SANFORD ARTS & VINE: Festival's wine tent to include breweries

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

WINE TENT

The former Sanford Pottery Festival created “A Celebration of North Carolina Wines” in 2009, and this popular event has carried over into the Sanford Arts and Vine Festival (this Saturday and Sunday at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center). The number of state wineries (and even a brewery) has grown over the years as the popularity of the wine tent has grown as well. A list of some of the confirmed wineries for May 4-5 include:  

* Adams Vineyards: adamsvineyards.com

* Benjamin Vineyards: benjaminvineyards.com

* Chatham Hill: chathamhillwine.com

* Grapefull Sisters: grapefullsistersvineyard.com

* Gregory Vineyards: gregoryvineyards.com

* Hutton Vineyard

* Locklear Winery: locklearwinery.com

* Rocky River Vineyards: rockyrivervineyards.com

* Starrlight Mead: starrlightmead.com

* Uwharrie Vineyards: uwharrievineyards.com

* Vineyards on the Scuppernong: vineyardsonthescuppernong.com

* Woodmill: woodmillwinery.com

* Railhouse Brewery: railhousebrewery.com

* White Rabbit Brewery: whiterabbitbrewery.com

Tickets for the wine tent are $10, and visitors can sample all of the wines and breweries on hand. To learn more, visit www.sanfordartsandvine.com.    

MUSIC & WINE

What’s a good wine tent without good music? The following musicians will perform throughout the day Saturday and Sunday under the tent:  

SATURDAY

Rob Mathews: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.  

Maggie McRae: 12:30-2:30 p.m.

Phil Durham: 2:30-4:30 p.m.  

SUNDAY

Robert Watson: Noon-2 p.m.  

Phil Durham: 2-4 p.m.

  SANFORD — North Carolina’s wine industry is well on its way to becoming a staple in the state’s agricultural and agri-tourism economy for years to come.  

North Carolina’s brewery industry isn’t far behind.

The state — which boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the South, with more than 50 breweries and brewpubs according to the N.C. Brewers Guild — celebrated its first Beer Month this April. It meant a busy month for Brian Evitts of Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen, one of two breweries on hand for the Arts & Vine Festival this weekend.  

“North Carolina has become a pivotal state for the industry in the past few years,” said Evitts, who co-owns Railhouse with Mike Ratkowski. Evitts is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and Ratkowski served in the U.S. Army for 10 years … making Railhouse one of the few all-veteran-owned breweries in the nation, according to Evitts.

“If you see where the state of Washington is today [more than 200 breweries, most in the nation] … they were North Carolina 15 years ago. It shows this state has potential.”

Evitts was a home brewer for 15 years before meeting Ratkowski when the two worked for a Moore County propane company. They noticed Moore County had no breweries at a time when many were starting to pop up in and around Raleigh and Charlotte. So the two started Railhouse in 2010, and they haven't looked back.  

“There have probably been 20 new breweries in the state in the past year,” Evitts said. “There's just been an explosion in interest in craft beers.”

Railhouse will join White Rabbit Brewery of Angier under the wine tent for the first Sanford Arts & Vine Festival, slated for Saturday and Sunday at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. The wine tent became a big part of the now-defunct Sanford Pottery Festival in 2009 and has continued to grow. This year, a dozen North Carolina wineries will accompany the two breweries under the tent (admission is $10 to sample all of the offerings).

Grape expectations

When Marek Wojciechowski launched Chatham Hill Winery in 1999, there were only 14 other wineries in North Carolina at the time.

Today, he's one of 120. And in 15 years, the state's number of vineyards has multiplied to more than 450.  

“When I was opening, tobacco farmers across the state began diversifying and growing other products,” Wojciechowski said. “Business people then began seeing this as a great business opportunity.”

Wineries are by no means new to North Carolina. As early as 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe wrote that the state’s coast was “so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them ... in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found.”  

Those grapes were the scuppernong and the muscadine, native to the Southeastern United States and much sweeter than the typical European grape. Their abundance in North Carolina made it the country’s top wine producer before prohibition and before the industry took off in California.

In recent decades, farmers have headed west to North Carolina’s foothills and mountains to take advantage of the California-like weather conditions and grow the European-style grapes found in merlots, cabernets and chardonnays.  

“It’s not easy to grow here,” Wojciechowski said. “We're still doing a lot of research at North Carolina State and other campuses studying soils and finding the best varieties of grapes that grow well here.”

The state’s agriculture industry has benefited greatly from the boom in wineries. According to David Nestor, organizer of the Arts & Vine Festival’s wine tent, the grape industry was responsible for $813 million in business for North Carolina in 2009.  

“We’ve got 1,700 acres of farmland growing grapes in our state, and these farms are employing 5,400 people,” Nestor said. “It's somewhat of a rebirth for agriculture here ... it’s bringing jobs back, and it’s one of the best ‘green’ industries around. Wine is grown on the farm, produced on the farm, bottled on the farm and on many occasions, sold on the farm. Very little trucking is involved.”