Yesterday afternoon I ventured off the too-beaten trail, heading away from hometown Savannah across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on US 17 into the South Carolina Low Country. My destination: September Oaks Vineyards, a small but incredibly beautiful boutique winery hidden in the midst of towering, ancient live oak trees, just outside Ridgeland, SC. September Oaks welcomes visitors along a magical shaded drive, reminiscent of an antebellum plantation approach. I’m 99% sure that the Spanish moss tentacles waved a Southern welcome especially for me as I drove onto the property. (And I hadn’t even tasted any wine yet.)
Before meeting a soul, I did a little exploration of the grounds.
The muscadine vines looked in excellent health, grapes drooping heavily and bountifully in the July heat.
I was transported back …
… quite a few years (don’t ask!) to my North Georgia upbringing in Ball Ground near the foothills of the Appalachian Trail, and my father, “Tub,” making muscadine jelly from the grapes we picked along area streams. I closed my eyes, and Dad stood before me in our little blue-curtained kitchen as he measured grapes, sugar and Sure Gel to create the heavenly treat. I blinked and there was my mom, “Neever,” pulling hot golden buttermilk biscuits from the oven. My biscuit, halved and steaming, centered on green Corelle. The butter melting and glistening. The minutes-new, still warm jelly spread. Little Neal smiling in edible joy.
Okay, for goodness sake, let’s get back to the winery tour! I thought I rested secure in my world famous blogger stature until I stood next to this tree. It cut me down to size.
Finally I saw the sign to the wine tasting, so started to mosey over that way.
The rustically beautiful tasting room.
And here’s Nikki, the wine tasting hostess/teacher. (She’s also an English teacher, so a kindred spirit.)
I know next to nothing about wine, so the experience was fascinating. According to their website, September Oak’s “goal is to create unique and high quality wines, specializing in wines made from muscadine grapes (vitis rotundifolia). We’ll also be developing a variety of wines from different vinefera grapes as well as blending the merlot and muscadine grapes” (SOV Website). The tasting included seven wines: a Chardonnay, SOV Family White (made from the muscadine grapes you saw earlier, and whose aroma reminded me of my dad’s muscadine jelly), White Merlot, Kiwi Gold (yes, with locally grown kiwi), Crescent Moon, SOV Lenoir (“a dry red that brings history home with the Lenior grape that originated in the Low Country in the 1700’s”), and SOV Family Red. Some of these wines have already won prizes. Congrats!
[Do you KNOW that at a wine tasting you actually DRINK the wine?! Glass after glass. Like SEVEN glasses. Isn’t wine alcoholic?]
Here’s another wine-taster, Damon from Hilton Head. (I asked him for a recommendation for a great HH restaurant, and he immediately said, “The Sage Room, on the south end. Tell them I sent you.” So I plan to, soon. I’ll keep you posted.) Damon knew SO MUCH about wine that I felt like one of the Kardashians trying to talk to Einstein.
I mean, he asked questions about grape growth patterns and parent vines and bouquets. The foremost, burning question on my mind was, “Yall think I shoud buy this? It’s so cool!”
It was my lucky day …
… because after the tasting, I ventured behind these doors (Wizard of Oz-ishly) and met the September Oaks owner Grady Woods (cool and appropriate last name, don’t you think?) and his polite son Kent, as they were working.
Grady showed us some of the equipment and explained about plans for expansion of the winery.
I stood behind a barrel and made the announcement that maybe I would just start up a winery/vineyard. (As some of you know, I have frustratingly abandoned my desire to be a tugboat operator.) I thought that perhaps I could call my winery something like NealNowReallyEnJoysWineTastings. But I got no respect at all from Nikki and Damon:
But I got even by confiscating a big ole barrel of wine. “I gotta load this by myself?!”
What a great Low Country afternoon. I will definitely go back one of these days. You go with me!
Now which way is Savannah?
See you next time.