The Blue Ridge Mountains are so close, visitors to Round Peak Vineyards could just reach out and touch them from the back patio of the winery. Their rounded tips and valleys sit just beyond the vineyards, which can be found just off Interstate 77 west of Mount Airy.
The vineyard at Round Peak was first planted in 2000 by its original owners, with the tasting room constructed in 2004 and the winery in 2005. Then in 2008, Ken Gulaian and his wife Kari Heerdt bought Round Peak Vineyards.
The large crush pad serves as a back patio for those who want to enjoy the mountainous view highlighted by the vines in the foreground. The grass lawn between the building and the vines allows for picnics, campfires in the ring, and campouts on special occasions.
In addition to the enlarged crush pad added by Ken and Kari, Gulaian said the couple added more acres of vines, now providing 12 varietals planted across the 12 acres of vineyard. An addition going in this year is a decorative deer fence with vines growing on it to camouflage it among the vineyard but still keep the deer away from the grapes.
“What we’ve really done from a business perspective is starting the Skull Camp brand, named in honor of the mountain directly behind the winery. Skull Camp Wines are sweet wines, and the Round Peak wines are our dry wines,” he said. “We still had a contingent of people coming in wanting something other than wine, so we started brewing in 2012 and that went really well.”
Skull Camp Brewery, the craft beer offered, outgrew the available space in the winery building of I-77 and the couple wanted a more urban setting for the brewery. So they purchased the former Basin Creek restaurant facility in north Elkin.
“To get here [to the winery], we’re the farthest in North Carolina in Yadkin Valley, whereas in Elkin, a lot of people go there as the center of the Yadkin Valley. It made sense,” Gulaian said of the property purchase for Skull Camp Brewery. The plan is to eventually open a tasting room at the brewery in Elkin, but they waiting on construction in the old restaurant building to be completed.
“Having that tasting room in Elkin is important to us,” he said. “When we open that, it will just be Skull Camp, so it will be the wines and beer with a little taste of Round Peak.”
The views at the winery were what finalized the couple’s decision to pursue entry into the wine industry at Round Peak, after visiting four wineries along I-77. “When we first got in the wine business, we came here as customers and did a tasting. We looked at the views and that sold us on it,” said Gulaian.
In the beginning Round Peak was a place where customers would come and taste the wines and then leave, but Ken and Kari wanted to transform it into a place to hang out and relax and stay a while. Now it is dog-friendly and picnic-friendly, with bonfires, trails in the vineyard and live music, “and we make really good wine and beer,” Gulaian said.
All of the wineries in the Yadkin Valley offer a different approach and experience for visitors, he explained.
“We didn’t even know wine was made in North Carolina,” said Gulaian of returning to Charlotte in 2008 after living in California for a couple of years. “We liked what we saw with the industry.
“Having known nothing about making wine, Sean McRitchie was the winemaker so we could come in and learn from him and I went to Surry Community College,” he said. “We really enjoyed it.”
But a vineyard is a farm, he noted, and is subject to all the challenges farming entails, such as weather and animals. “It is just a challenge making sure we are having good grapes coming in, Gulaian said.
The second challenge they face is getting the North Carolina grape industry up and going and bringing awareness to the state’s offerings. “A lot of people don’t even know there are wineries in North Carolina, and convincing them it’s worth a visit is everyone’s challenge,” he said.
At Round Peak Vineyards, several events allow visitors a chance to enjoy both the wines it offers as well as the nature surrounding it. The first Saturday in September each year, Skull Camp Out is held, allowing those who want to to pitch their tent and have a campout in the vineyard, complete with music, food and a bonfire. The third Saturday in August is the Carolina Sky Music Festival, which is held with the help of Jerry Chapman of Mediocre Bad Guys. It includes food and music as well.
Throughout the summer, each Saturday hosts a Grill Fest, which allows visitors to bring their own meats and veggies and cook them up on grills provided by the Round Peak Vineyards. He said the days include kids running around playing and people relaxing and spending time together. “It is an inexpensive family outing,” he said.
Round Peak Vineyards can be found online at www.roundpeak.com.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.