Food & Beverage

A Taste of Winter: Get Cozy at Our High Country Wineries

By Kim S. Davis

With a chill in the air and frost on the vines, winter is an enchanting season for visiting the High Country’s wineries. Each establishment welcomes winter in unique ways and with a variety of experiences to warm you up while you taste their selections of flavorful wines. Here, we share what to expect when visiting the High Country American Viticultural Area (AVA) wineries during wintertime.

Linville Falls Winery

Just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Highway 221 in Avery County, Linville Falls Winery is open seven days a week.* One unique feature of Linville Falls Winery is its proximity to the family Christmas Tree Farm; during the holiday season when the tree farm opens for choose-and-cut, visitors can select a Christmas tree and taste featured wines, all in one stop. (But be sure and take care of the tree chopping first, as ceilings tend to get taller after imbibing.)

During colder weather, the winery offers warm inside-seating alongside a roaring fire, and this year, in addition to a featured cinnamon spiced wine, they are releasing a sweet riesling made from their award winning flagship grapes that pairs nicely with holiday menus. Linville Falls Winery’s cold-weather featured wine, Jack’s Cherry Bounce, has evolved from a recipe that family patriarch Jack Wiseman found in the Wall Street Journal over 45 years ago. The published recipe was one of Martha Washington’s, and Jack has throughout his life made many different versions of this delicious “holiday stress relief.” The current iteration is made with brandy from the vineyard’s grapes, cherry wine, and a hint of cinnamon, and is reflective of the Appalachian region. For the youngsters, or those who prefer non-alcoholic toddies, the winery serves JoAnn’s hot cider, another family recipe. Pairing Jack and JoAnn’s concoctions together is yet one more delicious way to stay warm.

Additionally, during the chillier months, Linville Falls Winery offers winter guided tastings geared more toward their red wines. A winery representative will lead guests through a tasting menu describing each of the wines, and pair them with locally sourced cheese, chocolate, and charcuterie. Although reservations for the Winter Guided Wine Tasting are required, walk-ins are welcome and encouraged for purchasing Wine Flights, bottles and glasses. Reservations can be made online at linvillefallswinery.com. *Linville Falls Winery will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Grandfather Vineyard & Winery

Between Boone and Banner Elk in the shadows of Grandfather Mountain, Grandfather Vineyard and Winery welcomes guests to the property year-round. During the winter, the winery is open every day of the week (closed only on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). And, unless old man winter is really wicked, their goal is to feature live music all season as well as host Claudia’s Taco Truck.

Since Grandfather Vineyard is predominately an outdoor venue, they add several amenities during the cooler weather to keep guests toasty. In addition to propane heaters and fire pits throughout the property, they put up vinyl walls around the pavilion and set up a large heated tent on the patio. They also have blankets and sell “hot hands” to keep fingers warm while holding tasting glasses.

During the gift giving season, a visit to the winery’s shop might lead to inspiring gift ideas. Also in the winter months, guests can purchase S’mores Kits and create delicious treats while huddled around the fire pits. For those who prefer beverages without a kick, GrandfatherVineyard offers warm apple cider and winter mocktails featuring maple syrup, honey, and seasonal juices. Along with their usual wine offerings, wintertime additions include mulled wines and the release of a new label series of Bordeaux style wines called Hair of the Dog. Each wine in the series features a label showcasing one of the family’s pups, and a portion of the proceeds benefits the Watauga County and Avery County Humane Societies.

Guests and residents of the High Country understand that winter can usher in very fickle weather, so be sure and check out their website at grandfathervineyard.com for events, schedule updates, and additional activities.

Watauga Lake Winery and Villa Nove Farm and Vineyard

Watauga Lake Winery is situated a little over five miles across the state line into Tennessee in a restored 1940s era school house. This popular winery is open Thursday through Sunday (as well as the Wednesday after Christmas). Additionally, Watauga Lake Winery is hosting a New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball with a buffet dinner, DJ, and a champagne toast at midnight. Enjoy live music on Saturday evenings throughout the winter from 5 to 8 p.m.

The intimate winery is a comfortable destination year-round with fire pits and patio heaters for added warmth in cooler weather. In addition to tasting the flavorful estate made wines, winter is a perfect time to attend a painting class, listen to live local music, or enjoy some friendly competition with one of the available board games. To satisfy the appetite, try one of their award winning pizzas, drawing visitors from miles around for the delicious pies made from dough delivered directly from New York City.

Three miles away, where the grapes used in Watauga Lake Winery’s wines are grown, Villa Nove Farm and Vineyard is another great winter destination. The Vineyard is a cozy spot to snuggle around the fireplace with a glass of wine and watch the snow fall—and the views are spectacular any time of year. During wintertime, you might enjoy a tasting alongside some charcuterie or one of their featured soup specials. This season ushers in the new release of two Villa Nove Vineyard favorites. Bonita, a medium-bodied Italian style white blend, and Cielo Rosso, a slightly oaked velvety red, are back for pairing with hearty winter meals. Stop by and sample one or both of these wines, or make a day of it with a dual tasting at both Watauga Lake and Villa Nove Vineyard. For details and the latest information, visit waterfrontgroupwatauga.com.

Eagles Nest Winery

Centrally located between Elk Park and Banner Elk on Old Beech Mountain Rd. is Eagles Nest Winery. Although affiliated with the Eagles Nest gated community, the winery is open to the public through an annual membership, or the purchase of a day pass membership. The day pass is $25 and includes a tasting or, if you prefer, $10 off a bottle.

The quiet location nestled amid remote mountain vistas is a great place to spend a winter’s day by the tasting room fireplace. The winery is open Thursday through Sunday to guests sixteen years and older, with open mic on Thursday night and live music on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. Eagles Nest Winery rings in 2024 with a reservation-only Dutch Style Gourmet Cooking Event on New Year’s Eve.

Throughout the chilly months, you can sample winter inspired wine cocktails, mulled wine, and several new releases, including a bold red wine and a 2021 vintage Chardonnay made in the High Country with grapes sourced from California. For more information, check out the winery on social media or at eaglesnestatbannerelk.com.

Banner Elk Winery

High up in the Blue Ridge Mountains just a few miles from downtown Banner Elk is the inviting Banner Elk Winery. With fire pits scattered throughout the property and a crackling fire ablaze in the tasting room’s fireplace, you’ll find warmth and your favorite flavors from 12-6 p.m. daily.

Banner Elk Winery welcomes guests of all ages, including pets, with beverages available for every palate. During the winter, there is hot cider and hot cocoa for those who are not wine drinkers, and mulled wines, wine flights and tastings for wine lovers.

In addition to their usual offerings, Banner Elk Winery is releasing a new Sauvignon Blanc this season. On Saturdays and Sundays guests might enjoy a glass of the new release while listening to live music. For event schedules and information visit bannerelkwinery.com.

Old Barn Winery

The High Country AVA’s newest winery is located in Ashe County just a few miles from downtown West Jefferson. Old Barn Winery opened on July 4, 2022, in the barn that was previously the owners’ choose-and-cut tree farm retail site. The Sexton family, fourth generation farmers, still run Frosty’s Tree Farm and have also now achieved their dream of opening a winery on the property. The Sextons’ goal of welcoming everyone, including pets, with open arms and a warm smile is evident as soon as you arrive.

To further warm up guests, Old Barn Winery has a huge outdoor stone fireplace blazing throughout the chilly season. The barn also has inside seating, both upstairs and down, with tables and plush chairs, along with couches and intimate nooks for tasters to relax and enjoy their libations overlooking beautiful views. Surrounded by rolling hills of Christmas trees, the cozy setting is reminiscent of a Hallmark movie.

In addition to wine tastings, Old Barn Winery offers mulled wines, red and white sangria and mead. During the winter season, the winery transitions in a new cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry mead and introduces two new varietals, a Cabernet Franc and a Viognier. But the most special winter release is the first of the Old Barn Winery’s Heritage Collection.

The release of the first in a series of Heritage Collection wines is Byron, named for the first generation family farmer Byron Sexton, known as one of the pioneers of the Fraser fir industry in our area. Byron is a blend of old vine zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and Malbec, and is a very sentimental release for the Sexton family and Old Barn Winery. Upcoming for 2024: “The Vintner’s Circle,” with unique tastings and intimate experiences for friends and family at Old Barn Winery. To find out more visit oldbarnwinery.com.

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From the CML Kitchen

By Meagan Goheen

Beef Tenderloin with a mushroom sauce and horseradish cream sauce

INGREDIENTS

4 to 4 ½ lbs of trimmed beef tenderloin

1 TBSP kosher salt

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 TBSP olive oil

Garlic herb butter

6 TBSP butter

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme

Mushroom sauce

1 TBSP unsalted butter

1 TBSP olive oil

1 large shallot thinly sliced

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme

½ tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ cup dry red wine

1 1/2 cups beef broth

Horseradish cream sauce

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup prepared horseradish

1 ½ TBSP dijon mustard

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Remove the beef tenderloin from the fridge, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Let it come to room temperature prior to cooking, about 1 ½ hours.
  2. To cook the beef evenly, cut into two pieces and use butcher’s twine to tie each tenderloin, making the shape as uniform as possible on the ends. 
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for garlic herb butter, set aside.
  5. In another bowl, mix together horseradish cream sauce, cover and chill until ready to serve. 
  6. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  7. Heat a large cast iron skillet to high heat; add 2 TBSP olive oil and sear tenderloin on each side until browned, 2-3 minutes per side.
  8. Once seared, slather on the garlic herb butter and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  9. To ensure correct temperature, use a meat thermometer:

Rare – 115°F-120°F

Medium Rare – 120°F-125°F

Medium – 130°F-135°F

  • Remove tenderloin and transfer to a cutting board. Let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing.
  • In the same skillet prepare your mushroom sauce. Over medium-high heat, add butter and oil.
  • Add sliced mushrooms and shallots and sauté until browned, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add minced garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Sauté until fragrant and transfer to a separate bowl.
  • Add ½ cup of wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Cook until 2 TBSP of wine remain, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add beef broth and boil until reduced by half, 5-7 minutes.*
  • Add mushrooms back to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

*Optional – remove sauce from heat and finish with 1/4 cup of cream or 2 TBSP of butter for a creamier sauce.

Slice beef, serve with mushroom and horseradish sauces.

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