Sanctuary Vineyards crafts award-winning wines in Jarvisburg

Sanctuary Vineyards has won many awards for its different wines.

Sanctuary Vineyards has won many awards for its different wines.

By Jennifer Primrose

When you think of the Carolina coast, what do you usually think of? The blue skies? The sun and the sand? Maybe even laying down a blanket along one of its many beaches? But you probably don't think too much about Carolina wine, do you?

If you follow our adventures, you know that we prefer the mountains over the coast, so we rarely make it out to the beach as often as we should – and when it comes down to North Carolina wineries around the coast, the common perception is that they're all sweet wines.

A few years ago, we started hearing about a winery on the coast named Sanctuary Vineyards – and that they were producing European-style viniferous wines. This not only came as a mystery to me, but almost a slight obsession ... to one day make it out to the coast to check out this winery.

In 2016, while attending the Raleigh Food & Wine Festival, we were finally able to sample the wines produced by Sanctuary. I was honestly shocked, as it was not what I would normally expect to taste from a coastal winery. In fact, following our recent trip to Sanctuary, a good friend even said to me, "Surely they get their grapes elsewhere!" But that's not entirely the case. We have always been told that the only grapes that do well on the coast is Muscadine. And again, if you know us, you'll know that we're personally not fans of our sweet grape that calls North Carolina home.

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I find it rather surprising that it took us basically a year-and-a-half since we first tried Sanctuary's wines at the food festival, until earlier this month to go check them out. But we finally decided to hop in the car for what became a whirlwind day trip on a rainy Saturday to pay them a visit. Once we reached our destination, we were greeted by the winery's tasting room manager, Elton Singletary.

Elton informed us that general manager and vineyard manager, John Wright, will be meeting us shortly, as he was doing some work out in the nearby vineyard. Prior to our arrival, we reached out to John to see if he'll be available to chat with us, and show us around.

While we waited for John's arrival, Singletary treated us to a reserve tasting of roughly 6 wines with very generous pours. We tried everything from an Abarino to a Orange Viognier. We sampled the Double Barrel – an estate grown blend of 50 percent Tannat and 50 percent Petit Verdot, which was incredible. We even learned about a grape we had never heard of before – the Aglianico, a black grape typically grown in the southern regions of Italy. Along with those wines, we also tried The Pearl, the winery's top-seller. The Pearl is 100 percent Albarino, and a winner of a gold medal at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition.

Almost as soon as our tasting concluded, John made his way in from the vineyard and behind the tasting room counter to greet us. After a short conversation, and sampling a few more wines, the three of us hopped into John's Toyota truck and viewed the property – from the Currituck Sound on one side, to the North River on the other.

On the North River side of the property, John showed us some of the young vines, whose fruit won't be seeing the crush pad anytime soon, as well as a plot of land which they hope to grow more grapes on in the future. 

On the Currituck Sound side, he drives us towards the rear of the property where he shows us the location where the Vineyard Voyage arrives after a six-mile ride across the Currituck Sound to Sanctuary Vineyards. The Vineyard Voyage is a boat tour conducted by Outer Banks Boat Tours. Once docked here, guests are transported on an open air 4x4 safari vehicle to the vineyard for a wine tasting experience sure to please.

For more information on the Vineyard Voyage, click here.

All this was going on while trying not to jump out of our skins every time the propane cannons randomly fire to deter the birds from eating the grapes.

And still wondering how almost 25 acres of grapes can grow along the coast, John explains how the marine climate and sandy soil actually helps with the grape growing. He kicked his heel into the soil several times for us to reach down and rub the sand between our fingers – even in the middle of a rainy day, the soil remained dry.

The history of Sanctuary Vineyards, or at least its property dates back hundreds of years, with several generations of Wrights' living on the property. As far as the winery goes, Sanctuary was established back in 2001, beginning with a single Muscadine vine. Today the property grows an assortment of varietals which include everything from Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, Norton, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, as well as others mentioned earlier.

There are around 2.5 acres of brand new Pinot Noir growing, which is expected to mature by 2019 and start their journey from crush pad to bottles, while the Tannet is looking to make it big in the next year or so. We were given a lot of information on our tour, and the one thing I noticed is the passion and pride John has for his business. His heart is in it, and we can only imagine what the future holds for the winery.

After arriving back at the winery, John let us taste an experimental wine that won't be released to the public for at least another year. With a great experience we had on this rainy afternoon, we left the winery with four bottles to bring home: The Triangle, the Orange Viognier (a rosé which will be added to our summer blog series, Rosé and Sorbet), and a bottle of the Morton.

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In all, even though the rain did slightly invade our parade, we had a fantastic time, and the hospitality was simply amazing. We would recommend visiting Sanctuary Vineyards the next time you are vacationing or passing through the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

After a tour of the vineyard, John Wright, takes a photo with us.

After a tour of the vineyard, John Wright, takes a photo with us.