Stone Ashe Vineyard makes delicious use of microlocal terroir
By: Kate Butler
Henderson County’s youngest vineyard was inspired by a passion for Old World wines, and realized by the long-range vision of Tina and Craig Little, who in ten years segued from drinking wine with friends to bottling their own wines from Stone Ashe Vineyard.
“We all enjoyed talking about the wines we were drinking, where they were from, what makes them taste the way they do, what effects soil and climate have on the wines,” Tina says. “Another friend is a Level 4 sommelier, and we did a lot of wine tastings with him. He is from France, so we talked a lot about Old World wine. In the beginning it was more of a curiosity than anything else.”
When his curiosity got the better of him, Craig took classes in viticulture and then enology at UC Davis and Washington State University, receiving certifications in both areas of study: how to grow grapes and how to turn grapes into wine.
Naturally, a vineyard was the next step. “Craig decided having a vineyard would be his retirement job,” she says with a laugh, noting he is still a practicing oral surgeon, and that owning and running a vineyard in no way resembles stereotypical retirement life.
They were still living in Charleston when they began looking for property all over North Carolina, seeking land that would replicate the vineyard experience of Bordeaux, France in climate, soil, and as close as possible in longitude and latitude. In 2013, they found and purchased 67 acres on a 2,700-foot mountain in Henderson County, where Tina grew up. “Most of the land is not plantable,” she admits. “It has a good bit of slope, with very rocky soil and lots of red dirt. The soil is worthless for most agriculture, but it’s perfect for grapes.”
Particularly the grapes the Littles intended to plant. “Craig really wanted to go back to the roots of winemaking, that Old World tradition. We believe Bordeaux is the motherland of wine.”
Bordeaux is where they sourced their root stock, which needs to be ordered two years in advance of planting. Cloned from legacy vines in France, the root stock is first shipped to California, where it is grafted onto American root stock — hardier and more resistant to disease — and then stays in the ground for about a year.
As the root stock was being readied, the Littles cleared 13 acres for planting, an arduous three-year project. In 2016, they planted seven grape varietals on the rocky slopes of the property: Riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot.
Tina explains that in the second year of the vines’ growth, the grapes are removed before maturing, sending all the energy into growing deeper roots and fatter vines. In the third year, the focus turns to the fruit, and leaves are removed from the vines to allow the sun to get to the grapes. Planting on a slope allows rain — prevalent the last couple of years in WNC — to run off.
The harvested grapes were taken to Asheville in 2019 to winemaker Chris Denesha of Pleb Urban Winery, who worked with Craig to craft the four wines — Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc Rose — that were bottled in 2020 and proudly wear the Stone Ashe label. The Merlot Bordeaux blend they will pour until their estate reds are ready to bottle is from Childress Vineyards in Yadkin Valley.
Clean and minimalist, the Stone Ashe Vineyard logo is a merlot leaf that celebrates the company’s terroir, with the veins representing the natural springs on the property and the tips the mountains that surround it. In manmade endeavors, a 25-foot cathedral ceiling soars over the newly constructed 3,100-square-foot tasting room, with floor-to-ceiling windows that frame a majestic panorama of familiar Henderson County peaks including Bearwallow, Sugarloaf, and Bald Top mountains.
Long term, the Littles plan to add two or three additional acres of grapes and build a winemaking facility so that when Craig really does retire, he’ll be able to make wine on the property. Tina says they’re dedicated to being as biodynamic as possible and limiting chemical intervention. The Littles are proud that Henderson County has recently been designated the “Crest of the Blue Ridge” American Viticultural Area.
“Everything we do is intended to pay homage to North Carolina, to interfere as little as possible with the land here,” Tina says. “We look forward to welcoming people to our tasting room to see and appreciate the property as we do. It’s been a challenging year for everyone, but we think it’s going to be a spectacular fall.”
Stone Ashe Vineyard, 736 Green Mountain Road, Hendersonville. Face masks are required for in-person visits. For current vineyard hours, tasting-room hours, and for updated information, call 843-343-2080 or visit stoneashevineyards.com (also on Facebook).