One of more memorable visits to any winery, anywhere, was to Rockhouse Vineyards, outside Tryon, NC. The day we found this winery, it was overcast, with some lingering drizzle; for us the decision to forgo a trek in the mountains and instead track down wineries was an easy one, and Rockhouse was a great find. Set back from the road, with a long winding driveway leading up to the tasting room, there were trees just starting to flower, and some fascinating old ruins -- the chimneys were the best, listing a bit drunkenly, inviting us to stop and take pictures on the way up the drive. Aren't they beautiful?
The small tasting room had a bar, clad in copper -- it was absolutely gorgeous! There was also a huge fireplace opposite the bar, and although it wasn’t lit, I could easily imagine parking myself in front of it with a nice glass of Meritage.
It was not just the ambiance of the tasting room that made the visit so memorable; it was Jean-Jacques, who manned the tasting room that day. He was a transplanted Frenchman who landed in North Carolina after falling in love with a girl in Florida, if I remember correctly. It turns out the girl was originally from Marietta, not that far from us. We discovered this during an all-over-the-map conversation with him; since we were the only people at the winery, we had his undivided attention, and we had a blast. Turns out he had a pretty good memory of the Syracuse and Central New York area, having been here visiting his in-laws over the years, so we talked not only about the wines and North Carolina, but about Central New York as seen through a visitor’s eyes, something I always find refreshing.We tasted every wine available, and particularly enjoyed the French Door, a port-style wine that cried out for chocolate, cheese, and raspberries. Our purchases (of course we purchased!) ended up bubble-wrapped then rolled carefully in sweatshirts for the trip back home in our checked luggage. Fortunately, everything made it back safely, and we’ve enjoyed our Rockhouse wines several times over the years.
So why write about Rockhouse now, three and a half years later? I just read an email from them saying they were closing the winery for good early next month. Not because of the economy, but because of a wicked twist of fate. Lee Griffin, the owner and wine-maker, has battled cancer and has had his sense of taste compromised by his radiation treatment – and as the email puts it, “As a winemaker, nothing could be more frustrating.” I can’t even imagine.I'm glad I was able to find my old pictures, and also very glad I found a bottle of French Door on the rack today. Tonight, we’ll raise a glass to Lee, his wife Marsha, and to Jean-Jacques, wherever he is – best wishes, and thanks for the wonderful memories.