By Ellen Gwin Burnette / App State News
As a result of extensive research for her upcoming book, and given the world-class regional wines now being produced, an Appalachian State University professor posed the question: “Why aren’t more regional wines featured in the area’s top restaurants with menus devoted to regionally-sourced ingredients and regionally-inspired cuisine?”
The upcoming Chef & Winemaker Summit begins at noon Tuesday, March 21 at Over Yonder restaurant in Valle Crucis. The summit is the result of Dr. Jessica Blackburn’s collaboration with area chefs intended to further the discussion around creating a regional network based on Appalachian terroir-inspired menus from the glass to the plate.
The summit is the first event of its kind and has been designed to bring some of the region’s top and rising chefs and vintners to the same table. The summit will feature three of the region’s chefs who have taken an interest in featuring the best wines from Appalachia—Travis Milton of Shovel and Pick, Bristol, Virginia; Nate Allen of Knife and Fork, Spruce Pine, and Andrew Long of Over Yonder, plus 12 of the vintners in the region, ranging from Maryland to Alabama.
Blackburn, associate professor in the Department of English and affiliate faculty in Appalachian Studies, has conducted over 70 site visits and interviews with chefs, craft food producers, vintners and restaurateurs for her research project culminating in her forthcoming book, “Appalachian Terroir: A Stylist Approach to New Landscapes.” In the course of her travels, Blackburn noticed a disconnect between the top chefs and restaurateurs in the region and the wineries. “Many of the chefs I interviewed,” said Blackburn, “admit there is a wine hierarchy that can make it difficult for restaurants to sell our region’s wines, but most also agree that this hierarchy is based on an outdated and inaccurate stereotype stemming from a lack of knowledge of the wines produced in our region.
“One of my chief observations from this project is the necessary relationship between our region’s wineries and our region’s top chefs – specifically chefs who use locally-sourced ingredients and who celebrate our region’s food heritage. These are the chefs who appreciate our terroir enough to prioritize local ingredients and then pair the region’s cuisine with our wines,” said Blackburn. “In other words, this project has led me to see that, as always, wine and food go together as a result of a shared terroir, and our provincial cuisine and varietals are no exception. The timing of the growth in our region’s winery/vineyard industry is perfectly poised alongside the farm-to-table movement.”
With such a strong commitment to the region’s diverse food heritage and future, the chefs participating in the summit share Blackburn’s interest in connecting the region’s award-winning food with its wines. Early in the collaboration, Milton told Blackburn, “Foodways are a part of Appalachia’s story, and if I can open a door to help someone else tell the story, that’s all I can ask for.”
From there, Milton and Blackburn discussed putting winemakers and chefs in the same room to start conversations on pairing the region’s food and top wines. After a few chefs asked her to introduce them to her favorite wines from her research, Blackburn made a few phone calls, and the result is the upcoming summit.
The 12 participating wine producers from American Viticultural Areas (AVA) extending from Maryland to Alabama are:
- Blenheim Vineyards and Winery, Charlottesville, Virginia; Monticello AVA. Kirsty Harmon, winemaker.
- King Family Vineyards, Crozet, Virginia; Monticello AVA. Matthieu Finot, winemaker.
- James Charles Winery & Vineyard, Winchester, Virginia; Shenandoah Wine Trail. Justin Bogaty, winemaker.
- Big Cork Vineyards, Rohrersville, Maryland; Antietam Highlands Wine Trail. Dave Collins, winemaker.
- Jones vonDrehle Vineyards & Winery, Thurmond; Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. Dan Tillman, winemaker.
- McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, Thurmond; Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. Sean McRitchie, winemaker and cider maker.
- Elkin Creek Vineyard, Elkin; Yadkin Valley. Louis Jeroslow, winemaker.
- Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery, Dahlonega, Georgia; Dahlonega Wine Trail. Brandon Boegner, winemaker.
- Ramulose Ridge Vineyards, Moneta, Virginia; Bedford Wine Trail. Sandi Ramaker, winemaker.
- Banner Elk Winery, Banner Elk; Appalachian High Country AVA. Dr. David Craig, winemaker
- Maraella Estate Vineyard and Winery, Hokes Bluff, Alabama; North Alabama Wine Trail. Justin Miller, winemaker. Founder and winemaker for featured cabernet was James Lee (1942- 2015).