Once in a while, things come along that challenge conventional thinking. Today, you don’t need to wear a tie to make good money, diesel technology is clean and efficient, and that little iPhone has more computing prowess than the Space Shuttle. You see, I recently discovered something I not only want to share, but need to share. It’s like I want to be the first one that found out, but know a few others must know already. Shelton Vineyards in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley AVA grows its own vinifera grapes and makes great wine – yes, I said great. Shout it from the highest mountain, as these folks are for real and NC is now on my wine radar to stay.
It’s a story about two brothers, Charles and Ed Shelton from Mount Airy, whose passion for life and achievement is nothing new. Their father was a barber and farming came from their mother’s side of the family. They spent summers working on a tobacco farm. Once on their own, they embraced the homebuilding and construction businesses- having started starting with a mere $2,000 which they had borrowed in 1962. After growing the business for many years, they found themselves the successful owners of Shelco. By 2005 they employed 300 folks with revenues in excess of $300 million. Now that’s taking care of your community to a whole new level!
In 1994, they bought an old dairy farm in Surry County at auction. They did not have plans for it initially. The idea of a winery came to Charlie in 1998 when he saw a program at University of California in Davis. After doing a little research, the brothers decided to take this idea for a spin. They faced several challenges in starting a winery such as assembling a world-class team to bring the project to fruition. They brought in Miguel Sanchez and his family from Oregon to run the vineyard. Miguel had previously enjoyed a 10-year career at Benton Lane. Murphy Moore, another Oregon winery veteran, joined the team. She had been at Cloninger Cellars until it closed in 2003 and worked briefly at Dunham Cellars in Walla, Walla, Washington. Murphy has been in the wine industry since 1997.
Today, they are Shelton Vineyards. Having been in Dobson, NC since 1999, they employ twenty-five folks over a land totaling 384 acres and a world-class restaurant (headed by Culinary Institute of America Chef Paul Lange). Just off the property, the Shelton’s built a Hampton Inn in 2007.It is the only Hampton Inn in the world with a wine bar, and the hotel has been ranked in the top 3% in the chain for overall customer satisfaction for the past three years. They also hold the title of being the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina and have current processing capacity for 50,000 cases in their state-of-the-art 33,000 square-foot facility. Having led the effort to make Yadkin Valley an official AVA in 2003, they are now one of over 30 wineries in the Yadkin Valley. They have won over 500 awards and even earned a Gold Medal in the Los Angeles County Fair with their Yadkin Valley Riesling- which we found to be delightful. Other vinifera grapes planted in the 130 cultivated acres include including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Tannat, and Viognier.
Someday, Charlie and Ed hope to see younger members of the family take over Shelton Vineyards in the tradition of many great estate wineries; although, neither is thinking about retirement anytime soon. One or the other is there every weekend, talking to people as they come in, loading wine in customer’s cars, or cleaning up after tour groups. They are hands-on supervisors with each new project, and while they don’t do any serious farming, they both enjoy getting their hands dirty.
“We’re not ready to turn it over to the kids,” says Ed. “We’re still having too much fun.”