Growing up in Cincinnati, I vacationed a lot in the Smoky Mountains. And why not? It's an easy 5-hour drive south. In fact, way back in college, I visited Mountain Valley Winery in Pigeon Forge. It was the first winery I ever visited.
We spent this past weekend in the Pigeon Forge area and discovered that Mountain Valley Winery has become part of the Rocky Top Wine Trail. It's not really a wine trail. It's three wineries, owned by the same folks and I believe sharing a winemaker, which are all close together along the beginning of the Pigeon Forge "strip."
We didn't make it to Mountain Valley this time around. However, we did visit the Apple Barn Winery (at the venerable old Apple Barn) and Hillside Winery (near the sprawling outlet mall complex). Apple Barn Winery focuses on apple and other fruit wines, whereas Hillside had more Italian-style wines.
It's funny how impressed we always are with these small wineries. We shouldn't be; we know the little guy can produce some great wine. And with our recent experience judging Wines of the South, we shouldn't be surprised by Tennessee wines. In fact, there were signs proclaiming several gold and one silver medal from Wines of the South displayed at Hillside Winery. We helped award those medals.
Again, we only tasted at Hillside and Apple Barn. Both wineries have split their list into dry, semi-sweet, and dessert/sparkling. At the Apple Barn, our favorites were the Apple-Raspberry wine and the Raspberry port. At Hillside, we didn't like the Sangiovese at all, but we enjoyed several of their other wines. I think their sparkling wines are excellent, and we purchased the Sonata – a sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc.
Tastings are free at all three wineries. They'll give you a Wine Trail passport at the your first stop. Visit all three wineries and you'll receive a free souvenir wine glass embossed with "Smoky Mountain Wineries."
You can turn your entire trip into a winetasting excursion. The Smoky Mountain Winery, specializing in mostly French-American hybrid (Chambourcin, Muscadine, Chancellor, etc) grapes is in Gatlinburg in Winery Square along the main strip. Kentucky and Tennessee have several wineries just off I-75 as you head to and from the mountains, including Shady Grove Meadery, Jean Farris (review), and Acres of Land.
Who says you have to camp in the mountains? Instead, you can drink wine. Cheers!
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