Wineries & Vineyards
Yadkin Valley Wine Tours
It’s ten o’clock on a Saturday morning, and John Bird is giving twenty strangers a quick lesson on the basics of wine tasting: see, swirl, sniff, and sip. It’s an education that’s about to come in handy, as Bird is preparing to take his students on a day-long tour of vineyards in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley.
Bird is the owner of Yadkin Valley Wine Tours, a business he started five years ago after taking a guided tour of one of California’s wine regions and deciding he could improve upon the concept.
“We bought our tickets on the wharf, got on a bus, and went from winery to winery to winery,” Bird says. “We didn’t get any sort of background or history or anything. I just thought it would be nice to add more to the guided wine tour experience.”
Bird precedes his tours with wine tasting tips and a state map of NC’s vineyards and wineries. Then, the bus ride to the first stop is narrated with an abridged history of the state’s wine industry: North Carolina led the nation in wine production into the middle of the 19th century, but saw it decline due to the to the double whammy of the Civil War and Prohibition. Fast-forward to 1972, when Jack Kroustalis begins Westbend Vineyards even though experts tell him varietal grapes won’t grow in NC’s soil and climate. The rest, as they say, is history. North Carolina now has more than 80 wineries, and Bird expects that number to reach 100 within a couple of years.
Tours include lunch, and guests are never rushed through a tasting, as Bird wants his customers to feel free to stroll the grounds, take a winery tour, or relax and have a extra glass of wine while learning more about the state’s burgeoning wine industry.
“North Carolina is tenth in the nation in wine production, and fifth in wine travel,” Bird tells his guests, and he’s seen interest in the state’s wine industry grow exponentially. He now runs a regularly scheduled public tour once every two or three weeks, and books private tours of NC’s wine country for groups of two to 200 people.
On this tour, the bus winds from Old North State Winery in downtown Mount Airy to the small, family-run Round Peak Vineyards to Shelton Vineyards, one of the state’s largest. But Bird regularly changes the lineup of wineries to give his guests tastes of different wines and different wine experiences. Occasionally he’ll hold specially themed tours such as a Mother’s Day tour or a Jimmy Buffett tour, which comes complete with music on the bus and a few gallons of sangria.
Bird’s tours include an even split of young adults and retirees, guests from far-off states and folks from nearby cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro. “It’s a great way to relax and enjoy NC vineyards without having to worry about directions or who’s driving, and it’s perfect way to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and bachelorette parties.” And, it turns out, an ideal way for wine aficionados and novices alike to see, swirl, sniff and sip their way through a world of North Carolina wine.
added: September 17, 2009
updated: September 21, 2011