Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Bunny and I spent our annual winter weekend with our friends Connie and Steve recently in Mt. Airy North Carolina. It was Connie's year to make all the plans, and as usual she created a delightful visit. My friend found a charming cabin on a farm complete with a pond, cows, dogs, and a beautiful mountain view. It was the perfect setting to enjoy good friends and to explore a new community. Mt. Airy is filled with hints of “Mayberry” as it is the town characterized in the long running Andy Griffith Show. The four of us enjoyed the gracious southern town but more importantly we learned valuable lessons on the road to Mayberry. On our way to Mt Airy, Bunny and I stopped at Seagrove, North Carolina which is the largest community of potters with the longest continued history of pottery making in the United States. Seagrove is a small, modest community with friendly people and exceptional pottery. After visiting the museum, Bunny and I stopped by Alexa Modderno's Pottery. The local business is owned by a husband and wife team who moved to Seagrove years ago to make and promote their pottery. The couple teaches pottery classes, travels to art shows, and runs a small bed and breakfast in addition to making pottery. Seagrove is no major commerce area, yet countless people stop and shop since it is home to gifted artists. Later in the day, we stopped at Childress Vineyard because we are familiar with their excellent wines. No doubt, Childress is beautiful with its design inspired by Italian Renaissance Architecture of rural Tuscany. In addition, the rich interior is usually described as opulent. However, during our visit, the staff appeared uninterested and impersonal so our time in Childress was brief and unexceptional. Saturday was our day to explore Mt Airy's vibrant downtown. Even though it was a cold windy winter day, downtown was full of activity. There are countless shops, a historic music heritage theatre, several restaurants, a winery, antique stores, and a wonderful museum. The local museum features many interesting exhibits including the world's largest open face granite quarry and the growth of the railroad in the local area. In addition, exhibits tell the story about the hometown of Andy Griffith as well as the people and places that influenced his life. Also featured are local celebrity musicians; Donna Fargo and Tommy Harrell. Before leaving the museum, Steve inquired as to where we should eat since the famous Snappy Café was closed. Both employees immediately recommended the Barney Café. Upon entering the old-fashioned restaurant we saw that the cafe was very plain but extremely busy. We were seated quickly and found the food excellent, moderately priced and the staff friendly and eager to please. Lunch was delightful and there was no doubt we had a true Mayberry dining experience. Saturday evening we dined in another local restaurant and were willing to wait 40 minutes because it was so highly recommended. It is very obvious that businesses and employees work hard in Mt Airy to satisfy and help the consumer. Sunday morning after a breakfast of Steve's famous biscuits and gravy my group headed over the mountains to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Chateau Morrisette Winery. The winery is not only beautiful, but has scenic views of the New River Valley and Buffalo Mountain. We were met in the winery, by a cute little dog and soon learned that dogs had played an important role in the success of the business. Connie, Steve, Bunny, and I were informed and entertained during our tasting by Ben Gatchel who had studied Viticulture and Enology at Surry Community College. Ben was fun, friendly, and knowledgeable about the winery and the different wines. For instance, he told how the winery began in 1978 as a hobby of the Morrisette family and grew over the next 36 years to one of South West Virginia's prime tourist destinations. Ben also shared the story of while David Morrisette grew grapes and developed his signature wines he was always accompanied by his Black Labrador Retriever, Hans. Consequently in 1991, Black Dog Wine was named in honor of Hans. Ben described how the Black Dog Wine became a great marketing tool for the winery and sales ultimately improved. Later a white Muscadine Wine was developed and when sales lagged, the name was changed to “Our Dog Blue.” Afterwards sales soared. Other good wines included: Chambourcin, Blackberry, Sweet Apple and Peach. The wines at Chateau Morrisette are reasonably priced and extremely good. Before heading back across the mountains, my friends and I had a delicious lunch at the Vineyard's Restaurant and decided it was an excellent ending for a perfect weekend. Now I have to begin planning next year's adventure. Whether you are on the road to Mayberry or on the road to Kingstree, thriving communities share similar qualities. Prosperous communities promote their story, treat people kindly, and offer high-quality commodities. It was a great lesson to recall on the road to Mayberry; and one that we all should practice.