It’s kind of an “over the river and through the woods” concept. The Thunder Road Wine Trail, founded by Rick Riddle and launched in September, represents six wineries in East Tennessee, promoting agritourism from Blue Slip Winery in the Old City all the way to Watauga Lake Winery on the border of North Carolina. Not only are these small-vineyard enterprises, but the wines also start with Tennessee native grapes that include Chancellor, Chambourcine, and Seyval, to name a few.
The drives and accompanying tastings make fine fun for the holidays—but more than that, what better time to show solidarity with regional, family-owned wine producers than when loved ones are gathered near?
(Not that I am insisting that only holiday traditions be observed with these local wine purchases. I do believe a few sips will taste just as good paired with a loner’s turkey sub or consumed as part of a living room picnic celebrating the avoidance of traditions like, say, Black Friday. The taste buds are not concerned with your holiday participation.)
And, though it may be a bit like asking the cat to describe the canary, I gave folks from four of the six wineries a shot at suggesting which of their wines would go best at which holiday juncture. Here’s what we have:
Watauga Lake Winery
6952 Big Dry Run Rd., Butler, Tenn.
Linda Gay, vineyard consultant and co-owner
For turkey dinners:
• Watauga River White. “This is a French hybrid wine, very crisp and fruity.”
• Fox Hollow Red: “A double gold medal winner at the 2015 Asheville Food and Wine Festival, this is a light, semi-sweet red.”
For apres dessert:
• Laurel Creek Surprise. “This is a way-after-dinner sweet wine flavored with raspberry and chocolate, something you would drink from a cordials glass.”
• Duncan Hollow port. “This is 18 percent alcohol, very traditional, and a gold winner at both Wines of the South and the Asheville festival.”
Tips: “For dinner wines, estimate you’ll need two glasses per adult, and normally each 750 ml bottle yields four glasses. And don’t feel you have to limit yourself to white wine with fish and poultry—I tell people to drink what they truly enjoy with anything.”
Eagle Springs Winery
119 W. Dumplin Valley Rd., Kodak, Tenn.
Chasity Grogan, general manager
For all holiday gatherings:
• Wohali Legend dry red wine combined with Crown mulling spices. “The wine just earned a bronze at the Wines of the South competition. To mull it, mix one bottle with six cups apple juice and the spices in a Crock-Pot. The dry red wine balances out the sugar in the apple juice. It makes three quarts, and it tastes like Christmas in a glass. It goes great with any holiday meal and if you make it in a removable insert, it will last up to two weeks, in and out of the fridge.”
With chocolate cookies or desserts:
• Wildfire strawberry kiwi dessert wine. “It is one of our ‘sticky’ wines made with a touch of Tennessee honey, and the combination will taste like chocolate-dipped strawberries.”
The Winery at Seven Springs Farm
1474 Highway 61 East, Maynardville, Tenn.
Nikki Riddle, degreed enologist and winemaker/owner
For any wintry holiday gathering:
• Blueberry mulled wine made with Royal Blue wine. “Mix a bottle with a quart of grape juice and heat it on low in a Crock-Pot.”
For vegetarian fare:
• Seven Springs Farm Riesling or Vineyard White. “You want to choose a lighter, more citrusy white for salads or vegetarian entrees, so the tastes come through. The Riesling, for example, is semi-dry and very ‘fruit forward,’ with pleasing aromas of green apple, honeysuckle flowers and tropical fruit.”
Blue Slip Winery
300 West Depot Ave., Knoxville
Linn Slocum, owner
With pork tenderloin or pork roast:
• Blue Slip apple wine: “We use apple juice from local growers. It is sweeter than a typical dinner wine, so you can expect people to drink a little less.
For a turkey dinner:
• Chardonel: “It is made from a hybrid grape—a sister grape to Chardonnay that is not so buttery—that comes from McMinnville, and the wine is crisp and dry. It goes well with turkey and all the fixings, and can segue from the appetizer course through the rest of the meal.”
With pumpkin pie:
• Dogwood White: “This is not a dry white; it’s made with a Niagara grape and is quite fruity and floral. We start with good, fresh fruit and it enhances the pumpkin spices, like ginger and cinnamon, whether they are in pie or sweet potato casserole or some other dish.”
Tip: “I like to serve the Chardonel with a slice of Gala apple seasoned with just a little black pepper and wrapped in capicola. It is divine.”
Slocum and niece Addie Atchley, who works at the tasting room, will both attend a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a battalion of family members. “It’s usually 60 people, but this year it’s 80,” says Atchley. “My dad makes seven deep-fried turkeys, just to start with.”
Slocum will be heavily involved in the hubbub, and says it is the high point of her year. She makes a sweeping gesture to include the high-ceiling rooms and counters that include timbers salvaged from the basement when Blue Slip moved to this Depot Avenue site a year ago. “We just like to entertain—that’s where all this comes from,” she says. “That’s just in our blood.”
About the Wine Trail
The Thunder Road Wine Trail runs along the historic road traveled by moonshiners through prohibition in East Tennessee. It includes six wineries:
• Blue Slip Winery, Knoxville’s first urban winery
• Watauga Lake Winery on Copperhead Road in the historic Big Dry Run School of Butler, Tenn.
• The Winery at Seven Springs Farm, a 370 acre farm-to-table complex on the original site of the historic Andrew Jacker (AJ) Woods Distillery in Maynardville.
• Spout Spring Estates Winery and Vineyard on a ridgetop estate with sweeping views of Mount LeConte in the Smokies in Grainger County
• Eagle Springs Winery, which makes wine with honey in Kodak, Tenn.
• Goodwater Vineyards, at 30 acres the largest of the six, in production only since July 2014 in Mosheim, Tenn.
In October, four member wineries took home a total of 30 awards in the 2015 Wines of the South Regional Wine Competition, hosted by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Food Science Technology Department.
More info: thunderroadwinetrail.com.
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