McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks is a family-owned and operated vineyard and winery in Thurmond, NC, in the Yadkin Valley. They specialize in small lots of award-winning wines and hard ciders with a goal of producing “wines that are memorable, true to place, and most of all, enjoyable.”
Sean and Patricia McRitchie both grew up in wine country, but roundabout paths led them to opening a winery in North Carolina. Sean’s father was a winemaker in California and Oregon, which prompted Sean to work in wineries and vineyards in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and to travel to work at renowned wineries in places like Alsace Lorraine, Napa Valley, and Australia. In 1998 he came to North Carolina to help establish a large vineyard and winery in the Yadkin Valley. Patricia, meanwhile, worked as a criminal attorney and judge; but after marrying Sean and starting a family, she changed course and became a business consultant for vineyards and wineries.
The family decided to start their own vineyard and winery, and to stay in the Yadkin Valley amidst the burgeoning North Carolina wine industry. They planted five acres of grapes in 2004. The winery was ready for the 2006 harvest, and the tasting room opened in 2007. Currently, they use their own grapes as well as grapes and other fruit they purchase from neighbors.
They also decided to spur on the comeback of American cider, made with fermented apples. Cider was the most popular drink in American until Prohibition killed it off, and many orchards were lost. (Cider apples are often too bitter to eat, but provide good flavor in the beverage. In addition,cider-makers blend different types of apples—acidic, tannic, bitter, sweet—to achieve complexity.) Cider’s renaissance began in the apple-growing Pacific Northwest, where Sean McRitchie grew up.
The McRitchies are starting to grow their own cider apples but source most of them from an orchard in the Brushy Mountains. They use heritage mountain apples to create a “structured, elegant cider that captures the essence of a fresh picked apple.” McRitchie Hard Cider is similar to traditional styles from Brittany, France: a sharp, dry, brilliantly clear sparkling beverage. But it remains an artisanal product of North Carolina.
The McRitchie’s tend their vineyards with sustainable and low-impact methods, such as maintaining healthy, balanced soils and plants to reduce non-sustainable inputs. They chose grapes that would grow best at each of their vineyard sites, based on the soil, slope, aspect, and elevation. The grapes they buy come from neighbors in the Yadkin Valley. The winery was designed to be energy-efficient, using gravity flow techniques to move the grapes, juice, and wine throughout the winemaking process. This is also gentler on the product. “Our dedication to sustainable growing and low intervention winemaking has resulted in wines and hard ciders as expressive and distinct as the land whereupon the fruit grows.”
Visit the McRitchie’s online at www.mcritchiewine.com.