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The Apollonaire

A Day in the North Carolina Wine Country - Limousine Style!

By Lorraine Hall

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 Raylen 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 Carolina.

For more information about American Limousine and its unique wine tours,
please contact 704-576-5309.