With five wineries and numerous vineyards, the Tryon Foothills wine region is providing a destination for wine lovers, and equine lovers.
The wineries are in the Green Creek area of Polk County, and create wines from several variations of vinifera in addition to North Carolina’s native muscadine grapes.
“Our heritage of grape growing goes back to the 1860s when the first vineyards were established, mostly in Tryon, on the southern facing slopes of Warrior Mountain,” said Mindy Wiener with Our Carolina Foothills.
“Being in this very distinct region below 1,500 feet in elevation with an isothermal belt gives us an advantage of longer growing periods compared to others in the Mountain Region of western North Carolina,” she explained. “In 1891, French viticulturalist, Alexis Lamort (A.J. Lamort), arrived in our area, validated this key factor and settled in Tryon until his death in 1916, claiming it was the perfect climate and soil for growing grapes.”
In addition to its growing wine industry, the Tryon region is well known for its equestrian events, which is mostly due to the opening of the Tryon International Equestrian Center. This fall that equestrian activity will include hosting the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
What once was farmland just north of the border between the two Carolinas, now is expected to generate an economic impact over more than $400 million in two weeks, Sept. 11-23, Wiener said. “This is allocated to be the largest economic driver in both North and South Carolina for the entire year.”
The area’s businesses and community, including its wineries, are preparing for the potential flood of business expected from visitors coming in from more than 70 countries and numbering up to 50,000 for the opening ceremony event, she said.
“This is the world’s premier equestrian event, second only to the Olympics,” said Sharon Decker, COO of Tryon International Equestrian Center. “The Olympics has three equestrian events at the highest level in the world, and the FEI World Equestrian Games have eight.
“This will be the largest sporting event in the U.S. for 2018 and the fourth largest in the world, so it’s a big deal for not only North Carolina, it’s a big deal for our country,” said Decker.
The first event of the world games on Sept. 12 will intertwine the Tryon Foothills’ wine and equine industries. A 100-mile endurance race will start and finish at the TIEC, but in between two of the area’s wineries — Overmountain Vineyards and Mountain Brook Vineyards — will be part of the course.
Overmountain Vineyards is named for the historically significant Overmountain Victory Trail, a national historic trail based on the routes which the Overmountain Men took to the Battle of Kings Mountain, a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Owners Frank and Lita Lilly named the vineyards for the two miles of certified section of the OVT on the property, which is run by their daughter, Sofia Lilly. The couple said they are looking forward to having horses back on their estate for another historical event, the world equestrian games.
Overmountain opened its tasting room in 2010, and features five varietals including petit manseng. They are known for their tableside tastings and two great danes, as well as small-batch old-world-style wines.
For Mountain Brook Vineyards’ owners Jonathan and Vickie Redgrave, their mission is “award-winning wines paired with memorable hospitality.”
“We are working hard to ensure we build on Mountain Brook’s tradition of excellent wines while expanding the facilities for guests to enjoy,” said the Redgraves of the equestrian events. “We are looking forward to helping Tryon and all of Western North Carolina welcome guests from around the world to our area for the World Equestrian Games.
“Mountain Brook will be hosting groups and guests on property during the entire event, including tailgating and table rentals during one of the first events, the endurance long-distance competition, where riders from around the world will run through the Mountain Brook vineyard and past its tasting room,” they said.
Mountain Brook, with winemaker Liz Pickett, makes several wines on its property, including an award-winning chardonnay and two new reserve wines — a cabernet and a petit verdot. The property features a new addition being built on the winery and several outdoor spaces for visitors to enjoy.
In addition to Overmountain and Mountain Brook, visitors to the Tryon Foothills wine region can find unique offerings at the area’s other three wineries — Green Creek Winery, Parker-Binns Vineyard and Russian Chapel Hill Winery.
Green Creek was opened in 2005 by Alvin Park, and features a wine-inspired food tasting.
Parker-Binns Vineyard is owned by Karen Parker-Binns and Bob Binns and is operated by their daughter, Kelly Joanis. They recently hired winemaker and cidermaker Justin Taylor, who was previously at Burnt Shirt. The vineyard, with 12 acres of vines, is known for its menagerie of animals and a “barn” event center and wedding site.
The newest of the five wineries is Russian Chapel Hill, which is owned by Andrey Medvedev. It features St. Anna Chapel on site, which is part of the Eastern Diocese of the Russian Church outside of Russia. There are seven estate-grown varietals, and the winery produces dry European-style wines such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc; whites like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc; and a dessert wine muscadine.
For more information on the Tryon Foothills region, visit ourcarolinafoothills.com or foothillsofpolkcounty.com.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.