I knew it was to be no ordinary
day when I saw the black stretch limousine parked in my driveway.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day, early spring in Charlotte, with
birds, blossoms and all of earth celebrating the coming warmth of
the day. Today, I was celebrating too, as four of my girlfriends
and I were ready to embark on an all day wine tour of the quaint
Yadkin Valley in North Carolina.
The day started with excitement in the air. We knew we were in for
a good time when our limo driver, Bill Payne, owner of American
Limousine, showed up in the most festive tuxedo I have ever seen.
It was classic black but complemented by a colorful vest decorated
with champagne glasses, trumpets and party streamers. A New Orleans
style hat completed the outfit. Just as we settled into the plush
comfort of the leather limousine seats, Bill popped a bottle of
champagne. A perfect start for a perfect day … our wine tour
had begun! As it would be for the entire day, Bill did not overlook
one detail of our trip. There were music CDs for every possible
mood and a huge tray of gourmet cheeses surrounded by mounds of
fresh fruit topped off with a luscious crème dipping sauce. The
trip up to the Yadkin Valley was filled with laughter and clinking
glasses, delicious snacking and Frank Sinatra classics. Bill even
thought to stop at a rest area just before the need was evident.
He had a way of anticipating our every desire.
It was 10:30 as we pulled onto a long dirt road a half-mile from
Windy Gap Vineyards, a small winery with a large personality. The
trees were just turning green and white blossoms beginning to pop.
Four happy basset hounds greeted us as we made our way up the small
porch towards the intimate tasting room. Windy Gap is a small, unassuming
winery that has a variety of special wines, including an incredible
berry wine that starts with a hint of sweet yet finishes completely
dry. As an encore, we were treated to a special tasting of an amazing
"honey mead". Although it starts like a classic Brut champagne,
just before you think you will pucker from the sweetness, the smooth
mead finishes with no sweet taste at all. We were all very enthusiastic
about the wine at Windy Gap and purchased many bottles. Bill was
loading boxes of wine into the limo trunk before we even noticed.
As usual, he would not let us raise a finger. With a buzz in the
air and a little in our heads, we drove off to the next destination.
As we approached Shelton Vineyards, the distinctive beauty of the
elegant and manicured grounds impressed us. There was Bill again,
opening the door and lending a helping hand as we made our way from
the limo. By now it was approaching noon and the warmth of the sun
was intoxicating. We paused to savor the beauty of spring before
moving on to the business of sampling more unique North Carolina
wines. The tasting room at Shelton is in complete contrast to the
simplicity of Windy Gap. It is large and stately and features multiple
tasting counters. I felt a little bit hurried by the lady pouring
our wine, but the wines were good, and the atmosphere reminded me
of the grand Napa Valley wineries of my home state, California.
The Shelton employees were so intrigued by our limousine wine tour,
the news of it spread like wildfire. Before we knew it, we had an
invitation for a private tasting of "never bottled before" wines
and were being led to the area of the winery that houses huge vats
of virgin wine. Boldly, we hoisted our glasses up to the vats and
proudly sampled three of these very special wines. It was one of
many highlights on this uniquely tailored wine tour. Bill loaded
the trunk once again and we were off to our next stop.
Next up was Black Wolf Vineyards, specifically, Wolf's Lair, an
upscale restaurant that houses the Black Wolf tasting room. It was
approaching noon so the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd was
in full swing. A few minutes after arrival we were led upstairs
past a parade of stuffed wildlife to the seclusion of our own private
tasting room - a small, rustic abode lined with oak and more stuffed
wolves. It was as if we had stepped off the beaten path and turned
back the clock for a while. The personality of Black Wolf's tasting
room is in a league of its own. We piled around a huge wood table
and settled in for a special tasting of ten very delicious wines.
The atmosphere was perfect and laughter filled the air.
Black Wolf features an expansive variety of wines and always offers
excellent specials for tasters hunting for a good bargain. This
week it was a refreshing Seyval Blanc and a light but distinctive
Chardonnay for only 3 dollars a bottle. This was a popular stop
and we all purchased the special and many more impressive wines.
By now our limo trunk was nearing capacity with three more wineries
to go. Still, Bill was able to reconfigure the trunk to accommodate
our growing supply of wine. We returned to the familiar luxury of
our limo and headed off for a late lunch break. Bill found a private
park nearby for a catered picnic-style lunch from a gourmet deli
- all-inclusive with our wine tour package. We snacked happily on
sandwiches packed with delicious meats and European cheeses. The
rich peanut butter cookies hit the spot.
As we drove off, the beauty of the North Carolina scenery once again
moved me. Farmlands dotted the countryside and sparse trees were
just waxing green with leaves. It reminded me of the jigsaw puzzles
I put together as a kid.
We arrived at Westbend Vineyards in the late afternoon and the beauty
of the grounds impressed us immediately. As the limo pulled up,
I noticed a huge cherry tree with blossoms pouring forth in a fountain
of pink beauty. The winery features a covered patio with picnic
tables and space to enjoy the scenery. The tasting room was reminiscent
of Shelton, yet with a hint of Southern personality and charm. In
a wonderful twist of fate, the owner's wife had to leave after the
first two samplings of wine and her husband took over pouring. He
was an adorable elderly gentleman from Greece and had a way of charming
us ladies. Pouring was not his normal job. We soon abandoned the
constraints of the tasting sheet and were all sampling wines at
will. His personality was infectious and we were quite disappointed
when his wife returned. The Westbend wines were good and soon Bill
was loading more bottles into the overstuffed trunk of our limo.
As with every American Limousine wine tour, you are guaranteed a
completely unique experience. Ours was certainly that at every point
of the journey. Bill was always busy behind the scenes making sure
that everything went off without a hitch and that every part of
the trip was memorable. Our last stop was no exception. Because
we were having such a wonderful time, we took longer than anticipated
at our last two wineries, throwing us off schedule. Bill called
Vineyards & Winery, our last visit of the day, to request they
stay open for us. And they did. We arrived shortly before sunset.
The RayLen experience was a perfect finish to a perfect day. Their
wines were by far the best of the day. For a California girl who
loves the reds, I had finally found my match. The Merlot, Shiraz
and an amazing red blend called Category 5 were impressive, indeed.
Although the signature spicy nacho sticks were more than I bargained
for as a palate cleanser, I was greatly satisfied with the last
stop of the day. Bravo, Bill!
We left RayLen just as the sun was sinking beyond the horizon. Brilliant
streaks of red, orange and yellow painted the sky and I was thankful
that I would not have to drive. With a trunk full of wine, an open
bottle of RayLen's Merlot, and music blasting, we made our way home.
I knew that in the days to come, as I sipped on my new wines at
home, I would be reminded of the most perfect of days, when all
that mattered was friendship, fun, and the adventure of touring
the wine country of North Carolina -limousine-style.
Lorraine Hall is a freelance writer from Indian Trail, North
For more information about American Limousine and its unique wine
please contact 704-576-5309.