Over A Glass: Medaloni Cellars blends wine with hospitality

Joey Medaloni - Medaloni Cellars North Carolina.jpg
We love it when we get wine drinkers. We don’t need to have 2,000 people at an event. We don’t need tons of awards in our tasting room. I’d rather gain 5 loyal people a week than have them come out just to party.
— Joey Medaloni, owner and winemaker at Medaloni Cellars

By Dathan Kazsuk and Jennifer Primrose

When you get to know Joey Medaloni, you soon come to realize that he marches to the beat of a different drummer – and that’s not a bad thing. From his opinions on winning awards to admitting the lack of education he had in the wine world before buying the property which is now Medaloni Cellars, Joey Medaloni is here to plant his footprint along the vines of Yadkin Valley.

The North Carolina native, who never touched a drop of alcohol until he was in his early 30s, lived most of his adulthood in the nightclub and restaurant business. But it was when he learned that North Carolina was a prime location to both grow and produce wine, he became fascinated with the whole concept. With no wine making experience and no chemistry background, he decided to give this new task a shot. “I had no wine making experience other than the trial and error experience," Medaloni says, sitting in a chair during the opening weekend of the winery’s patio tasting room. With a breezy Carolina wind and crystal clear blue sky, he talks about his path into wine making.

“Westbend Winery was showing me some stuff behind the scenes. I was also going to a couple classes in California,” he says. “Mark Terry was making the wine at the time and he opened my eyes to a whole lot of stuff that really changed our wine making style.” Terry taught Medaloni the ins and outs from crafting up an average tasting Chardonnay to making a very good Chardonnay. “When we first opened, all we were making was a Chardonnay, and whatever red we happened to buy that year.”

Medaloni Cellars opened its doors in 2012 with limited tastings and went full-swing the following year. The winery sits on 22-acres of land with two tasting rooms, 1.5 miles of walking trails and 5 acres of vines planted. “Most of the fruit we do is in the Swan Creek-area. We also work with Chuck (Johnson) and Dana (Acker)," he says. Close to 50 percent of Medaloni’s fruit comes from the vineyards of Shadow Springs and Windsor Run in the Swan Creek AVA. 

While learning about wine in California, Medaloni learned the basic chemistry behind wine making as well as how to preserve and store wines correctly. “Then one day, I bumped into a guy on a flight, and we hit it off and he took me under his wing.”

That guy was Markus Niggli of Borra Vineyards and Markus Wine Company. The Swiss-born wine maker founded his winery in 2014 and has already received many accolades as well as a featured appearance in a 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast. Niggli produces small production wines and ended up being a great mentor and friend to Medaloni, who eventually went on to collaborate a few wines together. 

The two first collaborated on the 2015 Markus Joey Insieme. A blend of 95 percent Torrontes from Silvaspoons Vineyard in California and 5 percent Traminette from Cain Vineyards in North Carolina. Italian for “together,” the Insieme would come to represent a blending of East Coast and West Coast winemakers, something Medaloni admits is the first of its kind. Medaloni says that collaborations can be a rather rare thing due to that longtime adage about having too many cooks in the kitchen. 

“You usually have some big winemaker names, but typically they don’t even get along long enough to stay in the same room,” he says. “You have people like Jay (Raffaldini) and JW (Ray) doing it here, but these are usually just few and far between.” In the beer world, collaborations are going on among brewers and breweries left and right.  Almost every day you see another post on social media that someone is brewing with someone else. And that brings together some great tastes. But as far as Joey sees it, the two worlds are completely different. “Beer is more of a recipe. You got to be able to learn to follow that recipe,” he says. But with wine, on the other hand, there is merging of two winemakers. 

“When you put two guys together that probably means that one guy is better than the other. And somebody is going to have to give up some secrets. Someone will have to show the other the magic behind the scenes,” he states.

Joey Medaloni talks to a group of people during a collaboration release with Markus Niggli.

Joey Medaloni talks to a group of people during a collaboration release with Markus Niggli.

MISTAKES LED TO SUCCESS 

Some of Joey Medaloni’s biggest mistakes have become some of his biggest assets. That sounds like a strange statement, but he’s quick to bless that fact. “When you drink our wine, there are no chemicals, no nothing in it. It’s just wine. Because I don’t know how to do that chemical stuff,” he says. A lot of his success also goes back to Niggli in the early days and the little tips he learned. “Markus basically told me all those books you buy about wine – just throw them all in the trash can.” 

It's never fun to have to drain pour bottles of wine, and in the early days, Medaloni had to do just that. Shipments of his Chardonnay, the winery's flagship wine, went bad. There was a lot of science mumbo-jumbo as to why the wine went belly up, but the wine went out to wine club members and out to restaurants. A total of 180 cases, or a little over 2,000 bottles. "We had to get in touch with our barrel club members and the restaurants and get everything back. This is our name attached to the wine, and we only want to release what is the best." 

Today the winery produces a total of 13 wines. From its dry reds such as the 2015 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon to the Carignan which it files under its Flight Series, Medaloni Cellars is making wines that draw in the big crowds every week. 

“We’re the leaders in entertainment,” he says. “It’s really hard to beat Medaloni Cellars at its own game.” He is very adamant when he mentions that the winery was one of the first in the area to bring in live music. To him, Medaloni Cellars isn’t just a winery, it’s a place where people come to unwind and not want to leave. They encourage people to go eat at many of the great local restaurants around the area to support small businesses. It’s one of the reasons he says that they only have food trucks once a week or why they don’t have a restaurant onsite. 

It’s also another reason you don’t see many bottles of Medaloni Cellars in grocery stores. “We only like to sell to local wine shops and restaurants,” he says. But there is one exception. One day he was approached by Tim Lowe, president of Winston-Salem’s Lowes Foods, who wanted to carry Medaloni’s brand in the grocery chain. And just like that, Lowe took a total of 180 cases of wine to distribute in Lowes Foods. 

It all seems to be flowing in the right direction for Medaloni at this current time. Great wine, great mentors, a nice location to call home in the Yadkin Valley. What else can you ask for? “We love it when we get wine drinkers. We don’t need to have 2,000 people at an event. We don’t need tons of awards in our tasting room. I’d rather gain 5 loyal people a week than have them come out just to party.”