Here’s the burning question: Where does North Carolina’s centuries-old barbecue tradition cross paths with the state’s ascending wine industry? Top answer: Lexington. And the journey continues from there.
A city of 19,000, Lexington lends its name to a barbecue style built on wood-smoked pork shoulders seasoned with tomato-laced vinegar sauce. In addition to 15 barbecue joints, Lexington is home base for the Yadkin Valley wine region’s Southern Gateway Wine Trail. The ultimate meeting of barbecue and bottle comes in October at the Barbecue Festival with Childress Vineyards’ release of a vintage Fine Swine Wine, which matches semi-sweet fruitiness to the pork’s smoky overtones.
Beyond Childress’ destination winery experience, Wine Trail followers can set a course for Native Vines Winery, the country’s first Native American-owned winery; Junius Lindsay Vineyard, which excels with Rhône-style wines; and Weathervane Winery, which invites overnight cabin stays. Stars on the restaurant list include Lexington Barbecue, a James Beard America’s Classics restaurant, and the Barbecue Center, which is nearly as famous for its 4-pound banana split as it is for pulled pork.
Head to the Hendersonville area
The home of North Carolina’s newest wine region might never match Lexington for barbecue prevalence, but wine’s another story. Since the establishment of the compact Crest of the Blue Ridge Henderson County American Viticultural Area in 2019, the winery count has grown from three to six.
On the barbecue front, Flat Rock is home to the chef-driven Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, a stop on the N.C. Barbecue Society’s Historic Barbecue Trail, plus the Flat Rock Wood Room, and Green River Barbeque lies a few miles south in Saluda. Wine lovers can drink in lofty views along the Eastern Continental Divide, where the less commonly grown grüner veltliner grape is flourishing. Two of the new wineries, Marked Tree Vineyard and Stone Ashe Vineyards, won high honors in the N.C. Fine Wine Society’s 2021 competition.
Wine remains relatively rare on the menus of traditional North Carolina barbecue joints. But a number of destinations afford an opportunity to uncork and savor pork in separate tastings or in picnic pairings. Here are a few favorite places for the itinerary.
Asheville: If not for the melt-in-your-mouth meat at Buxton Hall, whole hog barbecue aficionados would need to head east to muscadine country for a fix of a tradition that dates to the 1700s. On the wine side, try plēb urban winery, which uses Appalachian-grown grapes, or immerse yourself at a Biltmore Winery tasting, which is included on a tour of the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate.
Linville: Travelers hop off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Old Hampton Store & Barbecue for pulled pork with a side of music and mountain culture … or maybe it’s the other way around. Old Hampton Store’s location within the Appalachian High Country AVA makes it an ideal stop as part of a rewarding winery tour that includes three mountain beauties: Linville Falls Winery, Grandfather Vineyard & Winery and Banner Elk Winery & Villa.
Shelby: Andie MacDowell, Vince Gill and the late Mickey Rooney are among the celebrities who have put Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge on their go-to list. This stop on the Historic Barbecue Trail spans three generations in a tradition of smoking exclusively with wood. In nearby Lawndale, you might recognize the barn at Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard & Winery from Hillshire Farm commercials. Try pairing the fine swine with muscadine wines as well as classic vinifera styles.
Burlington: In the mineral-rich Haw River Valley, North Carolina’s easternmost AVA, Grove Winery produces award-winning nebbiolo, malbec and other wines a few miles north of Burlington. Barbecue options include Hursey’s, a longtime favorite, and the Smokehouse at Steve’s, a recent addition to a longstanding butchery and produce market in Graham.
Morganton: Silver Fork Vineyard & Winery co-owner/winemaker Jennifer Foulides gave up the world of New York finance to craft varietals and enticing blends, such as the award-winning Four Dog Red. A short drive west in Connelly Springs, J.D.’s Smokehouse goes low and slow with its pulled pork, served with jalepeño cheese grits, sweet potato crunch and other sides.
Source: Visit North Carolina