Made in Heaven? N.C. winemakers blend award winning wines in collaboration

Jay Raffaldini (left) and JW Ray (right) sign bottles of their collaboration wine, Sisboombah.

Jay Raffaldini (left) and JW Ray (right) sign bottles of their collaboration wine, Sisboombah.

By Dathan Kazsuk

It is the meeting of two minds. Two eccentric North Carolina winemakers who have been paving the way in the state with their robust reds and sultry whites. One winemaker has been in the business for close to 20 years, while the other is rather new on the block.

The first is Raffaldini Vineyards, led by Jay Raffaldini. He, and his winery, have been putting extreme passion into Italian-themed wines for over 17 years. Known for full-bodied reds like the Montepulciano and Sangiovese, Raffaldini Vineyards' picturesque Italian-inspired villa and tasting room draws in wine lovers from all over the state to sample its wines and take in the spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

Then from the scenic views of Raffaldini, travel 40 minutes northeast and you'll find yourself at another winery producing award-winning wines - JOLO Winery & Vineyards. The winery has been producing wines in less time as Raffaldini, but according to Jay, "They're just as good as what I'm doing today." The person behind JOLO is owner/winemaker JW Ray.

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Word got back to Jay that there was a guy near Pilot Mountain that he needed to talk to. An email was sent out and eventually the two decided to meet. "The first time we met, we chatted downstairs," says Raffaldini. And after what he says was a 6-hour conversation, he knew that Ray was on the same journey as himself.

Ray and JW unveil the new collaboration wine.

Ray and JW unveil the new collaboration wine.

Ray admits that he actually heard of Jay before the two met. "When I came here from Florida, I was told to meet Jay Raffaldini from Sean McRitchie," he says. It was Sean, who owns McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks in Thurmond, who mentored Ray and helped him get started in creating his own winery.

So when the two, Ray and Jay, finally got together, they knew they both wanted to collaborate on something down the road. "We took our idea from California's Opus 1 - a marriage between Mondavi's and Rothschild's," says Raffaldini.

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So on Saturday, March 11, that collaboration became reality with the release of RaRa Sisboombah, a red blend which is a mix of Raffaldini's 2015 Montepulciano Reserva and JOLO's Chambourcin. The wine pours rich and dark with hints of sweet mocha, tomato leaf and dark cherries. It also has some hints violet and comes across very acidic.

A signed bottle of the wine will find its way to Triangle Around Town's wine cellar.

A signed bottle of the wine will find its way to Triangle Around Town's wine cellar.

"Jay's an acid hound like I am," says Ray. "I like very acidy wines. I like the wine that makes your mouth water for another sip ... maybe, that's my problem," Ray concludes to a roomful of laughter.

The audience of around 60 people listened intently while the two talked about the wine, their friendship, their love for drinking, as well as the state of wineries here in North Carolina. "What's happening in North Carolina is really explosive, so please pay attention to all the vineyards here," said Raffaldini.

The passion these two put into their wines, they both feel pretty much at home when it comes to talking about others who might not put as much passion into their wines. "A lot of guys are hands off," says Ray. "Some of them don't even drink wines - and they own wineries."

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Raffaldini was quick to follow that statement up with his very own explanation point, saying, "And they drive race cars."

As far as this collaboration goes, they only released a grand total of 48 cases, so getting your hands on a bottle might be pretty hard today. But have no fear ... the two admit that this collaboration will continue to flourish with yearly releases.

"Unless he kicks me to the curb," says Ray.