Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moving On Up From Mayberry

October 8, 201
Dobson, NC to Hot Springs, Virginia
You can get from Dobson to Hot Springs in a bit over a couple hours, but we make it an all day excursion (on purpose).

First stop is Mount Airy, the birthplace of Andy Griffith--a thirteen mile drive from Dobson, through rolling hills covered with cows and soy bean fields.  Carol and Burt warned us about Mount Airy, but we had to see the inspiration for Mayberry ourselves.  Replete with every trapping of a tourist trap, the town turned out to be a very short photo op stop.  The charm is long gone.  The guy who does tours in a 1950s police car just like Andy’s was not nearly so smiley and cordial as Andy would have been when we unknowingly parked in “his spot” out front of Wally’s Service Station. 

From there it is just a short hop onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a national park, so all the roadside facilities are closed.  We are thinking that perhaps there might be more color along the high ridges here, but find that Fall, alas, is just barely blooming here. A stop at Mabry Mill, a year-round photographer’s paradise, validates our decision to sample the Parkway, but we are ready to hop off and make some time at the next opportunity (especially since our only rest stop options on the Parkway involve hugging trees).

We end up in a general store in Floyd for lunch.  Most of the display cases and racks are on wheels so they can move them out of the way for the Friday night concerts on the stage in the back of the store. Charming--so authentically totally not Mount Airy.
Then we wind our way through the mountains to The Homestead in Warm Springs, arriving just in time for a spot of afternoon tea served in elegant lobby, The Great Hall, as they call it here. 
We stroll the meticulously landscaped grounds--so many lovely spots to sit beneath an arbor or by a running thermal spring or pool.  A group of women in white robes chats around a fire pit in the spa garden.  There is a bush with purple polka dotted berries beside the croquet court that makes me think of a scene from Alice in Wonderland.  Every view here seems like it could be a postcard.
Shortly before dinner, Dick realizes the dress code for the evening requires not just a coat, but also a tie. He launches a search for a loaner tie from The Homestead.  Alas, there is no loaner tie, but the head bellman offers to loan Dick his tie. Dick demurs and heads for the men’s shop, where he learns that the cheapest tie there costs $85.  Having at least fifty ties at home, and cherishing a lifestyle that requires wearing a tie only a few times each year, Dick cannot bring himself to drop $85 on a tie for just one night, and he turns to the head bellman, who, being a good judge of character, has followed him to the shop.  Dick accepts his offer of a loan of the tie, and gives him a $20 tip, then the bellman teaches Dick how the tie works.  Technically, it does not tie at all--it has a zipper.  You slip it over your head, then zip it up. Voila! Sure beats those old clip-ons!
Our club’s private dinner is perfectly prepared and served, the conversation is lively, and no one but me looks askance at Dick’s tie. Our Fall outing is off to a roaring good start.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wine Awaits at the End of the Road

October 7, 2013
Savannah to the Yadkin Valley Wine Region of North Carolina
In search of Fall color, and fun with friends, we are on our way to a Landings Auto Society outing at The Homestead in Virginia.  The official Society soiree begins tomorrow, but we are getting a head start, along with four friends.   

Our destination is Shelton Vineyards, in the Yadkin Valley Wine Region of North Carolina.  The Yadkin Valley is home to about forty vineyards, but most are not open on Mondays or are far off our track to The Homestead.  Shelton Vineyards is the perfect stop for us--once we get there, we are done driving for the day.  The family that owns the vineyard also owns a Hampton Inn just a couple miles down the road--the only Hampton Inn in the country with a wine bar, they proudly proclaim--and we have dinner reservations at the Vineyard’s fine dining bistro.
The entry drive to Shelton Vineyards is beautiful--rows of vines stretch over the rolling hills on both sides of the drive, and rose bushes mark the end of most rows.  The bugs that can be bad for grapes are also attracted to rose bushes, only more so.  The rose bushes are not just here for their beauty--they are early warning systems to prevent grape pestilence.
We learn this interesting fact, and lots more during a tour of the 33,000 square foot winery, which is built into the side of a pretty steep hill, providing a natural wine cellar and gravity fed wine processing system.  Two brothers developed the winery on tobacco farming land back in 1999 as a sideline to their “real business” of construction.  The next generation of their family is in charge of it now.   

Ah, the aroma of fermenting wine in the oak barrel filled cellar is heavenly. The winery offers people the opportunity to sponsor a barrel of wine.  For the cost of an empty barrel (the most expensive--French oak--goes for $695), you can have a plaque with your message stuck on the barrel, claim a case of wine from that barrel once a year for four years, and at the end of the four years, carry your empty barrel away as a keepsake.  Many weddings, anniversaries and birthdays are proclaimed therein.  One of our favorites is a barrel that a couple bought in honor of their sons, whom, their plaque claims, drove them to drink;, another barrel was a gift to Richard Petty from his wife--he signed the barrel.

After learning all about how the wine is made, we proceed to the tasting room, where our guide, Linda, gives us all souvenir wine glasses and proceeds to pour us samples of five different wines, plus a couple bonus samples she has left in bottles that were used for a special tasting over the weekend.  The whole tour and tasting experience is just $5, although we end up spending quite a bit more on wine and gift shop purchases.

After a short respite at the Hampton Inn, we are back at the winery to enjoy a spectacular sunset behind the vine-covered hills while dining on creatively prepared locavore food at the Harvest Grill. This must be the finest restaurant for miles around (or maybe the only restaurant for miles around), because it is packed tight on a Monday night. 

Back at the hotel, we pick up milk and cookies from the lobby (our favorite part of staying at the Hampton Inn), and all retire to our rooms to rest up for our drive to The Homestead tomorrow.