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Last updated: June 01. 2013 12:06AM - 426 Views
Lindsay Craven
Staff Writer

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Nestled in the rural back roads of Yadkinville sits Hanover Park Vineyards, Yadkin County’s first bonded winery since prohibition.

The rustic farmhouse that houses the tasting room dates back to 1897 and is a stunning departure from what it was when Forsyth County school teachers Michael and Amy Helton fell in love with it in December of 1996.

As you enter the tasting room you’ll be met by Hanover Park’s resident greeter Pearl, the Helton’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The charming and old fashioned interior of the tasting room provides the setting for a relaxed tasting of the winery’s European style wines.

Their flare for the European is not just some aspiration to mimic the styles of French winemakers; it’s a dedication that the Heltons have had since returning from their honeymoon in 1996.

Romance leads to business

In the summer of 1996 the Heltons were celebrating their recent nuptials by spending a month in France touring the countryside and visiting as many wineries as they could.

“We were on our honeymoon, so we were just enjoying ourselves,” Amy said. “We would go around and try different wines at different wineries.”

Amy already had a reasonable appreciation for wine, but it was a new venture for Michael. After a month in the country of romance, Michael had fallen in love…with wine.

“I had been exposed to more wine that Michael had but within that month he was definitely converted into a wine lover,” Amy said.

When the couple returned home they immediately started researching where they could open their own winery and set their sights on the Yadkin County area.

“We live in on the western side of Winston-Salem, and heading out on 421 was a natural way for us to look at land,” Amy said. “We would find things that were too big, or too small or too close to the river. Nothing seemed right and then one day Michael was trying to find another piece of property and he drove by this location.”

It was a rundown farm house built in 1897 and formerly owned by the Cranfield-Cooley family.

“Mr. Cooley passed away and Mrs. Cranfield-Cooley went to live with her sister and this house was rented out to different people,” Amy said. “I’ve had a lot of the people who have lived here over the years come by and I’ve kept a chart of who lived here and when. I’ll hear stories and it’s fun that way, we like that.”

Located on Courtney-Huntsville Road just down the street from Courtney Elementary School, it seemed like the perfect place to the Heltons, who were drawn to is charm and saw its potential.

The house hadn’t had residents since 1963 and the farm was extremely overgrown and uncared for. The Heltons knew they had their work cut out for them but they also knew that if they were successful they would have the bragging rights of the first winery in Yadkin County since prohibition.

“There was one other winery in the area, and that was West Bend in Lewisville,” Amy said. “There were only 10 wineries in the whole state.”

The tables are turned

The Heltons’ background as educators would come to serve them well in the coming months and years as they set out to achieve a goal that neither of them had much background in.

“Surry Community College didn’t have a program in viticulture at the time, so we had to do any research and learning on our own but being teachers we taught ourselves,” Amy said.

The Heltons reached out to a winemaker in Virginia who welcomed them to his vineyard and mentored them with what information he could offer.

The Heltons would leave their respective classrooms in Winston-Salem and travel down 421 to Yadkinville most days and spend time working in the vineyard. Sometimes they would retreat into the farmhouse for renovations on days with bad weather.

As time went on they found other professionals to assist them with soil and growing tips at North Carolina State University. Also, an Australian viticulturist paid them a visit while he was on a lecture tour. He said: “You have poor soil, good for grapes,” and promptly sent them a bill in the mail.

They planted their first crops in the springs of 1997 and 1998 and had their first harvest in 1999 and on July 1, 2000 Hanover Park Vineyard opened its doors to the public.

Amy says that although it wasn’t easy teaching themselves to start a vineyard and learning everything it took to make a European wine, they are glad that they chose to venture into Yadkin County.

“I think that people like coming to the country,” Amy said. “They may live in Winston-Salem and it may be 20 minutes away, but when they don’t have to be at home tending to something they will come out here and they’ll bring a picnic and share a bottle of wine with friends or family. They are creating great memories for themselves and to me, that’s what’s important.”

A wine for everyone

Hanover Park Vineyards offers a variety of red, white and fruit wines to as to please any wine drinker that comes through their door. They take pride in the fact that a majority of the grape they use are grown on their own farm.

“We grow most of our grapes which I think is a very, very important aspect to all of this,” Amy said. “We want people to know that this is what wine from this part of Yadkin County tastes like. It’s not grapes from California, it’s not grapes from anywhere else; it’s grapes from our vineyard here.”

The vineyard’s most popular wine is a red that Michael created from influences he received in France.

“Our Michael’s Blend has been a very popular wine for us,” Amy said. “We started doing Michael’s Blend in 2001. It was the first vintage. We have just released our 2008, which is 43 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 43 percent Cabernet Franc and 14 percent Chambourcin. It is medium bodied, easy to drink and good with basically anything that you would like to eat or just to sit on the porch and enjoy.”

Another important Hanover Park selection is another red that came along as a direct influence of their honeymoon.

“One wine that we do that no other winery in the state of the North Carolina does on its own is our Mourevdre,” Amy said. “This grape grows in the south of France and it has a wonderful earthiness to it and it’s great with lamb or beef and some good cheeses. Many people can’t pronounce it but they love it.”

The winery also receives a lot of attention for its Blueberry wine, a white wine base with a blueberry concentrate.

The tasting room offers 12 different wines. Visitors may choose to try five different wines for $5 and take home their tasting glass or they can choose to try all 12 wines for $10.

Amy is particularly excited about a new addition to their tasting options, the riedel wine glass.

“Years ago Michael and I went to a tasting and we couldn’t believe that the riedel wine glass would make such a difference,” Amy said. “Basically the glass is made so that you’re going to get the appropriate taste. This glass will give you aroma and taste. This glass is going to make my product look good. It’s not that it’s going to be bad in other glasses, the riedel just enhances it. It’s really amazing and fun. We had skeptics that are no longer skeptics.”

The riedel tasting option will allow wine lovers to taste seven wines for $20 and take home their reidel glass. Amy says that the tasting will also be larger than those that are offered in the regular glasses.

Hanover Park is also especially proud of its wine club, which was established in 2003 and continues to go strong today. The club allows members to receive two bottles of wine shipped to their door or picked up at the tasting room for 15 percent off retail price.

Wines are shipped out every other month and include winemaker notes and recipes that pair well. Membership also entitles you to a 15 percent on any wine purchased at the vineyard and invitations to member only events at the vineyard.

The wine club is free to join.

“The wine club has built a very nice family here that is very important to a small winery,” Amy said. “It’s created friendships among wine club members who come to our different events and we two wine club parties every year for our members. That’s been a really big part of who we are.”

An important mixture

Hanover Park Vineyard prides itself on its wines but the Heltons also realize the importance of additional activities at a winery. Amy has a strong passion for the pairing of wine and food and so the couple will host Sunday evening dinners for groups of 25 to 35 people.

“We think food and wine together is really important,” Amy said. “We enjoy it when we have people here to sit and talk and eat together. They’re not big groups and the intimacy is what we like.”

The vineyard also offers two event spaces for parties, weddings, anniversaries and many other medium to large gatherings.

The Gallery is a space the couple built on to the back of the farmhouse to make additional storage room when Michael was still making wine in the house. Now that he has his own winemaking building, the Gallery has been changed into a 50 person capacity event space where the dinners are sometimes held and where people can rent it for their own showers, dinners and parties.

The vineyard also houses their newest addition that it likes to the call The Studio. This event space is capable of seating up to 250 people and is a popular location for weddings, large parties and company dinners.

“We have our newly restored building that we call The Studio, which is on the far end of the property,” Amy said. “That is a building that we bought from our neighbor. It is 50 by 130 feet and it was built in the 1930s. It has all wood beams inside and we kept the inside looking as much like the original as we could. We’ve had some beautiful weddings there over the past year.”

Looking forward

The Heltons seem content in their position in the Yadkin Valley wine industry. There are no big ambitions of building on and becoming a nationally recognized wine. There’s no focus on the honors and awards their wines have earned over the years but there is a focus on staying simple and in touch with their customers.

Amy says that she’s happy with where the winery is at with sales and that their largest goal is to see their wine club and their event spaces continue to be successful.

“As the industry grows and more wineries come then people have more choices of where they can go,” Amy said. “We look at growing our club, growing our group of people that like to come and enjoy activities that we offer them here. I don’t think we need to grow case wise. I would love to see the Studio used and enjoyed by other people for special occasions. Those are things that I would like to see for us.”

Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at lcraven@civitasmedia.com.

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