When Matt Lee and Ben Webb met in kindergarten, no one
could guess that someday they’d be running a winery together. But the best
friends are the force behind Old North State Winery, located in the middle of
historic downtown Mount Airy.
The winery actually began as a co-op in 2002 with the
label “38 Vines” because 38 vineyards used the space to make wine. Ben and his
father, Tom, were members of the original co-op, bringing their muscadine
grapes from Sandy Cross Vineyard in eastern Carolina. While Ben attended
Oenology School, Matt became a professional Motocross bike racer. In 2006, Ben
and Tom bought out the other co-op owners; some wanted to quit wine-making,
while others continued to supply grapes to the new winery Ben and Tom founded,
Old North State Winery. Today, Old North State buys vinifera grapes from these vineyards
in the Yadkin Valley, while native muscadine grapes are grown all-naturally at the
family’s Sandy Cross Vineyard. In addition, the family vineyard is now
solar-powered since the construction of Sandy Cross Solar Farm on the land.
Matt traveled a lot for races, but between his travels
he’d return to Mount Airy and help Ben out at the winery. Working late, the
friends often heard footsteps overhead. They’d run upstairs from the winery to
the bar to find it empty. They knew the story about their building being
haunted: when it was built in the 1800’s, the owner had a dispute with a
neighbor, who dynamited his storefront. In 1926, Belk Department Stores bought
the building and restored it; inside, they found a skeletonized arm in the
rubble. In 2006, Matt and Ben created Restless Soul, a blend of Malbec, Tannat,
and Cabernet with the famous arm on the label. Since then, several paranormal
groups have staked out the winery, witnessing moving objects and creepy fogs.
But Ben tells us, “This buildings haunted... but it’s okay! It helps us out! It’s
good spirits, they’re not malicious.”
On the day of our visit, Matt walked us downstairs to see
the barrel room, the lab, and the tank room where the initial fermentation
occurs. Workers were constructing new offices for Ben, the wine-maker, and his
wife, who does the accounting. In spite of being harvest season, a laid-back
air permeated the winery; upstairs, staff set up the deli for lunchtime and the
bar for any wine-tasters who might arrive. The original gourmet restaurant has been
turned into a deli that’s popular with locals and tourists at lunchtime. The
large bar space accommodates a crowd in the evenings, when they have bands. They
host parties in the barrel room and the new upstairs barroom.
Matt worked in the winery’s restaurant, behind the bar,
and as assistant wine-maker, before settling down with his family at the Sandy
Cross Vineyard. He’s now the Vice President and takes care of sales as well as
growing the grapes. He also attends trade shows with their mascot, Petey the
skeleton pirate. Other friends work for the company as lab techs or deli staff.
Ben’s father has stepped down from his role in running the winery.
And through it all, they make great wine. Restless Soul
remains their most popular; our staff chose it in a blind taste test of 40
local wines, which is why it is the Spotlight on Local Wine pick for October. (It’s
also a great wine for Halloween!) Bottles are on sale for $8.99 all month, four
Visit Old North State online at www.oldnorthstatewinery.com.
Watch a video of our visit on our Youtube Channel.