NC Gains Prominence In World Of Wine
North Carolina is now home to 100 wineries - twice as many as the state had just five years ago. Sweet wines from the muscadine grape are the state's hallmark. North Carolina isn't exactly new to wine. The scuppernong - North Carolina's state fruit - also happens to be the first grape cultivated for wine in America. Sir Walter Raleigh made it popular in the 1500s, and up until Prohibition, North Carolina was the nation's top wine producer. "Prohibition comes along and kinda slows everything down, so we basically have to start over," says Justin Furr, executive director of the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council. "It's been kind of a long road for us and it's really taken off here in the last couple decades." North Carolina now ranks 7th for wine production, although it's still a long way from Napa Valley status. Furr says most of the state's wineries are modest in size - producing several thousand cases of wine a year. "They're small businesses," explains Furr. "The owners are doing pretty much everything. They're out there working the land and they're in the tasting room serving the wine." At Sweet Vine Winery in Lincoln County, Ken Baker tells customers, "You can an dress up if you want but it's kind of a casual setting. I want you to feel like you're at a friends' house." Southern hospitality is what sets North Carolina's wine industry apart, he says. A year ago, Baker abandoned his career as an auditor to open Sweet Vine Winery. He has several acres of vineyard and uses wine making techniques his grandparents taught him. Many of North Carolina's 100 wineries have similar roots, founded by business people looking for a change, retirees in search of a hobby or farmers in need of a new crop. "A lot of the old tobacco fields are people growing grapes on them now," notes Baker. "It's a wonderful thing for North Carolina." Wineries contribute close to a billion dollars to the state's economy and nearly 6,000 jobs, according to the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council. This week Ken Baker plans to add another job to that tally when Sweet Vine Winery hires its first official employee.