Driving down a winding country road just off Highway 67, you’d be hard-pressed to notice Cellar 4201, a small gem nestled among the rolling hills of East Bend, were it not for a sign bearing the boutique winery’s distinctive label: an arrowhead set against a brilliant orange-red background. The logo, explains Donna Carlyle Hutchins “came about from my Cherokee heritage.”
But it wasn’t her ancestry that prompted Donna and her husband, Greg, to produce their own wines so much as a trip to Italy. Favoring the country’s tendency toward lighter vintages, because, as Donna notes, “they are so food-friendly,” the two returned to N.C. and in 2003 planted some chardonnay and merlot grapes on a 5-acre plot of land just 15 minutes from downtown Winston-Salem. It’s a convenient location not only for local oenophiles but also for Donna, who works full-time during the week, operating her hair salon, D. Carlyle.
A year after their initial planting, the couple tried their hand at cultivating sangiovese. “Not many people were growing it when we first planted,” Donna recalls. “Now we know why: It’s a very temperamental grape!” she adds with a laugh. Nonetheless, it has become a signature among Cellar 4201’s roster, living up to its Italian etymology, “Blood of Jupiter,” with a healthy burst of fruit and a hint of spice. “I think that’s a reflection of the soil,” Donna says. Not to mention the Hutchins’ commitment to rigorous pruning of the vines.
All of the wines on the vineyard’s menu are, true to Donna’s taste, “food-friendly.” The stainless steel chardonnay, for example, has a crisp bite, begging to be paired with cheese or seafood, while the rosé — a combination of all the grapes grown at the vineyard except sangiovese — tickles the palate with flavors of berries . . . and sets a nice stage for grilled salmon or a plate of barbecue. A newer addition to the menu and another nod to Donna’s native heritage, Warrior, is a dry blend of merlot and cab franc, whose cherry notes and oak finish would easily wash down any steak or marinara pasta dish.
In fact, the winery takes pains to demonstrate how adaptable its wines are to food — particularly locally or regionally produced fare. Partnering with artisanal chocolatier My Sweet Chocolates, based in the Sandhills town of West End, Donna demonstrates how a cab/merlot blend Cherokee Red, enhances pieces of dark chocolate mixed with espresso, pistachio and coconut. “It’s our top seller,” she says of the full-bodied wine.
As the summer shifts to fall — in what has been a challenging year that has included a temporary shuttering in the early days of the pandemic and late frosts impeding a harvest — Cellar 4201 will open its tidy patio to wine lovers seeking Cherokee Red and chocolate, or some other equally inviting combination. Dotted with brightly colored umbrellas and a profusion of greenery spilling out of several planters and framed by nearby rows of neatly pruned vines, the space is vaguely reminiscent of those of the lush balconies so common to Tuscan hillside towns — set to a distant soundtrack of the rushing Yadkin River. h
— Nancy Oakley
Cellar 4201, 4201 Apperson Road, East Bend, (336) 699-6030. Open weekends only. For scheduled events please check the wintery’s website, cellar4201.com.