Wine Country: Shelton Vineyards
An area once ruled by purveyors of tobacco now beckons wine lovers as an American Viticultural Area destination. Shelton Vineyards leads the way
Opened in 1999 by brothers Charlie and Ed Shelton, Shelton Vineyards occupies about 400 acres of the Yadkin Valley on what was once, among other things, a dairy farm. It is now one of the largest family-owned vineyards on the East Coast and is home to a restaurant, winery, and outdoor concert series.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRAVIS DOVE
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At a quarter past 11 in the morning, a good-sized group is already sipping and swirling at Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, North Carolina. Short wineglasses marked with green crests line the long tasting bar, fingers loosely curled around the stems. On the opposite side of the bar, two women cock their heads to the side to better eyeball one-ounce pours. It’s early for drinking, but it’s Friday.
The tasters swirl their reds and whites in small, spastic circles. Glasses go up in unison. Slow, audible whiffs. Then, they sip. Some swish as they study. A younger employee, maybe in her early 20s, throws out terms like “unoaked,” while her middle-aged counterpart, a friendly Yadkin Valley native (“Y’all wanna try some wines?”), asks a couple if they taste “a touch of mocha.” They nod. A middle-aged blonde is sure she tastes blackberry.
Outside, long rows of grapevines dominate rolling Piedmont hills, a little more than an hour from Charlotte. Each variety of grape—Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot—is labeled by an arched marker with an interlinked-S logo carved in the stone. Five Ss, representing five Shelton children. Up close, fragile leaves struggle to hold heavy grape clusters that will be picked and pressed soon. And up on a hill, two houses are dropped between rows of Riesling vines.
Shelton Vineyards started with the raise of an auction paddle. In 1994, Charlie Shelton, five years older than his brother Ed, bid on hundreds of acres of a defunct dairy farm left in bad shape. Rusted tractors and broken fences junked up the property, and Charlie knew it would take a lot of work to make anything of it. But his gut told him to make an offer, and he won.
Ed Shelton (left) and his brother, Charlie, run quite a business for a couple of "retired" people. Not only does Shelton Vineyards offer standout wines, it has one of the best restaurants around, Harvest Grill.
Today, 14 years after they entered the wine business, the brothers sit outside on the terrace of their 246-acre vineyard in the Yadkin Valley in short-sleeved dress shirts and slacks, looking back. Charlie, 78, remembers how he broke the news to his brother: “I said, ‘I hope you don’t mind; you have a half-interest in a foreclosed dairy farm.’”
Ed, 73, just smiles and lets his brother tell the story. He trusts he’ll get it right.