Aging Well — Sanctuary Vineyards Celebrates 20 Years of Winemaking
It’s a typical afternoon in the summer or even on a weekend in the off-season, and there are about a half dozen people or so gathered at the tasting bar at Sanctuary Vineyards.
There is a surprising range of wines available—something for every palate. There are sweet wines made from the local muscadine grape; and some red and white wines from the traditional wine grapes of France, Spain, and other wine countries. And then there are the award-winning wines, classic wines that are only produced in the years the harvest yields a grape with the complexity and power to create a premium wine.
“Honestly, two out of every five years, I seem to be able to make those sort of best-in-class wines,” John Wright, Sanctuary Vineyards Manager, said. “I’ve got to give the winemaker the right fruit for them.”
Located at the Cotton Gin in Jarvisburg, after 20 years of producing wines at the vineyard, Wright has learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
When he first planted his vineyard back in 2002, he knew he wanted to grow vinifera grapes—the classic grapes of the wine world. What he may not have been ready for was just how difficult it would be.
He had taken classes in winemaking, studied books about how to produce wines in the classic areas of the world…and the wines were not what they were supposed to be. He came to realize that Currituck County was its own terroir—the French term that encompasses all the factors that influence the grapes that will produce a wine; the soil, the climate, everything. What became apparent was what he had been taught did not fit the local conditions.
“You’ve got to be really delicate with the wines here because they are not fitting the metrics and the chemistries that we all learn when we take classes or what the textbooks tell you what to do with the wine,” he said.
That delicate touch has led to a number of state and regional awards for the vineyard’s wines. But it is in the tasting room that the true quality of the wines are put to the test; that’s where the public votes with its pocketbook.
The tasting room is also where there is a common purpose in sampling wine, something John finds remarkable.
“People that go to wineries, I think they’re adventurous and curious about nature and art and culture,” John said. “We have all political sides, all creeds, all orientation, race, everything. We want everybody in here. You can see standing next to each other people who completely would not coexist in their own setting. They’re going to hang out at the bar here, and they’re going to deal with it, and they’ll learn something. We enjoy wine; we’ll start with that.”
The tasting room is not the only chance the public has to sample the wines the vineyard produces.
Certainly, the wines are available in some local businesses, and there are a number of Outer Banks restaurants that serve their wines, but what Sanctuary Vineyard really has going for it is a lot of room to spread out and enjoy some wine while listening to music and maybe celebrating a holiday.
Every Thursday from May through September, the vineyard sponsors its Acoustic Sunset series featuring some great regional musicians. There’s always a food truck on hand, so there’s dinner with the wine. Live music in a very pleasant setting.
But where the winery has really made its mark is in the seasonal gatherings it hosts.
What seems to make the gatherings so much fun is the combination of everything. John takes his musical acts up a notch and brings in some great touring bands. Everything is set up to make it easy for visitors to enjoy the day. Plenty of food with only local businesses invited. Local beer breweries are invited, and, of course, there are Sanctuary Vineyards wines. It all makes for a great time, and sort off the topping on everything, the winery grounds are a farm, and it is kid friendly. The events, then, often become a family outing.
September brings the CrabDaddy Seafood and Wine Festival. The descriptions says it all. “Once a year, Crabdaddy emerges from the Currituck Sound, bringing a bounty of fresh seafood for everyone to enjoy.”
Lots of freshly steamed crab, wine, beer, and music—it’s very nice.
Then in February, there’s the Cajun Occasion which just happens to fall on the weekend after Mardis Gras.
But the one event that should not be missed is the Big Curri-Shuck, always happening on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The concept is quite simple. All you can eat freshly steamed local oysters and crab—with the oysters definitely taking center stage at this event. There’s a limit to how many people can safely fit on the grounds of Sanctuary Vineyards, so the event always sells out. Which is our way of saying, anyone planning on going, get the tickets as soon as possible.
The events serve a dual purpose. Getting the word out about Sanctuary Vineyards as a great place to visit is part of what John is hoping to do. But he also sees the events as a chance to give back to the local community and the loyal customers from Norfolk to Richmond to Raleigh and other places that look for his wines.
“The events, we stage them in the offseason when locals and our customers want something to do,” he said.