Raffaldini Vineyards in Yadkin Valley, North Carolina was a pleasant surprise to me last weekend. Just one hour north of Charlotte, NC, you can find yourself in a pseudo-Tuscany with genuinely good wine. There are dozens of other wineries in the area. You could even make a full day of wine tasting – but the true gem is Raffaldini. Owned and operated by the Raffaldini family from Tuscany, they grow Italian variatels like Sangiovese, Vermentino, Montepulciano, and more. Considered the “Chianti of the Carolina’s”, Raffaldini is the perfect respite for Carolinians eager for a small taste of Italy – especially while travel options are limited due to the pandemic.
Just One Hour North of Charlotte, You Can Experience Italy
The majority of world-renowned US wines are grown out West. To be fair, you can still find vineyards and wineries all over the country. However, as you may have already experienced, the wine simply doesn’t taste that great. Climate and terroir play a huge role in wine-making. So, not every state is going to have a flourishing wine reputation. That being said, I’ve tried some wineries about 40 minutes outside of Charlotte – even one that has llamas on site. But, the wine is generally subpar. The producers mix in small percentages of fruit juice to try to sell something more palatable by adding sweetness. Not great!
However, by adding another 20 minutes to the drive, one can arrive in Yadkin Valley and have a genuinely delightful wine-tasting experience at some beautiful wineries – particularly Raffaldini Vineyards. Owned and operated by the Raffaldini family, this winery is often referred to as the “Chianti of the Carolinas”. The Raffaldini family brings this knowledge of Italian wines to the Southeast and grows Italian-native varietals like Sangiovese Classico (which is what you typically refer to as Chianti), Vermentino, Montepulciano Reserva, and more. Unlike many of the other wineries in North Carolina that are outside of Yadkin Valley, Raffaldini focuses on dry wines – no sweet wines with added fruit juice here (thank goodness)!
You’ll Feel Like You’re in Tuscany
The environment at Raffaldini screams Tuscany. Not only do you turn off the main road onto “La Strada del Vino”, you then arrive at the European-style estate that drives home an Italian ambiance. The mountains also add to the beautiful vista in the area. From the sprawling vineyards to the architecture and the spire hedges that flank the front doors, you will feel worlds away from Charlotte.
The Raffaldini family goes beyond traditional Italian wine-making to bring a little bit of Italy to North Carolina. Every year in September, the vineyard hosts the largest “Festa Italiana” in all of the Southeast. With live music, tours, food trucks, and obviously lots of wine, the Festa Italiana is a chance to celebrate Italy. You’ll learn about the Raffaldini history, wine-making style, as well as daily life in Italy during different events throughout the day.
On the note of food trucks and lots of wine, a typical visit to Raffaldini means tasting wine and eating. You can either enjoy whichever food truck is on-site (check here for the schedule) or bring your own food. My boyfriend and I loved being able to pack our own cheese, baguette, and accouterments. You can save money while also having the flexibility to have a full-out picnic on the grounds if you wanted.
We sampled both the red and the white & rosé flights. I was delighted that the wines were dry and reminiscent of wine tastings I’ve down in Tuscany. If you visit, be sure to try their Sangiovese Classico, Montepulciano Riserva, and the Vermentino Superiore. I bought a bottle of their Montepulciano which I’m eager to enjoy with a classic pasta dish later this week.
Yadkin Valley is Home to Dozens of Wineries
Raffaldini Vineyards isn’t alone in the Yadkin Valley. A stone’s throw to the west you can also find Piccione Vineyards, which also specializes in Italian varietals. Piccione Vineyards is owned and operated by the Piccione family of Sicily who migrated to the US in 1921. If you want to branch out from Italy, head east to the Chateau Jourdain vineyards. The Jourdain family comes from – you guessed it – France, and from seven generations of wine-makers. In fact, it was Philippe Jourdain who helped teach the Vanderbilt’s how to make wine at the Biltmore Estate. If you read my post about the Biltmore Estate, you’ll know that it is a unique winery in North Carolina. It is the only winery outside of France that is legally allowed to call its sparkling wine “Champagne”.
North Carolina Isn’t Known for Wine – But Raffaldini Vineyards is Worth Visiting
North Carolina wines are quite a ways away from competing with Napa Valley and other well-known regions. However, the Raffaldini, Piccione, Jourdain, and other European families are showcasing truly excellent wines. If you can’t make it to Europe for a wine tour, Yadkin Valley might just be the next best option.
You can see in the photos that I visited right at the start of the growing season. The vines are sparse and there aren’t any grapes to speak of just yet. By the time late summer rolls around, these vineyards will be lush with grapes and greenery. I am eager to visit again many times this season – including for the 16th Annual Festa Italiana this September! Will I be seeing you there?