McRitchie Winery & Cidery is located on nearly 30 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the heart of the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, where it specializes in small lots of artisan wines and hard ciders.
It’s one of more than 65 wineries that are now open for business across that part of the state, north-northwest of Winston-Salem and Charlotte.
Sean McRitchie’s father was a winemaker in California and Oregon, and those interests were transferred to him at an early age. In addition to working in wineries and vineyards in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, Sean has worked at well-known wineries in many of the world’s premier wine regions including Alsace Lorraine, Napa Valley, and Australia.
It was in 1998 that he and Pat, who earlier in her career was a criminal attorney and judge, moved to North Carolina and became involved in the establishment of a large vineyard and winery in the Yadkin Valley. Later, they developed a winery and vineyard consulting business.
By 2004, they made the decision to join what was then a fledgling wine industry in the state, and they planted their first vines. The winery opened in 2006 and the tasting room a year after that.
Located at 315 Thurmond Post Office Road in Thurmond, the winery and cidery is open noon to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.
Below is the latest in the “6 Questions” series of interviews with winemakers and owners of East Coast wineries, which looks behind at what has been a turbulent year and, with optimism, looks ahead. Thanks to Pat McRitchie for taking these on.
Q, When did you plant the vineyard and when did your tasting room open? What’s the sort of experience you seek for visitors to your winery and cidery?
A, We planted our vineyard in 2004, our first vintage was in 2006, and our tasting room opened in 2007. Sean is a second-generation winemaker and grew up in Napa and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He’s worked in wineries throughout the world including Napa, Oregon, Australia, Germany, and France so has a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience.
We have both worked in a number of large wineries and when we decided to branch out on our own we knew we wanted a small winery and tasting room that was warm, intimate, and inviting. Our focus is on our wines and ciders and providing an experience where the wines and ciders are serious but approachable and the quality is consistently high. We want a visit to our tasting room and grounds to be restful – where you can hear birdsong and the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees – and delicious. Picnics and enjoying your time with us is highly encouraged.
Q, How much do you source your vineyard for your wines?
A. Our vineyard is small – just over an acre of grapes and about the same in apples. Our model has been to source fruit from a number of local vineyards and orchards and to work with the best growers and sites in the area. Sean has grown grapes and made wine in many regions of the world and knew the challenges of a young growing region. We want to ensure consistency in our wines and ciders and think sourcing from a number of vineyards and orchards has helped us achieve that, especially in years when unpredictable growing conditions have impacted vineyards in ways that would be difficult if all our fruit was affected adversely. Not having all our production dependent on just one location has been a good one for us.
Q, I see you are making pét-nat. When did you start making it?
A, We will be releasing our fourth pet-nat later this month [May]. It is made with Muscat Blanc this time. In the past, we’ve used Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, and Riesling. All were done using the old-school Methode Ancestral production process, usually requiring late-night bottling to ensure the timing was just right.
We try and do one per vintage in addition to the other sparkling wines we produce and our first was in 2017. Sean worked for Domaine Chandon in Napa for a number of years and sparkling wines have been something we’ve included in our wine list from the beginning. Experimenting with different production methods and varietals keeps it interesting and fun.
Q. I saw you collaborated on a wine with nearby JOLO Winery and Vineyards. How did that come about? It’s not something you see very often on the East Coast.
A, We were friends with JW and Kristen Ray of JOLO before they opened their winery – really before they moved to NC. Collaborating on a wine was something JW and Sean talked about for many years. We enjoyed it and the wine was well-received so, while a follow-up isn’t yet in the works, one could be coming in the future.
As far as collaborations in general go, we have a number of family members who are in the wine industry and we hope to work together on projects. Our youngest son, Asher, is an aspiring winemaker now working at a winery in Oregon, and a joint wine with him is on our short list.
Q, Tell me about the cider side of your operation.
A, We were the first cidery in N.C. and have made cider since we opened our doors in 2007. We knew N.C. was a state with apple growers that grew apples suitable for producing great ciders. We’ve distributed our ciders broadly throughout N.C. in the past and are happy where we are at right now. We are dedicated to only using local apples and want to ensure that demand and our commitment to our vendors is aligned. We considered greatly increasing production but realized that wasn’t the model we were comfortable with or wanted. Small and hands-on is our sweet spot.
Q. It has been quite the past 14 months for everyone. How did the pandemic affect your business and are there any changes you made that you think you’ll continue? On top of everything else, saw you had an earthquake last August.
A, The past 13 months have been challenging but they have also been an opportunity for reflection and assessing what works and is important in our business. Our wine club and other loyal customers kept us going through the first really tough months and we are dedicated to increasing the value to them of being such great supporters during this time. Good stuff on that front is coming up.
Our inside tasting room is not yet open to the public but we are fortunate to have ample outside seating areas. We will continue to offer tasting flights that allow our customers to enjoy the wines and ciders at their own pace. We started recommending reservations after last year’s shutdown to ensure table space and we will continue to do this. It’s helped with managing the flow and expectations of our visitors. We have new tasting experiences planned for our indoor tasting space when we are able to welcome visitors back inside that will focus on food and wine.
The earthquake was just another oddity in a year filled with the unusual.
ALSO READ: The grapes aren’t the only sun-worshippers that have found a home at this Delaware winery
ALSO READ: Md. winery reopens following a year blown up by the pandemic and then a tornado’s direct hit
Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.