Like so many Italian families, the Raffaldinis migrated to America generations ago in search of a better life. All the while, their native Italy pulled at their heart. When Jay Raffaldini, a first generation Italian-American, sought a place that reminded him of his Italian heritage and gave him the ability to make wine, it would be logical to assume he would choose California, as so many others did before him.
(A cutaway of the soil at Raffaldini Vineyards. Note the dense rock and mineral content.)
Instead, he desired to stay on the East Coast where he spent most of his life. After visiting all the eastern wine producing areas, Jay hired a consultant from Napa Valley to help analyze and narrow down the more than sixty parcels of land that showed potential.
Late in his search, Jay happened upon the Swan Creek area of North Carolina and immediately fell in love with it. This was not a popular choice, as in the year 2000, there were only seven vineyards in the state, all scattered about. At that time,the abandoned hillside farm had fallen into disrepair largely due to the very rocky terrain which made farming nearly impossible. The old Italian saying “the land the farmer rejects the vineyard accepts,” inspired Raffaldini, implying that the worse the ground the better as vines need to struggle to survive.
(An endpost at Raffaldini Vineyards. Note that due to the rocky soil, many posts had to be cemented in place, such as this one.)
Nestled near the Yadkin River and Blue Ridge Mountains, these rolling hills and gentle slopes are blessed with mild breezes that constantly freshen and circulate air. Unique to the vineyard is a predominant amount of broken granite and schist which provide excellent soil drainage and trace mineral extraction, giving the grapes that certain sense of terroir or "place.” Moderate elevation levels of 1200 feet and colder, Northern-facing orientation allow for temperature variation during the growing season which slowly builds acidity and complexity in the grapes.
Once the vineyard was sculpted and roads and ponds carved out from the rocks, the vineyard planting began. A total of 42 acres were planted three different times as many grape varieties and clones were tested but did not meet the quality expectations. Finally the Raffaldini Family settled on 36 acres of reds (Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Sagrantino, Nero D'Avola and Petit Verdot) and 6 acres of Vermentino, a white wine grape from Sardinia and the first to be planted on the East Coast.
(Raffaldini Vineyards East facing slope provides cooler temperatures. On the left is Malbec and Sangiovese while the right side is almost entirely Montepulciano.)
(A dusk photo looking at Block 10 Montepulciano, used to make our Montepulciano Riserva. The highest altitute planting allows excellent drainage and plenty of sun that the Montepulciano grapes love.)
Once planting was complete a building would be needed to honor the incredible beauty of the land as well as provoke memories of Italy that could be shared by all. In 2008, construction completed on Villa Raffaldini and opened to more than 35,000 visitors annually.
(Raffaldini Vineyards Tasting Room, Villa Raffaldini. On the left are the oldest Montepulciano Vines on the East Coast.)
(Looking West at Raffaldini Vineyards)
(Gloriosa Daisies, ubiquitous in the Tuscan countryside, envelop the 120 acre Raffaldini Estate. In the background is Petit Verdot.)
Looking back on his journey, Raffaldini confides that the vineyard possesses an indescribable sense of totality and energy that only comes from a complete union of spirituality, totality and historical legacy. Raffaldini Vineyards exists today because of the pursuit and realization of a lifelong dream. The desire to share that passion and dream creates a completely transformative experience, one that forges memories of the past and inspires the dreams of future.