Raffaldini Vineyards, North Carolina

Raffaldini Vineyards, North Carolina
I’m standing on the terrace of an Italianate villa overlooking an ornate fountain in a piazza. Beyond, curving down a hill, are rows of vines gaining a golden edge in the autumn sun. I’m sipping a glass of Montepulciano made here from grapes grown on the hill. But I’m a very long way from Italy.

The villa is home to Ray Raffaldini and his family, who came from Mantua, in Lombardy, Italy where relatives, who still live and farm there, trace their ancestors back to 1348.

Raffaldini Vineyards is in North Carolina’s Swan Creek AVA, part of the Yadkin Valley wine region. There are five wineries close together in Swan Creek AVA, located between Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

I was keen to visit Raffaldini Vineyards because they have stayed close to their roots by growing the Italian varieties Sangiovese (6 acres), Montepulciano, Sagrantino (5 acres), Nero D’Avola (5 acres), for red wines and Pinot Grigio and Vermentino for white, as well as Malbec and Petite Verdot. More varieties are planted on a trial basis as they become available from quarantine and Raffaldini are the first vineyard in the United States to grow some varieties. They grow on 42 acres and can’t meet demand so they also buy in some grapes. All their own grapes are handpicked and they employ four full time workers.

I tasted

Pinot Grigio 2013 ($15)
This is blended with a little Petit Manseng. Pleasantly dry with some body.

Vermentino Reserva 2013 ($17)
15% of the grapes were dried before added to fermentation to intensify wine. Dry and crisp but I didn’t get much flavour.

Sangiovese Reserva 2012 $23
Tart cherry flavours, super food wine. This is the Brunello clone of Sangiovese. Ray Raffaldini says “all grapes for our red wines triple sorted: in the field, on arrival at the winery and then on a sorting table.”

Montepulciano Riserva 2012 $29
15% of the grapes were dried before added to fermentation. This is made from grapes from older vines than Raffaldini’s standard Montepulciano.
I really loved this wine with its intense berry flavours and crisp edge that makes this wine such a great match for tomato based past dishes.
Petite Verdot Passito 2014

As the name suggests, grapes are dried to concentrate intensity of fruit and sugar ratio, thus this is a big wine with sour cherry flavours and 15.5%. But it’s a work in progress, a tank sample that hasn’t yet gone to barrel. “Come back in two years and try it again”, invited Ray Raffaldini.

With State encouragement to move from tobacco growing to wine means there are redundant tobacco drying sheds ideal for drying grapes.

I was very impressed with Raffaldini. They’re going their own way by continuing the family winemaking traditions. Being there was like being magically transported to Italy. I bought two Montepulcianos: I'd havebought more if I could carry them home.


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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

Disclosure: Peter F May paid in full for all his travel, tastings and wines.

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