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Grape Expectations: Wineries launch inaugural festival

Henderson County's fledgling wine industry hopes to make the first Mountain Wine & Music Festival a catalyst for wine tourism.

 

Wineries in Hendersonville and Polk County have collaborated to put on the event, which they hope will showcase mountain wines and prompt wine lovers to explore the local vineyards.
"We're trying to promote a wine trail," said Bob Binns, owner of Parker-Binns Vineyard in Mill Spring. "I think most people in North Carolina think of the Yadkin Valley. But with the wine trail and the beauty of our area I think we can develop something similar to what Sonoma County in California has. I just read something that in Upstate New York near Ontario they started a wine trail and they had numbers in the dozens. Today they have over 12,000 members going along the wine trail."
The outdoor festival is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Mountain Inn & Suites on Upward Road. It features six wineries, food by Cypress Cellar, Hubba Hubba Smokehouse and Kilwins ice cream, three bands and an after-party from 5 to 8 p.m. Besides Parker-Binns, participating wineries include Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, Burntshirt Vineyards, Mountain Brook Vineyards, Green Creek Vineyards, Falderal Winery, Biltmore Winery and Noble Hard Cider.
Shannon Clarke, the marketing director of Mountain Inn & Suites and also chairman of the county Tourism Development Authority, said the sponsors approached the hotel last spring about hosting the event "as a neutral site instead of at one of the wineries."
"We were hoping it would open the door for more wineries to get on board and get involved, and that's exactly what it's done," he said. "We're anticipating between 300 and 500 people and we have 15 to 20 vendors."
Alan Ward, the owner of Saint Paul vineyards, wants the festival and the area wine trail to focus on the connection between the family farm and a top-quality new farm product.
"We're really trying to bring viticulture to the community and trying to let the community understand that this region is very special" for growing wine grapes and producing top-shelf wines, he said. "We're trying to promote viticulture and let people actually sample the wines, now that we've got a second year of wine production. ... The main thing is we're wanting to stick with agritourism."
Organizers hope the first festival launches a tradition.
"I think it's a good first effort at attracting a crowd to the mountains and we'll see how we can grow it from here," said Kathleen Watson, Burntshirt's marketing coordinator. "I think it's great that mountain wineries are getting together because there is strength in numbers."
Henderson County's tourism director, Beth Carden, likes the Mountain Wine Festival for three reasons: The wineries came up with the idea on their own. They're working together to promote tourism. And they chose September, potentially boosting visits in a usually slow tourism month between the North Carolina Apple Festival and the fall leaf season.
"One of the things we talked about at our tourism conference is creating new products and this is a prime example," Carden said. "There's a lot of followers of wine that follow wine trails and wineries and tasting rooms. We've got some strong leaders in our wineries here and we're expecting big things here and I totally support it."

Mountain Wine & Music Festival

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28.
Mountain Inn & Suites, 755 Upward Road.
Featuring seven wineries and a cidery.
Food and ice cream by Cypress Cellar, Hubba Hubba Smokehouse and Kilwins
Tickets: $25 advance, $30 at the gate, $10 for those under 21 and designated drivers.
After Party 5-8 p.m. (included with ticket) features music and wine for sale. (Wine tastings end at 5 p.m.)
Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome.
No pets, coolers or outside food.
Information: saintpaulmountainvineyards.com or falderalwinery.com.

Music lineup

11 a.m.: Chris Smith is CarolinaBound

1 p.m.: NitroGrass

3 p.m.: Carrie Morrison & Steve Whiteside

5 p.m.: Elen Trnka

6:30 p.m.: Eric Congdon