ROSE HILL — As friends gather for a glass of cool white wine and chefs cook beef stew in a red wine sauce, wine continues to thrive in the marketplace. North Carolina’s continuous growth in the wine industry has propelled the state to be one of the leading producers of wine in the country.
“There are many different opinions on wine. You have the opportunity to try all these different wines in our state with so many wineries and so many different experiences. Seven percent of people come to a winery to learn something, the other 93 percent come to have a good time. The state understands the tourism aspect which is helping wineries continue to grow,” said Jonathan Fussell, president of Duplin Wine Family.
North Carolina is home to approximately 160 wineries from Murphy to Manteo. Muscadines grow bountifully in the coastal regions while vinifera grape varieties thrive in the Western and Piedmont regions. Ranking 10th in the United States for both wine and grape production, the annual economic impact of the North Carolina wine and grape industry is $1.28 billion with nearly 7,600 jobs supported.
“This is the sweet taste of the South. We always say, ‘life is sweeter here at Duplin.’ We are proud of the fact that we make sweet wine,” said Fussell. “We’ve always embraced itthat is who we arethere are a lot of great dry wines out there, but we try to stick to our roots.”
Duplin Winery, the world’s largest producer of muscadine wine, is also the largest and oldest winery in the state with the Fussell family having opened the doors in 1976. Located in Rose Hill, with a second site in North Myrtle Beach, Duplin uses grapes grown in four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida.
“When Hurricane Hugo came through in 1989 it affected us tremendously, causing us to lose a lot of grapes. We learned that when a hurricane hits us here, we need to have grapes in other states that wouldn’t be affected by a hurricane,” said Fussell.
Now, Duplin Winery bottles between 6,000-7,000 bottles of wine per hour producing 475,000 cases of wine annually from seven types of grapes: Carlos, Magnolia, Scuppernong, Noble, James, Coastal, and Doreen.
While the richness of the land in Eastern North Carolina is useful for the growing of sweeter grapes, the terrain of Western Carolina is providing a whole different avenue for the wine industry.
The Biltmore Estate Winery, which receives more than 1 million visitors annually, is the most visited winery in the United States. Producing 11 different blends in addition to more than 35 distinctive varietals, Biltmore is known for more than just the vast home of George Vanderbilt.
“The diversity in our wine lineup is unique to Biltmore Winery. The diversity in our portfolio makes it easy for anyone from the novice wine drinker to the connoisseur to explore Biltmore wines and incorporate them into their own entertaining. The wine preferences of our customers are quite varied, and we feel it’s important to offer different wines to appeal to these different palates,” said Marissa Jamison, public relations manager for the Biltmore.
“We are able to offer such diversity in our wine portfolio due to having appellations in both North Carolina and California, and that makes Biltmore Winery very unique.”
In the terrain of Western Carolina, six types of grapes: Riesling, chardonnay, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlo, have proven successful for Biltmore wine production. The consistently changing weather conditions and climate in the mountain region of the state, have allowed for Biltmore wines to partner with other vineyards in the state as well as California growers to keep pace with demand while maintaining quality.
“Because we source from so many vineyards, we find the best grapes in order to craft the best possible wines,” says Sharon Fenchak, who along with Bernard Delille, leads wine production at Biltmore.
Biltmore Winery produces approximately 150,000 cases of wine annually, which amounts to approximately 1.8 million bottles of wine annually, and ranks in the top one percent of U.S. wine business.
Both Duplin and Biltmore wineries, along with others throughout North Carolina, have a wine presence outside of the state which continuously works to increase recognition of the state’s wine industry.