Banner Elk Winery in Banner Elk, NC is revered for being the highest elevation vineyard on the East Coast, a very brave move and a very unique setting for this industry. Something many thought could not be done. At 4,800 feet, the views of the property and surrounding area are stellar. Rolling hills of green pasture, a pond, and wooded areas. This is where some vintage award winning wines and recipes are created. Luxury wines with a casual, country flare is the number one motto of the Banner Elk Winery, between its grounds, the exquisite wine tasting room with fine art and locally crafted works, and the local natural soaps sold inside. This all came to be back in 2006 when Angelo Accetturo, Pete and Michelle Gerukos, and Richard Wolfe came into a partnership in the Banner Elk Winery. As an engineer, Wolfe came to the high country to take a position at App State University in the Applied Science and Research Program where he taught people to grow grapes. His thoughts of innovation landed him a grant from the Department of Agriculture to open the first ever high elevation vineyard at 4,800 feet elevation. Though the growing season may be different or even shortened, they took the chance. This idea used to be considered impossible and even foolish by others but now, with Wolfe’s opening of the lofty Banner Elk Winery, it has spurred a chain of local farmers opening vineyards all over the high country! The trend is spreading throughout the mountains and becoming increasingly prosperous, which no one had such high expectations for it. So much so, that it in fact is beginning to break down the tobacco industry, something that was once considered the crop of the area. As for the Banner Elk Winery at its finest, the reward of this industry has proven itself in more than just cash flow. The Winery has rightfully earned and received a multitude of awards such as appreciation from the North Carolina State Fair, the 2013 International Eastern Wine Competition out of California, the 2012 NextGen Wine Competition, and much more! They truly produce a one of a kind wine and staff to match! Any given day at the winery you can hear of events being held such as music nights, fires, and even weddings! The property also offers an Italian style Villa where people can stay the night or more and enjoy the views, the luxurious sweets, and home cooked breakfast! Banner Elk Winery at its Finest! Regulars frequent here and feel right at home. You can’t beat sitting by the pond (protected by conservationists) and watching the fish and frogs enjoy the water. Across the way from the pond on the hill you can see a large blueberry patch for which the berries can be picked simply by dropping $10 in the box as you go, and can also be used on the Banner Elk Winery at its finest signature blueberry wines. Behind that is the historic and seemingly preserved barns where many phenomenal wedding ceremonies and parties are held! Grapes were once hand-smashed in this quaint vessel of history.
Every year, the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Banner Elk admits over 1,500 injured or orphaned wild animals. No matter the species, the center’s staff cares for abandoned and injured creatures, as well as those requiring surgical or rehabilitative treatments. Every animal admitted to the center undergoes a thorough examination before staff create an individualized treatment plan.
The center is located on the campus of Lees-McRae College, adjacent to the nearby Elk River. Under the supervision of director Nina Fischesser and veterinarian Dr. Amber McNamara, college students help provide care to the injured animals. The hands-on learning experience teaches students all aspects of wildlife rehabilitation. It also trains them to become mentors to younger students.
Throughout the experience, students engage in numerous experiential opportunities. In addition to assisting with patient assessment, administering medication and managing habitats, they also help with wound care, physical therapy, assisting in surgical procedures, and more. At the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, students are an integral part of realizing the center’s mission: the rehabilitation and release of wildlife patients, and public education on the value of wild animals in our ecosystem.
Originally founded in 1995 as the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute, the center moved to Lees-McRae College in 2003. However, the college’s growth in wildlife biology and rehabilitation programs prompted a need for larger facilities. In addition to bigger lecture spaces, animal care units also became a necessity. Support from the May family allowed for a new facility in 2012, aptly named the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
In line with state and federal rehabilitation and education guidelines, the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is licensed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The center follows rehabilitation standards established by both the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
At an elevation of 4,800 feet, Banner Elk Winery’s upper acreage is the highest vineyard in the eastern United States. The idea of growing grapes at such a high altitude deterred many; all except for Richard Wolfe, Angelo Accetturo, and Pete and Michelle Gerukos, co-owners of the Banner Elk Winery. Now, the mountainsides in Avery and Watauga counties feature 32 vineyards sprouting cold-hardy grapes.
Planting the Seed
Wolfe, an engineer by trade, first came to the area in 2001 to act as director of the newly formed applied science and research program at Appalachian State. As one of his first projects, he sought to teach area farmers how to grow grapes instead of tobacco, a dying industry. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture awarded him a grant to plant a test vineyard at a high altitude – the very first of its kind in the area.
With his co-founders, Wolfe opened the Banner Elk Winery in 2006. Today, Wolfe’s grapes have been earning him accolades, including medals from a 2013 international eastern wine competition in California, a NextGen wine competition in 2012, and even recognition at the state fair.
Although the winery boasts impressive and complex vinos, the atmosphere is all but stuffy. Hikers, bikers, locals and tourists alike flock to the Banner Elk Winery because they enjoy the “casualness.” A massive stone fire pit beckons patrons outdoors, as does the stocked trout pond fed by a nearby creek.
But sipping on a full-bodied bottle of wine isn’t the only draw of the Banner Elk Winery. The Villa is a luxury, Tuscan-inspired retreat tucked away on the winery’s property. Seven suites are available for rent, each featuring either king or queen beds, private jacuzzi tubs and breathtaking mountain views.
Banner Elk Winery is also a covetable wedding venue. The rustic Enchanted Barn features rough-hewn wood set off by glittering accessories. But the Grassy Knoll is an idyllic setting for an outdoor affair. The space is beautifully backdropped by a blueberry orchard, scenic vineyard and expansive mountain vista.
A visit to the Banner Elk Winery is a great way to spend the day when you are renting a beautiful vacation home in Banner Elk North Carolina. A cozy cabin, luxury condo or mountain top lodge is a great way to take in all that Banner Elk has to offer. You can rent a private estate on large acreage or in a private, gated community.