What do tropical fish, birds of prey and good wines have in common? Not much you might think, but you can find all these at Brandon Hills Vineyard, a small boutique winery in Yadkin County.
Located at 1927 Brandon Hills Road in Yadkinville, Brandon Hills Vineyard is named for the family who used to farm the land sandwiched between two rolling hills. Now, set atop one hill is the tasting room for Brandon Hills, which overlooks the valley where the vineyard is planted.
Though no relation to the Brandon family, owners David and Pam Blackwell felt it was important to keep the name associated with their unique geographic location. The Blackwells planted their first grapes in 2005 and opened the tasting room in 2009.
The small and rustically elegant tasting room has a most unique feature, a large aquarium, stocked with, in the owner’s words, all the “Finding Nemo” fish. Clown fish, a tang and an angel fish give a bright splash of color that catches visitors’ eyes as soon as they arrive. Blackwell said his wife always had a fondness for fish tanks and so when they built the tasting room they made special accommodations to house the large aquarium.
Brandon Hills Vineyard is also home to the annual Raptor Ride, a fundraising bicycle ride benefiting the Carolina Raptor Center, an organization dedicated to “environmental stewardship and the conservation of birds of prey, through education, research, and the rehabilitation of injured and orphan raptors.”
Each fall Brandon Hills hosts this charity bike ride which also includes the release of a bird of prey at the vineyard.
“We’ve released about 13 of these birds, owls, hawks, on the property,” Blackwell said. “The way it helps us is by increasing the predator bird population on the property and puts pressure on the pest birds that damage and eat our grapes.”
Brandon Hills’ signature wine is a red blend called Raptor Red in honor of the birds they release on the property. The labels even feature images of the birds. Currently on the tasting list is the 2008 Raptor Red, a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with hints of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Viognier. A dollar is donated to the Carolina Raptor Center for each bottle of Raptor Red that is sold. The 2010 Raptor Red is available for purchase by the bottle.
The Raptor Red is a favorite of Glen Morris as is the Barbera. Morris and his wife Barb, from Denver, are frequent visitors to the Yadkin Valley Wine Region.
“I like red wines that are oaky,” Glen Morris said. Barb, on the other hand, said she preferred the sweeter wines like Brandon Hills’ Raspberry Rendezvous and Amaretto Amoré.
Blackwell said even wine lovers who claim only to like dry red wines have fallen for the Amaretto Amoré, which features natural amaretto flavoring in a red blend wine. Blackwell said he often serves this with or even as a dessert.
“The added amaretto gives you a sweetness, but it’s not the sweetness you expect in a wine, it just takes your taste buds a totally different direction. It’s nice,” Morris said, though Barb doesn’t often share her sweet wines with him.
“We always have to buy twice as much because we can’t share,” Glen said with a laugh.
Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot, white Merlot and Brandon Berry Black, a blackberry wine, also are featured at Brandon Hills Vineyard.
With a variety of dry whites, reds and several sweeter wines, Brandon Hills has something to please every palette. Its out-of-the-way location also provides a scenic spot for those looking to get away from the maddening crowd.
“We encourage people to come and sit out on the deck. We like people to come out and picnic on the deck, they’ve got the beautiful view of the vineyard. Bring your pet if you want, we’ve got a water bowl on the porch for the dogs. We’re kind of off-the-beaten path, we don’t see as much traffic and that kind of fits our style a little bit. We’d rather have time where we can interface with people than be slammed all the time. We like the small crowd, where people can come out and have a more intimate experience,” Blackwell said.
Brandon Hills Vineyard is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays, and by appointment. For more information, visit www.brandonhillsvineyard.com or check out their Facebook page.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.