The coastal plain of North Carolina is not necessarily the first place most people think of when they consider fine wines. Maybe a sweet muscadine wine fermented from the native grape of the region…but a classic European vinefera in Currituck County? Too hot, too humid, not cool enough at night…there seems to be a fairly substantial list.
Except, as John Wright, General Manager and founder of Sanctuary Vineyards points out, there are certain qualities to the soil in Currituck County that have the potential to make good wine -very good wine.
The best wine grapes are grown in soils that hold very little moisture and are not too fertile. Turns out, in southern Currituck County there are some ideal growing conditions.
“We have 25 acres. The yields are really low but the quality is really high,” John said. And the best quality may be the newest vineyard he has planted along North River. “The quality bar is high on that sand.”
When he started 16 years ago, John admits he didn’t know what he was getting into.
“I think it was an experiment,” he said. “I was really naive. I thought you would plant what you would like. Now it seems odd.”
As he learned more about making wine and the wine industry, it wasn’t enough to just grow grapes. He realized there had to also be an investment in equipment and people.
“It took a while,” John acknowledged. “But we made the conscious decision to build out the back of the winery. In doing so we had to buy enough equipment to be ready to grow. Meaning we would have to get larger.”
However, equipment and facilities were not enough. John knew he needed the right person to make the wine. In 2015 he hired Casey Matthews, who had been working at Raffaldini Winery in the Yadkin Valley as the winemaker.
To John, Casey was the missing piece.
“I couldn’t do both,” he acknowledged. “It takes a serious effort in both the vineyard and in the winery. When I open the doors and hand the grapes over to him, he has a clean house and he’s ready. I’m not in the winemaking anymore.”
The result has been a noticeable uptick in quality. In 2015, Sanctuary Vineyards was named Vineyard of the Year by the North Carolina Wine Growers Association.
However, being recognized as a leader in the wine industry for innovation and quality does create its own problems.
“Now we have to hit marks in quality and quantity every time,” John said.
Sanctuary Vineyards is immediately adjacent to the Cotton Gin in Jarvisburg,, about 11 miles north of the Wright Brothers Bridge.
The Cotton Gin and Sanctuary Vineyards rests on land owned by the Wright family, who have been farming the fields for seven generations.
Nestled in the heart of the farming area of Currituck County, when the canopy of the vines are filled with leaves in the summer and early fall, it looks like a postcard of a European vineyard.
The setting is beautiful, so beautiful that it has become a favorite wedding site.
“That was my wife Brooke’s idea” John explains. Brooke is Brooke Mayo, a local photographer with a stellar reputation.
As John explains it, the weddings seem to be a natural fit for the winery. “Certain things are complementary to the natural resource,” he said. “They come out there, they have a good time and they leave with good memories. It is some effort, but in the scheme of things, it’s great.”
The winery has also become a gathering place for special events. It’s somewhat of an evolving list.
Every Thursday in the summertime Sanctuary Vineyards hosts Acoustic Sunset. Beginning at 5:00 p.m. and held on the north lawn of the Cotton Gin beneath towering loblolly pines, it is a marvelous family-friendly way to spend an evening.
Another signature happening is the The Big Currishuck, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. An all you can eat celebration of steamed oysters, crab and barbecue with live music and hayrides. the food is great, the wine perfect for oysters and the day…memorable.
It’s definitely worth stopping by Sanctuary Vineyards on your way on or off the Outer Banks to enjoy a wine tasting and take home a unique souvenir!