Yesterday I met with Mark Terry and Lillian Kroustalis, winemaker and owner of Westbend Vineyards, respectively. As great luck would have it, the pair traveled east to Tarboro to taste me on six of their outstanding wines.
Westbend Vineyards is the first winery to plant vinifera in North Carolina. What is vinifera, you may ask? These are the quality wine grapes that make the wine we most often encounter in restaurants and wine stores. Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Sauvingon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz–these are all vinifera. What is not vinifera is Scuppernong, Muscadine and table grapes.
In the 1970’s, every winery or vineyard in North Carolina was planted with primarily Muscadine or clones of this grape. It was Lillian’s husband, Jack, who took the risk and planted wine grapes, or grapes that are sought after when it comes to drinking the nectar of the gods.
In my hunt to be more “local” and support sustainable agriculture as well as work at a restaurant where my husband diligently sources seasonal and local products, I feel it is my obligation to do the same with wine.
While I love to drink Spanish, French, Chilean, Californian, you name it, I also love eating at restaurant where their beverages reflect the locals’ as well. In On the Square’s case, we offer a delicious white wine called Magnolia White from Ventosa Estates in Scotland Neck that is made from Muscadine, and it absolutely delightful with Sweet Potato Ravioli, Pecan Pie and Carrot Cake. We also offer a Mead by the glass that is dessert in itself. Mead is a wine made from honey, and this one is made by Barry Hines in Macclesfield.
However, I have come to the realization that local wine can mean expanding to the rich, wonderful vineyards a little further west of my small town of Tarboro.
For those of you who do not know yet, North Carolina is making great wine, and Westbend Vineyards is a fantastic example. In fact, this weekend, I am pouring their unoaked Chardonnay and their Merlot by the glass. If you stop in, ask me about their different bottlings, and I’ll be happy to open their Chambourcin, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Cabernet as well. They are absolutely delicious, and I am proud of their representation on our humble wine list.
When dining out, I think it says a lot about the establishment when they recognize their neighbors. North Carolina is a broad state, but we are still close knit. Restaurateurs and wine clerks abound, get to know these wines of ours. It is important to support their efforts and introduce them to tourists from other places. I am looking forward to tasting more and more wines from North Carolina and adding them to our ever growing cellar.