Concord, North Carolina may be best known for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the NASCAR track frequently festooned with rippling flags and overfilled with RVs and race enthusiasts. But visitors who continue just a little further down Concord Parkway and allow their gaze to drift to the side of the road may encounter a refreshingly unexpected sight.
Just about a mile away from the roar of revving engines, row after picturesque row of young grape vines stretch across the Concord landscape in a greener version of Napa Valley.
Here is the manifestation of one woman’s decision to return home. Elizabeth Anne Dover was a student at Davidson College, studying towards becoming a diplomat, when she was struck with an epiphany. “I didn’t want to decide who lived and who died,” she says today. “I didn’t want that blood on my hands.”
Instead, she got Carolina clay on her hands.
“I saw this PBS special on vineyards, and that they were the new and coming thing. I like challenges, and it sounded like my sort of lifestyle. I love being outside. I love living with nature.”
In spite of her original jet-setting career path, she comes from a long line of farmers, and now she was eager to return to the fold.
Immediately after finishing her degree at Davidson, Dover began a second one in viticulture at NC State University. As she continued her studies, she was able to start her own vineyard by spending the dormant winter months studying and working the high seasons in New Zealand and Australia. Her first acres of red Chambourcin grapes went into family land two years before she graduated in 2011.
Though that first vintage was released in 2013, Dover has continued to add more vines and more fields. By the end of the summer, she will be managing seven acres of four varietals, including a Villard Blanc which saw its first bottles released just this month. Additional acres of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc will add depth to the other varietals and breadth to the vineyard’s selection.
Dover’s charming acres of vines might capture the attention of some of those Concord motorists, but they may well overlook her other, more familiar fields along Concord Parkway. Those are the ones behind the moniker The Farm at Dover Vineyards, and though they contain greens, garlic, and field peas, they remain an essential part of the Dover wine business.
With four years between planting and cork-popping, the vegetable farm has given the entire enterprise a more immediate revenue stream, but there have been other benefits besides income. “It’s allowed us to foster relationships with chefs and consumers much earlier than we would have,” says Dover. “We already had a brand established when we released our wine.”
Membership in Piedmont Culinary Guild has helped foster those connections as well. “I knew when I started this that I wanted to not be selling produce to the general public,” Dover says. “It’s helped me get into the Charlotte market more, and restaurant deliveries are now a significant portion of what we do.”
Beyond the sheer number of new customers, Dover appreciates the quality of the connections she’s made. She mentions restaurants headed by member chefs Clark Barlowe (Heirloom), Blake Hartwick (Bonterra), and Trey Wilson (Customshop) among others, who enjoy cooking seasonally. “They’re willing to buy things we can grow, not just squash, tomatoes, cucumbers,” she says. “And they actually want to pay me for what I do, instead of trying to get a deal.”
Adam Reed of Santé was one member who started buying Dover’s produce before learning about her wines. “I am a fan of Chambourcin, and I was really excited to find out she was growing it,” he says. “It’s a very good wine, and we really enjoyed it.” He notes that there’s a threshold to cross in educating consumers about the quality of North Carolina wines. Dover too recognizes that threshold.
“I would love to see North Carolina [wine] getting more respect nationally, but first we have to get respect at home.”
It will be up to ten years before her vines reach full production, and in that time consumer preferences are likely to change. But Dover loves a good challenge, and is ready for this one.
As unlikely as it may seem, Concord may be the place to inspire the next wave in North Carolina wines. Maybe, like Dover, Piedmont wine lovers will find just what they’re looking for, right here at home.
Profile written by Alison Leininger