When it comes to walking through the winding rows of vines and venturing to wine tastings, few people think of places outside of France, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and Northern California. While these popular wine-producing regions may be the most well-known among novices and connoisseurs alike, thousands of small and independent vineyards exist in other spots throughout the world—one of which is located right here on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: Sanctuary Vineyards.
The History of Sanctuary Vineyards
Situated on the Currituck County mainland in the small town of Jarvisburg, Sanctuary Vineyards is part of a quaint soundside farm with a unique history that spans back several centuries. The vineyards and surrounding farmland are owned and operated by the Wright family, which has called coastal North Carolina home for seven generations. The story begins hundreds of years ago, when Jacob Wright was shipwrecked on the shoreline of the nearby town of Duck, on the northern Outer Banks. Stranded on the shores of the barrier islands, Jacob Wright decided to settle permanently in the area and promptly established a farm in Currituck County that he could call home.
The land and its original settler’s farming traditions were passed along from generation to generation, with each new owner within the Wright family making subtle changes and adding their own unique twist. At the time the region’s earliest settlers began to develop the sandy soils of the Outer Banks, vineyards didn’t comprise row after row of grape-filled vines. Instead, they typically consisted of a single muscadine vine that was planted on their property for the purpose of producing the sweet grapes that were so well-suited for use as an ingredient in pies, juices, jellies and jams.
Over the years, the popularity of muscadine grapes grew—both because of their unique flavor and their ability to withstand the occasionally harsh conditions of the coastal plains and thrive in an environment that few other varieties of vine could even survive. By the mid-1800s, more than two dozen small vineyards had sprung up across the eastern portion of the Tar Heel State, and—according to the Encyclopedia of North Carolina—these wineries enjoyed so much success, the state was ranked as the leading wine producer in the United States prior to the era of Prohibition.
Sanctuary Vineyard’s World-Class Wines
Recognizing the opportunity to partake in the production of sweet muscadine wines on their property, the Wright family members of decades past put their extensive knowledge of farming techniques to work on the coastal Carolina soils that were perfectly suited to growing muscadine grapes. The final result is the modern-day Sanctuary Vineyards, which boasts centuries of farming experience, knowledge and dedication to carefully cultivating the earth in an effort to produce world-class wines on a large plot of land along the Currituck Sound.
Along with hundreds of acres of wildlife impoundments—which the family refers to as “The Sanctuary” portion of the property—and farmland where other crops are grown, this popular Outer Banks vineyard features 10 acres that are dedicated solely to growing grapes. Within the rows of grapevines, several varieties of grapes are grown, including Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, Norton and, of course, the ever-popular Muscadine.
Sanctuary Vineyards’ most popular wine is Wild Pony White (2015), a smooth-sipping dry wine consisting of 32 percent Chardonnay, 20 percent Pinot Gris, 18 percent Viognier, 16 percent Chardonel and 14 percent Sauvignon Blanc. In addition to being the vineyard’s best-selling variety of wine, Wild Pony White—which is named for the herd of wild horses that have roamed the beaches of the Corolla and Carova for centuries—also benefits a good cause on the Outer Banks, with a portion of its proceeds being donated to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
Other varieties of wines created by Sanctuary Vineyards include Chardonnay (2015), which features bright notes of apple and pear; The Triangle (2015 White Blend), a blend of North Carolina Viognier, Roussanne and Albariño that boasts melon and citrus aromas; Pearl (2015 Albariño), which is handcrafted from a Spanish white grape and imparts tropical fruit flavors; and Wildflowers (2015 Cabernet Franc), a medium-bodied rosé that offers flavors of strawberry and melon.
Also featured in the vineyard’s collection is Morton, a blend of five choice red wines—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—that, when combined, result in rich black cherry flavors and notes of sweet oak and spice; Lightkeeper, a rosé that features honey aromas and muscadine flavors of sweet cherries, strawberry and melon; and The Plank, a muscadine red that is “full of ripe and jammy flavor,” and whose cork is sealed with wax to present an authentic pirate-themed appearance.
Perhaps the most unique variety of wine in Sanctuary Vineyards’ collection is OBX Ice, a limited-production 2015 dessert wine whose blend begins with the tastes of tropical fruits and ends with a smooth candied finish. And wine lovers cannot skip sampling Sweet Serenity, a muscadine white that is characterized by a smooth sweetness and powerful aroma, and is made with the muscadine grapes that are native to eastern North Carolina—making this variety of Sanctuary Vineyards’ wine as local as it gets.
Known for offering a wide array of world-class wines, hosting a series of fun and unique events throughout the year, and serving as a popular spot for Outer Banks weddings, Sanctuary Vineyards is a true treasure on the barrier islands of North Carolina. Visit the tasting room for a sample of their exceptional creations, or stop by the winery at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays for a tour of this Outer Banks attraction whose history dates back hundreds of years to the day its original settler became shipwrecked on the shoals of the Graveyard of the Atlantic seven generations ago.