At Raffaldini Vineyards, a generational legacy endures
By Cynthia Adams • Photographs by Amy Freeman
Raffaldini Vineyards “is a beautiful dream.”
With a stone-gated entry and Italianate villa on a hill, the winery emerges on approach just as Barbara Raffaldini describes.
Visitors with food hampers contentedly sip beneath tents on the piazza or the villa balcony as rain falls. In the glass, an Italian-style vermentino — dry, crisp, sipable — is a departure from North Carolina’s signature sweet wines. So are the Montepulciano and a rosé called Girasole.
The rains lift, offering an intoxicating view of the Blue Ridge rimming the winery. A child carrying a teddy bear sings, “look for the rainbow.”
Barbara Raffaldini, who is general manager of the winery, insists her brother, Jay, was the impetus, and the winery his brainchild.
Earlier Raffaldinis in Cortona, Italy, had made wine as early as 1348. But Jay was a Wall Street guy; Barbara, a Chicago attorney.
“We knew nothing about it [winemaking], but we said yes.”
Twenty years ago, they determined to make wines in the same style as their ancestors and bring to North Carolina an Italian experience.
They looked at 40 to 60 sites, buying an initial parcel. The idea, Barbara says, “was to do sangiovese, in that the grape liked the area.” Now 30 of 100 acres are planted in vines.
She left Chicago once the vineyard was under way, balancing vineyard management with her legal practice.
“Jay wanted to create a place where you’d be transported away.”
The first tasting room, built in 2004, was near the current villa, built in 2008. They stayed in the tasting room when they were working. The vines took three long years to mature. It was, she observes, “a long time to profitability” considering the time from vine to bottle.
The duo planted various reds.
“Jay likes the big reds,” says Barbara. “The climate differed from northern Italy,” she adds. Three times since, they have replanted, fine-tuning. As far as she is concerned, “we are just starting.”
She smiles in describing older brother, Jay. “He’s intrepid.”
The siblings are 14 months apart in age; their Triad homes are merely 10,000 feet apart.
Jay’s dog is named Nero, and hers is named Dolce. Nero is a reference to the fierce Roman emperor. Dolce, means “sweet” in Italian.
“It has been really fun to be in business with my brother,” she smiles.
On the grounds, 12 acres await an Italian restaurant and cottages, which “will touch the vineyards,” says Barbara. The Raffaldini family motto, Audentes Fortuna Luvat? “Fortune Favors the Bold.”
Their wines were presented to the President of Italy by the White House in 2008. A 2017 Montepulciano rated 97 in a national competition for best non-Bordeaux in wines priced over $30 per bottle. The just-released 2019 Montepulicano, Barbara adds, is “lovely.”
Using steel vats and traditional wooden barrels, non-oaked, the juice ages six to nine months, working its magic under N.C.-native winemaker Chris Nelson.
Meantime, they adapt to Covid, offering virtual tastings to their roughly 1,500 wine club members, and restricting tastings for visitors to whole bottles.
“If you’ve never been here, come during the week, because you can have a more intimate experience,” advises Barbara. Know too that “we do dry, Italian-style wines.”
Fall is a favorite of wine lovers who can watch the grapevines turn saffron. It is also Barbara’s favorite.
The Raffaldinis have found their rainbow. h
For More Information: 450 Groce Road, Ronda, NC. (336 ) 835-1829.
Raffaldini Vineyards is open Monday 11 a.m.– 5 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m.— 5 p.m.; and Sunday noon–5 p.m. Though closed on Tuesdays, the winery is open on all holidays except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Check its events calendar for additional information about special events throughout the year at raffaldini.com.