In Mocksville, North Carolina, in the southeast corner of the Yadkin Valley AVA is RayLen Vineyards, an award-winning winery in a pastoral paradise between the urban areas of Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
Joe and Joyce Neely opened RayLen in 2001. They lived in Winston-Salem, near the emerging Yadkin Valley AVA, where Joe was a marketing executive for Sara Lee Corporation and their spinoff company, HanesBrands. (You may remember the 1980’s-era “L’eggs Egg” pantyhose packaging, which Joe helped develop!)
Joe retired in his early fifties to pursue entrepreneurial activities. His business travels had taken him around the world, where he’d experienced all kinds of wine. He and Joyce had also gone on an inspiring trip to Italy. Their interest in wine and community development, coupled with their entrepreneurial spirit, led to the start of their winery. The name, RayLen, is a contraction of their two daughters’ names, Rachel and Helen.
The Neelys knew nothing about the wine industry, so they hired vintner Steve Shepard to help with the project. Steve had been making wine commercially since the 1970’s, primarily on the East Coast. He’d come to North Carolina in 1989 to help start one of the first wineries in the state, also in the Yadkin Valley. In 1999 he moved to the new RayLen Vineyards, which would become the fifth winery in the Yadkin Valley (and fifteenth in North Carolina). Joe and Joyce purchased farmland formerly used for dairy cows, and the first grapes were planted. RayLen produced its first wines in 2000, and opened the doors of its new Tasting Room in 2001.
Today North Carolina boasts over one hundred wineries, with dozens in the Yadkin Valley. RayLen is one of the larger wineries: they plant 40 acres of grapes on the estate, including five red varieties and five white. They hand-pick and sort the grapes, and use all French oak for aging the reds. Steve describes his wine-making as a “fruit forward style,” with wines that “jump out of the glass” and have fresh, lush berry flavors and aromas. During the wine-making process, he makes 200 to 300 decisions that affect the final wines; sometimes inspiration hits him in the middle of the night. RayLen’s initial production of 2500 cases has grown to over 10,000 cases of 16 different wines.
In September, 2009, RayLen became an eco-friendly vineyard by adding the largest field of solar panels at any winery in North Carolina! Manufactured in Charlotte, the innovative system of 104 panels offset RayLen’s energy costs by half in its first year, and prevented over 14,000 pounds of CO2 from being emitted into the air.
Our staff chose RayLen’s Shiraz as a favorite in a blind taste test of forty wines. The Shiraz (sometimes known as Syrah) is a classic! It won a Silver Medal at the 2010 NC State Fair Commercial Wine Competition; a Silver Medal at the 2009 Beaufort International Wine Competition; and a Gold Medal at the 2009 NC State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. "Whether you call it Syrah or Shiraz, this is a zesty flavorful red that
will warm you from head to toe. It is spicy with fresh cherry flavors
and hints of tobacco and smoke. Great with spicy stews, grilled meats
The Shiraz is our December “Spotlight on Local Wine” pick. It's on sale for $8.99, 35% off. Save $5.00 in December!
Visit RayLen online at www.raylenvineyards.com and on Facebook .