Western North Carolina has long been a spot for creatives. The Blue Ridge Mountains possess a certain draw, attracting artists, musicians, entrepreneurs. Long-range vistas, deep valleys carved by ancient rivers and spectacular waterfalls illustrate nature’s wonders and inspire people to make something of their own.
That pioneering spirit has led to a thriving craft beverage scene in the small town of Hendersonville. Located just south of busy Asheville, Hendersonville is home to 17 producers of wine, beer, cider and mead. Each venue has its own tasting room, inviting visitors to experience the products in the places where they’re created.
The Hendersonville Cheers! Trail encompasses all 17 tasting rooms and invites visitors to learn more about these independent businesses, many of them family-run.
Pick out a few that pique your interest and journey along mountain backroads to the tasting rooms. Have a seat at the bar and talk with staff members with an evident passion for what they pour. Take a tour of the facility and learn how apples are pressed into a clean, crisp cider or how different hops emit different aromas and bring out certain flavors in a beer. Look out across rolling vineyards where grapes hang heavy awaiting the fall harvest.
Hendersonville recently introduced the Cheers! Trail Passport, another incentive to sip your way to multiple stops. Purchase a passport at the Visitor Center in downtown Hendersonville, where you can also pick up a Cheers! Trail brochure map. Receive stamps in the passport as you explore the trail, and once you have a dozen stamps, return the passport for a prize.
Turning Apples to Cider
Apple orchards are abundant in Hendersonville. Families flock to fields each fall to pick their own fruit, take hayrides through rows of trees and pose for photos. Those fresh apples make Hendersonville a natural fit for hard cider.
Bold Rock Hard Cider opened its second cidery in Mills River, just west of Hendersonville, in 2015 after it outgrew its apple supply at its headquarters in Nellysford, Virginia. The largest craft cidery in the country now operates a state-of-the-art facility, complete with a pressing barn, high-tech cidery, canning and bottling lines, taproom and beer garden. Order a flight to taste from among a dozen or so ciders on tap. Varieties range from dry to semi-sweet to fruit-infused seasonal selections.
Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider serves its European-style dry ciders in a 1940s-era barn converted into a tasting room. The back deck overlooks apple trees imported from France specifically to make cider. Each cider is named for a surrounding mountain peak. The cidery also makes apple brandy, an ideal sipper for cool mountain evenings.
Crest of the Blue Ridge
In summer 2019, Hendersonville received federal recognition for its wine growing region. Designated as Crest of the Blue Ridge American Viticultural Area or AVA, Hendersonville now joins the likes of Napa and Sonoma and North Carolina’s well-known Yadkin Valley. The AVA specifies that Hendersonville has a certain soil, elevation and climate that create favorable conditions for growing grapes.
High atop its namesake mountain, Point Lookout Vineyards pairs dry wines with panoramic mountain views from its 4,000-square-foot open-air pavilion. A barrel cave carved into the mountainside below the tasting room provides a more intimate space for dinners and smaller events. In addition to its wines, Point Lookout has a variety of meads, or wines made from honey.
Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, the first winery in Hendersonville, grows grapes on land that’s been in the same family for nine generations. The lively taproom often hosts music and food trucks on its patio. Wines vary from bold red blends to several whites and a sweet blackberry wine inspired by the owner’s grandmother’s blackberry cobbler.
At Burntshirt Vineyards, start with a tasting around the U-shaped bar in the farmhouse turned tasting room. The estate-grown winery produces 20 wines from two vineyards spanning both sides of the Eastern Continental Divide. The apple wine honors the area’s apple-growing tradition. After a tasting, choose a favorite wine and enjoy a glass on the patio overlooking the vineyard.
Brewing is Big Business
The craft beer boom has taken off in Western North Carolina. From tiny, small-batch operations to some of the largest independent producers in the country, this area is known for its ales. Ten breweries are located along the Hendersonville Cheers! Trail.
The East Coast headquarters of Sierra Nevada Brewing has become a mecca for craft beer enthusiasts. The palatial brewery, located in the Mills River community of Henderson County, offers free tours, 23 beers on tap, a creative tapas-style menu and an expansive beer garden.
In downtown Hendersonville, Sanctuary Brewing blends its beer knowledge with a passion for animal advocacy. A portion of all pint proceeds goes toward helping four-legged friends. Also downtown, Dry Falls Brewing transformed an old-school body shop into an industrial-chic space run by a father-and-son team.
Park in the Seventh Avenue Historic District and get your passport stamped at three breweries within walking distance. Southern Appalachian holds the distinction of being Hendersonville’s first brewery. Guidon’s German influence comes from its veteran owner who spent years in the Old World, and Triskelion thrives on a modern, hip vibe.
The newest additions to the Cheers! Trail — Burning Blush Brewery and Mills River Brewing — opened within the past year, right around the corner from each other in rural Mills River. Also in a rural area, Blue Ghost Brewing in Fletcher is named after a rare kind of firefly native to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just west of Hendersonville in the Etowah community, Sideways Farm Brewery strives to reconnect the brewing process with the agricultural aspect of growing ingredients. Beers are made with grain from local malthouses and flavored with vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices grown on farmland surrounding the brewery.
To purchase a passport and plan your Cheers! Trail trip to Hendersonville, go to www.CheersTrail.org or call (800) 828-4244.