#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture!
Travel to Italy without leaving the state of North Carolina at Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery in Ronda. Enjoy what owner Jay Raffaldini calls an “exhale moment” the minute you step on the property and take in the beautiful views, natural landscapes and unique architecture of the Villa itself. Their delicious wines will only enhance the memorable and romantic experience you will have!
In 2001, Jay Raffaldini purchased the raw land and in 2005 Raffaldini Vineyards opened its doors to the public and immediately started offering agritourism events, like vineyard tours and wine tastings. “My family has a longstanding tradition of making wine in Italy, so I have travelled to Italy a lot to learn more about my family and the winemaking process there and in other countries,” Jay said. “While in Italy, I try to stay in what are called ‘agriturismos’, because agritourism is also big over there, so I knew what it was supposed to look like fully implemented on our vineyard.” Today, Raffaldini Vineyards offers many events in addition to tours and tastings, including Festa Italiana, winemaking classes, specialty dinners and hikes in the vineyard.
One of the main goals of the vineyard is to showcase the family’s Italian heritage. Thus, their yearly festival, Festa Italiana was born. “Many wineries host festivals that allow people to come out and enjoy the vineyard with friends and family, but we wanted a way to not only open the vineyard up to the public with drinks, food and music, but also to educate them on our Italian culture and unique winemaking process,” said Jay.
Taking place in September, Festa Italiana offers an immersive experience in all things Italian. From traditional foods and relaxing music to vineyard tours and educational talks on the vines and the winemaking process, it’s a fun-filled weekend for friends, couples and families. “I love that people will come from across the state to spend the day, and sometimes even the weekend, with us,” said co-owner Barbara Raffaldini. The festival recently transitioned to two days in order to accommodate more customers. This year will be the 18th year of the festival at Raffaldini Vineyards. General admission tickets are $20 if purchased in advance and $25 at the gate. VIP tickets are also available, which include a table under the tent and access to the Villa for groups of four to eight people, food, wine, a souvenir glass and more. Last year, a VIP group of four was $175 and a group of eight was $350.
One of the family’s favorite things to teach during Festa Italiana as well as other events and vineyard tours throughout the year is their unique process of making wine. Currently the vineyard has 35 acres of grapes planted. Their varieties include vermentino, which is their only white variety, and the following red grape varieties; montepulciano, sangiovese, sagrantino and petit verdot. “The saying in Italy is ‘the land the farmer rejects, the vineyard accepts,’” Jay explained. “The land here wasn’t originally intended to grow Italian grapes because of the high amounts of rain, humidity and ever changing temperatures, but due to our unique process and pure determination, we’ve made it work.”
The winemaking process used at Raffaldini Vineyards is called Appassimento. “Basically this process marries the old way of drying out tobacco with the new age process of making wine,” Jay said. Once the grapes are harvested, they are then dried, much like N.C. tobacco leaves, for 10 to 14 days. “Grapes hold a lot of water, and since it rains often in North Carolina, we dry out the grapes to help them lose some of that water to create the flavor profiles we want,” Jay said. By drying the grapes for this length of time, 1/3 of their water weight is lost, making their flavor and color far bolder and more concentrated than before. This allows Jay and his family to obtain a variety of textures, flavor profiles and more in their wines.
The Grande Riserva, or their flagship wine, is one that Jay takes great pride in, along with their Patrimiono, which is a wine that pays tribute to their father. “The Grande Riserva wine is also called our bumblebee wine,” he said. “If you research bees, no one really knows why they can fly because their bodies are too bg in proportion to their wing spna. By all odds they shouldn’t be able too, but out of sheer determination they do. That’s exactly how I felt about the vineyard at times. We weren’t supposed to be able to grow and produce quality Italian style wine here, but we are.”
Be sure to mark your calendar to visit Raffaldini Vineyards some time this year and keep an eye out for tickets to Festa Italiana in September. The family is currently working to build lodging on the property neighboring the vineyard, so follow their social media pages for further updates on that. “Wine is contextual and totally based on the experience people have while drinking it,” Jay said, “so, that’s why we try to give our visitors the absolute best experience possible when they come here.” Not only will you be welcomed like family when you visit, but the passion and dedication behind the wines you enjoy will shine through every moment.