Think wine, think California, or France, or anywhere but North Carolina. Think again. Since the mid-1990’s North Carolina wines have been making a comeback and grape and wine production are pushing the Tar Heel state back to its former wine glory.
Long before vines were planted in the Napa Valley, North Carolina viticulturists were producing wines from the native grape that grows so abundantly on the Southeast coast. That grape was the large, marble-shaped Muscadine, or Scuppernong, as it’s known locally.
Wines made from this grape were popular, and up until the mid-19th Century, North Carolina was the leading wine producing state in the nation. The Civil War, the westward movement, Prohibition and the vogue of European-style wines took their toll and by the 20th Century, the North Carolina wine industry was virtually wiped out.
Then in 1975, two brothers in Duplin County, Dan and David Fussell, took a leap of faith and produced their first commercial wines from grapes grown on their farm. Since then, Duplin Wine Cellars in Rose Hill has led the movement back to North Carolina wines and wine making. In the past 20 years, they have increased their production of both grapes and wine to become the largest Muscadine winery in the world.
In 1997, there were 12 commercial wineries in North Carolina. The annual value of grapes was $1.1 million and the value of North Carolina wine was $4.5 million. By 2007 there were 65 wineries with the annual values increasing to $3.7 million and $37 million respectively. In 2007, the total economic impact of the North Carolina wine industry was $813 million with 5,700 jobs created.
According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, as of 2017 there are about 180 wineries across the state, nearly triple the number from 2007, with seven designated wine trails and five American Viticulture Areas (AVAs). More than 400 individually owned grape vineyards supply the wineries and fresh market fruit.
State-wide, wine production is estimated to be about 569,000 cases annually, giving North Carolina a current ranking of 10th in the nation for both wine and grape production. The annual economic impact of vineyards and wineries in North Carolina is $1.7 billion, with about 8000 jobs created.
Duplin Wine Cellars, now known as Duplin Winery, is still family owned and operated and has continued to lead the North Carolina wine industry in the 21st Century. At over five million bottles of wine annually, the company is one of the top wine producers in the country, and recently opened a tasting room and hand bottling facility in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Fussell family both grows and imports grapes for their 39 different wines. The company employs about 50 people and generates an estimated $11.2 million in annual revenue.
A sampling of wines from North Carolina wineries proves that the industry is not only alive and well, but growing and prospering, and that’s “grape” news for a wine state whose time has come – again.