Shelton Vineyards in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley is a remarkable showplace with a hotel and two restaurants right on the property. The 33,000-square-foot wine-making facility/visitor center is the focal point of its sculpted grounds. The Bordeaux tradition of planting roses at the end of each row of grape vines is employed to lovely effect here. (Roses serve as an early warning system if fungus begins to appear among the vines.)
But the proof is in the bottle, and Shelton has been making waves for many years. My finest "ah-ha" moment came at the 2010 North Carolina State Fair judging, where I first tasted their 2007 Cabernet Franc. Not only did it win a Double Gold Medal, it also got my vote for the "best in show" award. I was outvoted there, but I've not forgotten its quality. On a recent visit to Shelton, I talked extensively with Murphy Moore, winemaker since 2005. I was very impressed with many of her efforts and was thrilled to see that the winery still had some of the '07 Cab Franc. I believe if it had been a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot it would be now long gone. But Cabernet Franc still has an identity crisis with consumers and, if I can get my way, this lack of recognition will soon drift away like a stingerless wasp.
For me, Cabernet Franc is THE signature grape for the climate of Yadkin Valley, and I hope that 25 years from today, people will say: "North Carolina wines? Oh, aren't they world famous for their Cab Franc?" So, get this while you can – it is tasting better than ever! If you happen to miss out, the "sequel" 2009 bottling is equally recommended and a fine example of Murphy's touch with the grape that loves to call North Carolina home.
2007 Cabernet Franc, Shelton Vineyards, Yadkin Valley $13.99 srp
A deep, woodsy nose of autumn forest floor, perfectly melded into a warm integration of dark berries.The wine is supple with a leafy lilt, cedar and tobacco overtones plus invigorating white pepper elements. The flavors are front and center, surrounded by these complexities as they spread their wings. I would happily serve this wine in the same manner as I would a Bourgueil or Chinon from the Loire Valley of France. It holds its own remarkably – and at about half the cost. Get to know this lovely juice if you can find it. Encourage your retailer or restaurant to sell it – it's a no-lose proposition.