Exploring Johnston County's Beer, Wine & Shine Trail

A view of the vines and lake outside of Gregory Winery located in Angier, N.C.

A view of the vines and lake outside of Gregory Winery located in Angier, N.C.

Our journey begins. The Johnston County Beer, Wine & Shine Trail has been something we’ve been wanting to do for a couple months now. And when that rare day became reality (both of us having a Friday off from our day jobs), we decided to hop in our car and try to visit the 7 locations serving up tasty libations. The trail is currently home to 3 breweries, 2 wineries and 2 distilleries.

The trail has other stops one can make along the way, but we were determined to visit as many official stops between the hours of operation that Friday afternoon and into the evening. If you need to take a break to eat, the trail offers stops such as Lane’s Seafood & Steak House, Cleveland Draft House and the Clayton Steakhouse. Or if you plan on adding some other stops between drinking, take a stroll inside the Ava Gardner Museum or Carolina Pottery in Smithfield, or enjoy perusing inside Stanfield’s General Store in Four Oaks. And if you’re looking to enjoy some of our state’s amazing barbecue, the trail is surrounded by over a dozen different locations to sink your teeth into some sultry Cue!

Be sure to pick up the Beer, Wine & Shine pamphlet at the beginning of your tour, because getting 4 or 7 stamps from your visits will award you with a gift. Four visits will get you a “gift” from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (we don’t know what that is), but visit all 7 stops and you can take your pick from a ball cap or a T-shirt.

For our tour, we decided to go on a reverse circle from north Raleigh to our first stop at Gregory Vineyards. Since they opened at noon, and the breweries didn’t open until 3:00 p.m. – it just made logical sense. So, it came down to us opting to drink Muscadine wine for lunch!

Gregory Vineyards

Not being fans of Muscadine or any sweet grape juice, we had to hype ourselves up for our first stop. We have been to the winery in the past to meet some relatives, but other than that one visit, this would be our first time back in a couple years. We arrived at Gregory Vineyards right as it opened, so were the first ones in the door, sans the UPS delivery guy who dropped off something right as we got out of our car. Our host sat us at one of the tables inside the winery/restaurant, and we began our tasting, that features 8 wines and 3 brandy wines for $8.

One by one we listened to the stories behind each of the wines, from the dry Bald Eagle, white Muscadine to the Sunset, a sweet white Muscadine. The one thing we thought was interesting is that we love dry, red Vinifera-style wines, but when it comes to dry Muscadine, we prefer the sweet wines. During our tasting we met the winery owner, Lane Gregory. We talked to him about the wines and some of the local winemakers. Our favorite wines to kick off our adventure was Sunset and the winery’s Red Apple Shine, a 40-proof brandy-infused wine.

Broadslab distillery

We arrived at Broadslab not expecting to be able to do a distillery tour, but we were in luck. A new tour was to begin in just a few minutes – and as it turns out, we were the only ones doing the tour. We waited a few minutes while we waited for distiller and owner, Jeremy Norris, to arrive and lead us to the distillery by a trailer pulled by his tractor. After a quick 5 minute jaunt down a dirt road, we arrived at the distillery’s facility – that looked amazing!

There Norris turned on a 12-minute video for us to watch on the history of the farm, his family and how the distillery got its name. Then it was a trip in the back where Norris showed us the still and all the equipment used in making up to 1,000 bottles a day of liquid gold. Although some people might feel awkward during a tour where it’s just the two of you and the owner, we felt it was the perfect time to bombard him with questions. We talked to Norris about the recent passing of Senate Bill 290, and how it has affected his distillery. We also talked about other local distilleries in the state such as Social House Vodka, Lassiter Rum, Durham Distillery and what Lonerider Spirits is up to. After our talk it was finally time to taste!

Norris started us off with the Legacy Shine, the drink that started it all. Drink this on a chilly evening and it will decidedly warm you up! Next we tried the Legacy Reserve, which was similar to the first, but with more sweetness and smoothness due to it being enhanced through traditional charred oak. Next was the Carolina Coast Spiced Rum. This 80 proof, small-batch rum was perfect straight, but we all agreed that it would really work well as a Dark & Stormy beverage. Finally we tried the Legacy Appleshine – Broadslab’s white corn whiskey blended with pure apple juice.

Now, depending on the time of the day you visit Broadslab, your next stop would be Fainting Goat Brewery (right down the road), but it wasn’t open by the time we left the distillery. The day we were out, the brewery didn’t open until 4:30 p.m., and we weren’t going to wait 2 hours for them to open to pay them a visit.

That’s the one thing you need to pay attention to if you decide to do this trail. Even though they officially call it a “trail” we still ended up putting over 140 miles on the car (roundtrip) that afternoon from our north Raleigh home. Just note that the wineries open around 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the breweries don’t open until around 4:00 to 4: 30 p.m., which can make it a little hard to plan.

HINNANT FAMILY VINEYARDS

Paying our first visit to Hinnant Family Vineyards in Pine Level wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. Pulling up to the vineyard off the road reminded us of pulling up to one of those roadside trinket and produce shops you’d find somewhere heading toward South Carolina off the side of the road. Not something you’d find just 30-plus miles outside the heart of downtown Raleigh. Walk inside, and you are greeted with flags and homemade goods to your right. To the left are a couple coolers where you can pick up some local cured bacon, ribs and even hot dogs. Right beside the tasting bar, a collection of CBD oils and tinctures.

Being our first time here, we pulled up a couple barstools to the bar, and decided to venture through the list of 8 wines on the tasting menu. We were expecting to run through a gambit of sweet Muscadine, which you know, we’re not big fans of (honestly, it’s hard for us to call it wine). But to our surprise, Hinnant was pouring 5 dry wines and 4 sweet wines, as well as one wine slushy. And don’t get us started on our thoughts on the infamous “wine slushy.”

We started our tasting with the Blanc du Bois white wine. The grape is an American hybrid that was created in Florida by John Mortensen at the University of Florida. A cross between the Golden Muscat and other local varieties make up this grape that taste like a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. A very nice start to our tasting, since, like we said, we thought we were in for nothing by Muscadine.

Next we were introduced to the winery’s Charles Heath collection of wines. This included a 2016 Chardonnay, 2018 Dry Rosé and 2016 Meritage. Each of these labels depicted several illustrations of cute owls playing musical instruments, all drawn by Bryson City artist Charles Heath. The other interesting thing about these wines is that the fruit comes from Columbia Valley out of Washington State. According to Hinnant, “These varietals can’t be produced (with quality) in eastern North Carolina climate (too hot and humid).” Hinnant also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon with juice from Washington state.

About halfway through our tasting, one of the ladies behind the bar thought we looked very familiar. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that it was during the North Carolina Blogger Summit held earlier this year at Hanover Park Vineyards, where the two of us facilitated a segment along with bloggers, The Wine Mouths, on how local bloggers can help out wineries. Bingo!

Onto the sweet wines. To be honest, the four wines we tried here surprised us. Each one was as good as the previous one we tasted. Nothing was too sweet, but sweet enough to satisfy the taste buds of a true Muscadine drinker. We tried the Southern White, Electric Pelican, Loggerhead Red and Gimme Some Sugar White. At the end of our tasting we walked out purchasing the Blanc du Bois, but at least know this winery has dry vinifera-style wines we like, and can pay a visit anytime we want to pick up a bottle.

Double Barley Brewing

Unlike the previous three locations, we’ve been to Smithfield’s Double Barley Brewing a couple of times in the past. Once during a 4-pack release of its seasonal Gourd Rocker pumpkin porter, and another time during one of its Thrilla in Vanilla variant releases. We tried to reach out to our friends Dan and Geraldine, the owners of GerDan Chocolates, that have their shop inside Double Barley, but we missed them by around 90 minutes.

We decided to order up a couple beers: the Steak Cake Stout and Gourd Rocker, as well as split a sandwich and chips – our first meal of the day! The Reuben with some jalapeño chips went well with both our drinks. We would have stayed a little longer, but we were already two hours behind our original schedule. So after our meal, we bid Double Barley adieu, and made our way to our next brewery.

During the car ride to our next stop, Jen came up with a nice way to describe how the breweries differ from almost any visit to a winery or even distillery. When you enter a winery for the first time, or even after several visits, a tasting usually has you up at the tasting bar, talking first-hand with someone as they tell you a little bit about each wine. One by one, you find out each and every flavor characteristics of the wines, the aroma, and sometimes when the grapes that were picked or an interesting tidbit. But inside a brewery, you head to the bar, order your flight or pint, get it, pay, move on. No description of the hop profiles in that IPA you ordered, or how many pounds of pumpkin went into the new seasonal. Sure, you can ask, but you don’t want to hold up the line.

It’s a different entity with wineries and breweries, and we know what to expect at both. It was just interesting to see how it all played out during the afternoon of drinking beer, wine and shine.

Deep River Brewing Company

Paul and Lynn Auclair have always been real nice to us in the past, and we wished we could have said hello to them since we don’t make it out in this neck of the woods very often. Since we didn’t see them behind the bar or in the back, we decided to make this another quick stop. Just like Double Barley, we usually seem to come here during events. We’ve been to a couple years of the Collaboration Without Representation releases, a Pinapalooza event and a couple of its anniversaries.

We ended up doing half pours of the Pumpkin Pie Porter for Jen, and the Tropical Tea Pale Ale for Dathan. While enjoying our brews as the sun starts to set and a nice breeze is coming in through the open garage door, we noticed a local relative of Jen’s passing by outside with her son. After a quick “hello, how’s it been going?” we finished up our beers, and headed around the corner to our next and final stop.

Instill distillery

Our last stop of the day took us to Instill Distillery. The good thing is that it’s literally right around the corner, and walking distance from Deep River Brewing. The distillery just opened early this spring, and has already gained some spotlight attention. We were greeted right away by two-thirds of the distillery’s ownership – Tom and Eric. We looked over the menu and ordered up a couple margaritas, which Eric promptly made for us.

During our time there we talked to Tom, who is a lawyer, about other local distilleries, the artist who designs their labels, cats and Grappa (which they don’t make now, but we could see it in the near future).

The white rum in our drinks is a hand-crafted mixture of molasses and sugar with nice flavor aromas and a nice finish. Towards the end of the evening … and our drinks … Dathan and Eric started talking wine, as Dathan is currently studying to take his exams to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. Eric, who passed the test already, and is a Sommelier, said he’d help Dathan out with the class, and started going over regions in Italy and France right there at the bar. Thanks, Eric!

We really had a great afternoon. What we really enjoyed the most was with these small businesses you can usually meet the owners themselves. During our 6 stops, we met the owners of half of our visits. From Lane at Gregory to Norris at Broadslab and of course, Eric and Tom. Each one of them eager to greet and a smile on their face. That’s what you want to see with these small wineries, distilleries and breweries. We, the consumers, make each of these businesses what they are today, and to know they take the time to say hello to people makes them more personable and down to earth.

Overall, we had a fantastic time touring the JoCo Beer, Wine and Shine Trail and we’re sure we’ll visit again real soon!