Tucked away in the furthest northwestern corner of North Carolina’s Piedmont region is the gently rolling Yadkin Valley, more than a million acres comprised of land from seven counties, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. The Piedmont’s mineral rich, clay-loam soil, topography, elevation and cooler climate made it ideal for growing tobacco for decades. With the decline in tobacco farming and cigarette manufacturing, however, the area has shifted its focus to another industry: winemaking.
The Yadkin Valley is one of five American Viticultural Areas in the state, areas federally recognized for their grapevine growing properties and regional wine character. After generations of limited success growing vitas vinfera—the European style grape species harvested for Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, among others, local viticultural researchers have recently found ways to help these grapes thrive. French-American grape hybrids, Muscadines, Labrusca and other fruit varieties are also producing wines in the Yadkin Valley’s dozens of wineries and vineyards.
If you’re not inclined to wine tasting, the Yadkin Valley is still worth a visit. The town of Elkin, the geographic center of the valley about two-and-a-half hours west of Raleigh, is charming, with a quaint central street of shops and restaurants running through the heart of the town of some 4,000.
Cozy, rustic cabins feature a kitchen, fireplace and a private hot tub overlooking Big Elkin Creek. Ten minutes from Stone Mountain State Park, you can fish, hike trails and birdwatch near the cabins or relax with an in-cabin massage.
Maggy’s Place in downtown Elkin is a restored historic cottage that served as the ticket office for the old but still active Elkin & Allegheny Railroad. The early 1900s Victorian House, two blocks away from Main Street, sleeps seven and has a charming wrap-around porch. Slightly Askew Winery House is a newly renovated vacation home located behind the winery’s tasting room.
For hikers and campers, recharge at Byrd’s Branch Campground in Elkin. The site offers RV hookups with water and electricity and four sites for tent camping. Restock your supplies at Byrd’s Branch Camp Store, grill out on the premises and enjoy hand-dipped ice cream.
A plastic tablecloth type of spot, locals will tell you that Harry’s Place in downtown Elkin has the best food in town. With few seats, be prepared to wait, but post up at the bar for beer, wine and spirits. Staples include burgers, barbecue, crab legs, shrimp, steak and renowned desserts.
For an upscale dining experience and excellent cocktails, try Southern on Main. The family-owned eatery has a spacious outdoor patio as well as a sleek, modern interior and it specializes in classic Southern fare: fried chicken, shrimp and grits and fried okra and green tomatoes.
In just a year, owner Bob Puckett has mastered the art of brewing beer in his basement brewery in downtown Elkin. Stop in and order a flight; notable brews include the Sir Walter ESB, the Cocunut Porter, the Coffee Stout and the Strawberry Wheat.
The owners are farmers at the Barking Coyote farm in Wilkes County, and last year, they opened their coffee shop in downtown Elkin. Stop in for a fair trade Red Rooster coffee, hot chocolate or gourmet tea to perk up after exploring the area’s breweries and wineries.
There are nearly 70 different vineyards in the Piedmont West area. In Elkin, take in beautiful views from the rustic wood tavern at Elkin Creek while tasting the winery’s impressive list of whites and reds. At Divine Llama vineyards, the owners raise llamas, including newborn babies, you can visit with while enjoying your wine. Other notable vineyards include Native Wines Vinery in Lexington, surrounded by ancient Indian burial grounds; Raffaldini Vineyard and Winery in Ronda, evocative of the Italian countryside; and Brushy Mountain Winery conveniently located in downtown Elkin.
The Elkin “In Town” begins on Elkin’s Main Street and stretches for 2 miles, ending at the Elkin and Allegheny Railroad Gong. Or try the Yadkin River Blueway Trail, which has launch points for canoeists and kayakers. Elkin hosts a segment of the historic Overmountain Victory Trail, a federal linear park that begins at the Elkin Municipal Park and runs along the Yadkin River, as well as a portion of North Carolina’s Mountain to Sea Trail. History buffs can check out the North Carolina Civil War trail.
An unexpected way to view the beautiful Yadkin Valley is by helicopter or hot air balloon, and there’s no better time for flying than the fall, when the leaves are changing color. Amateur aviators can take a 30-minute helicopter flight lesson at the Elkin Municipal Airport. Families can check out Yadkin Valley Balloon Adventures at Pilot Mountain. From the air, you’ll see the Blue Ridge Parkway, Stone and Pilot Mountains and dozens of the region’s sprawling vineyards and rolling farmlands.