Sitting on the open terrace at Victoria Valley Vineyards, enjoying food and a glass of cabernet sauvignon, merlot or sauvignon blanc while gazing out over the vineyards, it would be easy enough to imagine oneself somewhere deep in French or German wine country.
The Blue Ridge Mountains in the nearby distance, though, might be a clue that you're actually somewhere else.
That "somewhere" is South Carolina's Oconee County, near the tiny town of Cleveland and just off SC Scenic Highway 11. This is where the Jayne family has been growing grapes and making wine since 2005. And while there are other wineries in SC, most traditionally focus on producing sweet wines made from local scuppernong and muscadine grapes.
Victoria Valley Vineyards, though, runs the gamut of winemaking: merlots, cabernets, blends in the red variety, chardonnays and even a petit manseng from white grapes. It's what the founders, Les and Vicki Jayne, had in mind when they moved here from Ontario, Canada.
"They both grew up in a dense agricultural area known as the Green Belt in southern Ontario, and they worked in vineyards there," says Brittany Jayne, the youngest of four siblings, who works in the tasting room of the family's winery and handles sales, while her parents harvest and bottle the product.
"They had a really good taste for that work," she says, "and my father started looking for land in or near the mountains, and this (47-acre property) fell into our hands."
The biggest reason South Carolina has never had a winemaking reputation is elevation and soil structure. Grapes needed to make complex Vinifera wines require both. Victoria Valley Vineyards sits at about 1,300 feet in elevation, "and being one of the highest elevations in South Carolina was a deciding factor" in the family buying the land, Jayne says. "As the crow flies, we're just a smidge to the south of where a lot (of winemaking) is going on in North Carolina."
Six years before opening their vineyard, the Jaynes invested in eight French varietals of vines, buying root stock from the Kendall Jackson nursery. Victoria Valley has a small annual productions (about 2,000 cases), and thus often sells out of a vintage before it begins producing a new one. Still, on a given day, shoppers can choose from around nine wines, with Bentley's Best (a chardonnay), Pulse (a red blend) and Table Rock (a white) usually available.
The cafe and shop is housed in a beautiful chateau-style building and is great place to grab a bite while enjoying both the wine and the view of the vineyards and nearby Table Rock Mountain.
Wine samplings and bottles can be purchased in the shop, and visitors have been known to open their new bottle while dining and viewing the vineyards. The winery also hosts a number of events featuring chef pairings and also musicians, ranging from casual outings to formal dinners.