte and the surrounding areas, it has been effective in expanding their pool of potential buyers.
Both winemakers say things have definitely changed over the years as the North Carolina wine industry has grown.
“It seems to have changed in that people are becoming more and more sophisticated about wine,” Furr said. “A festival like this gives you an opportunity to come and taste all kinds of different wines — sweet or dry — and begin to develop your palate. It’s a great opportunity to visit a lot of wineries in one place and try a lot of different varieties.”
Hutchins said a change she is noticing is an increase in wine tourism, even from people traveling a greater distance to get there.
“There are a lot of people who come into our tasting room here who are from out of state and they just came here to taste our wines; they’re on a wine trail kind of thing,” she said. “So I have seen over the years that it is changing and is becoming more of a destination here for wineries.”
Hutchins, in agreement with Furr, said not only is the festival fun, but it’s a learning experience for consumers. They often show up not knowing exactly which types of wines appeal to them, and by the end, they are better educated on what is out there and can more confidently purchase wine.
Most wineries in central and eastern North Carolina grow exclusively muscadine grapes, which generally produce a sweet, fruity wine. While Dennis Vineyards grows exclusively muscadine on their 12 acres of vineyards, Stony Mountain Vineyards initially tried to grow a wider variety of grapes. The bold experiment ended up hitting a dead-end when deer from nearby Morrow Mountain State Park and Uwharrie National Forest could not be kept away. Furr said, “We finally had to surrender to the deer.”
A healthy benefit of the traditionally Southern muscadine wines is their high levels of resveratrol, a chemical well-known for its antioxidant cancer-fighting properties, as well as for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Those coming to the festival will have more options to choose from beyond the sweet, fruity Southern varieties though. Wineries, like Dennis Vineyards and Stony Mountain Vineyards, import grapes from other regions to be able to offer a wider variety of wines.
As Furr told SCJ, “They ship the grapes in and we make the wine.”
They offer 19 wines, including pinot noir, syrah, pinot grigio, merlot and others that require imported grapes. Furr said they partner with farmers in Pennsylvania, New York and California to get the right grapes for their wines.
Dennis Vineyards also produce the dry and European wines that some see as more sophisticated than the sweet Southern wines. “We also do some fruit wines and some European varieties — drys all the way up to super sweet,” Hutchins said.
Uwharrie Vineyards, Stanly County’s third winery, also produces wines beyond what can be produced with local muscadine grapes, including a riesling and a chardonnay.
The annual event will also have entertainment and food available for those in attendance.
Tickets are available for $25 at GloryBeans CoffeeHouse, LaTDah Boutique, Starnes Jewelers, and McRae Jewelers to those of legal drinking age.