EXCLUSIVE: Best in Show NC Wineries Talk About Awards

TV personality Lisa Prince interviews one of the live judges during the best in show competition.

TV personality Lisa Prince interviews one of the live judges during the best in show competition.

The North Carolina State Fair is an event that North Carolinians look forward to each Fall. What's not to love? From the exhibits, rides and games to entertainment, animals and exploring the latest in deep fried foodie goodness. And we can't forget the competitions from 4-H to North Carolina wine. The State Fair has something for everyone. And this year, for the first time, the Best of Show wine competition was held live at the State Fair on Oct. 15. We, as well as fellow bloggers, The Wine Mouths, were on hand for this monumental event.

All wines entered were judged on their own on July 19 at Surry Community College. The top wines were then judged against each other in this blind Best in Show tasting. There were three categories: 

  • Bunch Grape

  • Muscadine Grape

  • Fruit & Honey

The winning wines were reached by unanimous decision by the NC State Fair Best of Show judges, who were as follows:

  • Henk Schuitemaker, certified sommelier, beverage director at Angus Barn Restaurant

  • Dan Carroll, NCSU viticulture, retired – co-founder of the NC State Fair Wine Competition

  • Scheryl McDavid, American wine society certified wine judge

  • Alex Ancuta, American wine society certified wine judge

We arrived shortly before the judging was to begin as the audience of winemakers, winery managers and representatives were on hand nervously awaiting the final decision. Mingling in the crowd were employees from Windsor Run, Shadow Springs, Piccione, Carolina Heritage and Adams Vineyards.

The Best Bunch Grape Wine, or vinifera and hybrids, if you will, went to Thurmond’s Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery. Co-owner Diana Jones, as well as the winery’s local Raleigh representative Jenny Miles were inside the education building at the NC State Fair for the live judging.

The wine that brought home Best in Show was the winery’s 2013 Steel & Stone, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. “Our wines have won many awards, but this is our first NC Best in Show. That made it quite special,” said Jones. “We have a small, fantastic team that works exceptionally hard, and for all of them to see their efforts rewarded is extremely fulfilling.”

Jones was also in Raleigh on Oct. 11 for the North Carolina Fine Wine Society’s food and wine pairing at Buku, where she showcased the 2012 Petit Verdot Reserve with braised pork cheeks prepared by Buku’s executive chef Amanda Haisley.

Jones von Drehle Steel & Stone.JPG

Thurmond, N.C.’s Jones von Drehl won Best in Show for its 2013 Steel & Stone, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon

The second award handed out that afternoon was for Best Muscadine Grape Wine, which went to Cypress Bend Vineyards out of Wagram.

“This is the second cup for our Catherine and the fifth cup from the State Fair,” says Cypress Bend’s president and owner, Tina Smith. “I believe we are the only winery in the state to have earned 5 best cups for Muscadine wines,” she reflects.

The winning wine, Catherine, is a semi-sweet white Muscadine that is full of fruit but with a robust aroma. Tasting this wine will give you a mouthful of peaches and pineapple.

Smith believes that the wines produced from Cypress Bend are a true essence of our states native grape. She wants everyone to know that the Muscadine grape has so many beautiful characteristics and aromas that can truly be enhanced when using the proper yeast and fermentation procedures. A lot of that falls on Nadia Hetzel, the winery’s head winemaker. “Nadia Hetzel is a highly skilled and professionally trained winemaker that holds her engineering degrees in viticulture and enology from Germany,” says Smith. And that comes across in her treatment – wines that are true art and science.

Rounding out the Best in Show was the Fruit & Honey Wine award which went to Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards in Hendersonville. The winery won for its blackberry wine, Home Place. Winery manager Barbara Walker was pleased to be recognized as the best fruit wine in the state. “This was the second year in a row for one of our blackberry wines,” she says. “In 2017 we won this category for our Chestnut Gap Cottage, and this year’s winner is the Home Place, a semi-dry, 100 percent blackberry (wine).”

Walker says after finding out they won, her first call was to winemaker Stephen Rigby to thank him for all the hard work. Home Place really hits close to home, as all the berries come from Henderson County courtesy of M&M Berry Farm, operated by Mike Pack.

With the holidays upon us, Walker informs us of the upcoming sparkling blackberry wine, which she says is “a great wine to use to celebrate the holidays and to bring in the New Year.” We would have to agree, and during our next visit to Hendersonville in November – we’ll be picking up bottles of both.

Piccione Vineyard's tasting room manager, Hailey Klepcyk (left) talks with Flavor, NC's Lisa Prince.

Piccione Vineyard's tasting room manager, Hailey Klepcyk (left) talks with Flavor, NC's Lisa Prince.