Blowing Rock Winterfest: Wine tasting at Green Park Inn
By Dathan Kazsuk
It’s probably one our favorite places to stay while in Blowing Rock – the Green Park Inn. We’re both big into history and this historic inn has been part of western Carolina since 1891. It’s actually one of the last grand manor hotels and the state’s second oldest operating resort hotel.
And this is where we find ourselves on this dreary, raining afternoon in Blowing Rock. We sat in the front lobby getting some work done prior to Winterfest’s annual wine tasting and auction. Jen’s taking notes on the laptop of our previous night, while on the iPad, I check out our daily page views for the day. It’s around 2 p.m. and we have an hour before the tasting actually takes place. One by one we start seeing the wineries and distributors make their way through the white double doors of the hotel. Set up has commenced.
The old hotel baggage cart, which has seen better days, is going above and beyond helping the vendors situate wine in either the tea room, library or the inn’s history museum. The lobby starts to fill up. The mix of vendors and wine drinkers start to blend together. You can see the anticipation start to build. We’re going to have an incredible January, I think to myself, page view wise. And then simultaneously we sense someone approach us.
As we both look up, we notice that Diana Jones, co-owner of Jones von Drehle has caught us hard at work. Well, by this time I was done working and actually playing Ballz on the iPad. “Hey guys. Nice to see you here,” Jones says. She knew we were in town, as a few Instagram and Facebook comments made that clear. She had more setting up to do, so our talk was short, but promised to catch up once the tasting was in full swing. T-minus 15 minutes and counting.
By this time we already had our green wristbands on, and decided to check in to receive our wine glasses. We also picked up our wine tasting guide and looked it over. Jones von Drehle. Linville Falls. Banner Elk Winery. Grandfather Vineyards. All ones we’ve been to in the past. In the distribution world, Tryon and Fine Wine Trading were here as well. It’s nice having NC wines, but it’s also good to sample nectar from other parts of the world.
We formed a game plan, which we usually do for any tastings or events. We are usually very organized and efficient when it comes to things like this.
We decided to start towards the back, while everyone else hits up the tea room and museum first. And that paid off for us. It was still around 10 minutes before the tasting was to officially begin, but the women over at Linville Falls were already set up and ready to pour. So it begins.
Beginning with the Riesling we made our way through the three wines Linville Falls had to offer. The other two being a Merlot and a sweet blackberry wine. Out of the three we both preferred the blackberry as our favorite, but from there, Jen thought the Riesling was second, while I put it behind the Merlot. But everything we tasted was pretty good.
Our next stop was suppose to be Fine Wine Trading Company, since they were set up in the library as well, but since the guy wasn't ready yet, we thought it was time to go talk to Diana. There we tried the four wines she was pouring – a white, a rosé and two reds, including the recent award-winning Cabernet Franc. There was no need to take any notes here, since we haven't had a wine produced by this winery that we didn't like – maybe that explains why we are wine club members.
Next, as far as North Carolina wines go, we paid a visit to Grandfather Vineyards, Lake James Cellars and finally Banner Elk Winery. Each winery offered up four to five samples for drinkers to try. There were some hits and misses in sampling all these wines – at least for us. Grandfather's Vidal Blanc was a nice semi-dry white that we both enjoyed, but we thought the reds tasted a tad too tart and had an almost "chemical" aftertaste that didn't settle well with us. At Banner Elk we liked the white blend and thought the blueberry wine was the best of the bunch. We really wanted to like the Cabernet Sauvignon (one of our favorite varietals), but thought the wine poured from the bottle tasted more like fruit punch.
Our next stop was at the Wine to Water table. We were slightly familiar with the concept behind this nonprofit charity, as we've had contact with them in the past back in Raleigh. So it was nice to see them at Green Park pouring a collection of wines that included a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. All the grapes were donated to the organization from California to help makes these wines. Our favorite here was the Zin. We decided to pick up some more info on the organization, since we think this could be a great fundraising event for the wine club we manage back at home.
We followed Wine to Water up with the two distributors – Fine Wines and Tryon. At Fine Wine we sampled the 2015 Antucura Malbec and Klinker Brick Tranzind. Both were nice bold red wines that left the right amount of dark fruit, tannins and spice on the tongue. Although both were good, we both agreed that the Klinker Brick was our favorite here.
As we made our way over to the museum room to try what Tryon had to offer, we knew we were going to come across a problem. Either this was just the popular room or maybe the room was just too small – but a mass crowd of people were stationary in the middle of the room. And if that wasn't enough, a couple gentlemen anchored themselves right in front of the servers, not moving a muscle until they were done with the 7 wines. Hey all, it's called "wine tasting etiquette 101." While you are sipping on that wine in your glass and you feel that breath of hot air on the back of your neck as people wait behind you to taste as well – move over to the side!
Due to a few of these non-considerate souls, we were not able to finish the entire collection of wines that day. But we did try some of the better reds that were being poured. The Areyna Malbec was a good wine, and we were told that this wine won't be hitting bottle shops here in North Carolina until sometime in mid-February. But our favorite was the Elouan Pinot Noir from Oregon. Elouan is the idea of Chuck Wagner's son, Joe. And if you are unfamiliar with the Wagner family and its long line of fine wines – let me hit you with a couple words: Caymus. Conundrum. Mer Soleil. To name a few.
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Finally it was time to hit up the only distillery that was there for the tasting – Asheville's H&H Distilling.
They supplied small thimble-size samples of two of the distilleries products, a gin and a rum. I love my rum, and this Hazel 63 Rum was pretty good, but the Hwy. 9 Gin was the bomb. And I'm not a fan of the taste of Juniper berries, but this was the perfect fusion of berries, lime and other spices that made this one of the highlights of my tasting.
Next came the fun and exciting live auction part of the evening. We have been a part of Winterfest's past – at least 3 other times – and we usually walk away with something to replenish our inventory. In previous years a huge assortment of bitters, sparkling wines and California reds have made the trek from Blowing Rock back to Raleigh. So we were anxious to see what was in store for us this year.
With our wine glasses filled, courtesy of a bottle we had in our upstairs room, we grabbed a paddle and waited for the auction to begin. A total of 30 lots were ready for the highest bidder. We were actually seated next to a couple from Raleigh, and decided not to bid against one another. We did have one caveat ... if one of us won the bid for the private in-home wine and Riedel seminar for 10 ... we had to invite the others. Deal. But that was short lived as this lot went for a lot more than both of us were comfortable spending.
Other items that went to the highest bidders included a magnum of 2012 Burly Cabernet Sauvignon; a 90 points-plus California wine package that included Robert Foley, Andrew Murray, Klinker Brick and Burly; and a 3-night stay at Palm Coast Villas in Florida. This is the first time since we've been coming to Winterfest that we didn't walk out of the auction with an item. But we had a great time as always.
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