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The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Honoring the Legend and the Lady that was Ava Gardner

Honoring the Legend and the Lady that was Ava Gardner

This morning I stood by the side of the road on the sloping lawns of Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery to bear witness with around 2 dozen other people. I stood in the cold sunshine and watched as the historical marker of Ava Gardner was revealed by her remaining friends and family. It was a beautiful ceremony in which the Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, Ava's great niece, and Ava's nephew all offered words on who Ava was and what she meHistoric Markerans to her home county of Johnston.

For those of you who don't know, public figures of historical significance must be deceased for 25 years before the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will erect a roadside plaque in their honor. Ava passed away in 1990, exactly 25 years ago. But she would be 93 today; her birthday is in fact Christmas Eve. Ava's marker, as you can see from the picture, rests 100 yards away from her gravestone.

This week there have been 2 events related to the dedication of this historic marker. Both involving the Ava Gardner Museum, Ava's family, and also Ava's long-time companion and housekeeper Carmen Vargas. A private dedication took place at The Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC on Wednesday the 18th of November. Following his performance at the theatre that night, Ava's step-son Frank Sinatra Jr. was kind enough to join guests in honoring Ava and to say a few kind and passionate words. By his own admission he interacted with Ava very rarely, but she once showed him a great kindness at a difficult time in his life; something she did not have to do and something he reminisced he will never forget.

I thought about Frank Sinatra Jr.'s words as I stood in front of the marker this morning at the public dedication ceremony listening to those friends and family members who knew Ava discuss their memories of her. It seems to me that every time I hear somebody talk about Ava Gardner, someoAva Posed in a Field ne who knew her, it is never about how big of a star she was... it is always about how big of a person she was. Her genuineness. Her love for her corgis. Her zest for life. Her early and passionate involvement in civil rights.

On paper Ava Gardner is still one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known. She remains ranked by the American Film Institute as the 25th most popular screen actress of all time. She is Johnston County's Cinderella story. A girl from Grabtown that became a star. Her legacy remains alive in Smithfield, NC where her museum brings in people from all around the world and where a plaque now marks her final resting place so that fans (old and new) can pay their respects.

But Ava Gardner was more than a star. She is more than her story. Being present at both dedication ceremonies was like watching Ava come off the paper, like watching her come alive again. To be able to see Ava through the eyes of the people who love her, who spent time with her, who knew first-hand her kindness and humor and spirit. It was an honor. To understand how humble she was. How fierce and feisty. To be awed by the unapologetic way she lived her life. It makes her seem all the more real. Because she was a real person.

In the years and decades to come there will pass a time when no one will be here to speak for her. To recount first-hand who she was. How proudly southern and proudly JoCo she was. All we will have is the historic marker and the Ava Gardner Museum. They will remain her legacy. A legacy worth protecting to anyone else who calls themselves a lover of Johnston County, a fan of Ava Gardner, or a believer in unapologetic living and southern hospitality.

I encourage you to visit Ava's museum. To go by her grave and her brand new historic marker. Spend some time with one of the most beautiful women the world has ever seen. Who soared to great heights, and kept her (bare)feet firmly planted in the Johnston County soil.

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Johnston County Visitors Bureau Wins Awards at Tourism Leadership Conference

Johnston County Visitors Bureau Wins Awards at Tourism Leadership Conference

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau was recently honored with 2 awards, presented at the recent annual North Carolina Tourism Leadership Conference, held each year by the Destination Marketing Association of North Carolina. The JCVB won a Gold Destination Marketing Achievement Award in Advertising for their Girlfriends Getaway Print Advertising Campaign. In addition, they also won a Gold Destination Marketing Achievement Award in Online Communications for the Bureau's weekly blog.

Outlet shopping is by far the largest attraction for Smithfield/Johnston County with more than 7 million shopper choosing to visit, shop, spend the night, and it continues to be the driving force for economic development for the tourism industry in Smithfield.  The Girlfriends Getaway advertisingDMANC Awards 2015 promotes the packaging of this attraction with others in the Smithfield area to encourage female shoppers to turn a shopping trip into an experience. Hotels that up-sale the package are averaging 10 per weekend, and others are averaging 2-3 per weekend.  Room nights generated in the last 12 months estimated at approximately 748 with eight hotel partners.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau's weekly blog posts present a unique medium for announcing important tourism-related events and news, as well as serving as a platform to tell the stories of Johnston County's people and places. The top blog posts of the year included the opening of Johnston County's first legal moonshine distillery, the opening of two new chef driven and farm-fresh restaurants, the announcement that a major county event would be growing, and the story of a local girl working to make it big with her music. In total, these four top-producing posts generated 18,787 views to the blog page on our website so far.

Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, was also honored by the North Carolina Travel Industry Association (NCTIA) with the organization’s 2015 Public Service Award. NCTIA’ s Public Service Award is given to individuals and/or organizations for outstanding career contributions for the betterment, welfare, progress, recognition, promotion and development of the travel industry of North Carolina.  Previously known as the Bill Sharpe Award, the Public Service Award is awarded annually (since 1987) in honor of Bill Sharpe, the state’s first tourism director.

For more information on the N.C. Travel Industry Association and the Public Service Award, visit

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American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

It has not escaped my notice that I recently posted a blog in which I lamented the retail-driven erasure of November and ThanDown Home Christmas ksgiving (a wondrous time of year). I do believe I firmly stated the Johnston County, and Southern, tradition of letting seasons and holidays pass as they will. No rushing. No jingle bells until all the colorful leaves have left their trees. And I still stand by that 100%.

But there are some of us, yes me included, who LOVE Christmas. And if you love Christmas sometimes it takes a little more than 31 days to contain your Christmas cheer. So, starting in November I find little ways to celebrate my BIG love for all things Christmas. One way to do that is to get tickets to the American Music Jubilee's Down Home Christmas Show.

It's an evening of southern hospitality, great American music, and side-splitting comedy that will delight audiences of every age. Add a couple of surprise guests, like Santa and his friends, and this show is guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit!  A touch of Branson and a touch of Myrtle Beach, American Music Jubilee includes a ten member cast that skillfully combine comedy skits with traditional and modern Christmas music.  
Christmas Pajamas Skit
The 2015 Christmas season shows started November 6th and will run through December 21st. The shows begin at 1:40pm and 7:40pm each day. Admission charges are $28.50 for adults with special pricing available for children, balcony seating, and groups of 15 or more. Groups should call ahead.

The reason the Jubilee starts their Christmas show in November is because so many people want to see it, and because some people like me want to experience a little Christmas before December 1st. Just remember to make the most out of your Down Home Christmas Show experience by exploring Selma before or after the show. Selma has over 20 antique and specialty stores as well as outlet shopping.  A variety of quaint hometown dining establishments are available for a pre-show lunch or dinner.  

For more information and for tickets call 1-877-843-7839 or (919) 202-9927. You can also visit the website at for a full performance schedule.

Happy Holidays (a little early) Ya'll!

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"Video" Proof that Downtown Clayton is the Perfect Getaway!

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Buy a Bottle at Broadslab

Buy a Bottle at Broadslab


We have reached at least a temporary closing to our Meet the Makers. Broadslab Distillery is the last of the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail locations to be discussed in this blog series. Broadslab's owner and master distiller Jeremy Norris is the last maker in Johnston County to fall under the craft beverage industry. However, that does not mean that Jeremy is the last maker I will have the privilege of sitting down with. It is my hope to extend the Meet the Makers series into other blogs, regarding artisans and artists throughout the county. So, stay tuned. Meanwhile, onward with boasting about Broadslab!

One For The Road

Craft distilling is a growing industry across North Carolina. And like wineries and breweries, distilleries not only boost the econoTasting at Broadslabmy through production and sells, but through drawing tourists to the state who are interested in tasting vodka, bourbon, gin, whiskey, and authentic southern moonshine. North Carolina has always been, shall we say, notorious for the illegal home brewing of such beverages, but distillers have been able to legally make it (with the proper permits) for years now. But, did you know, that distillers have not always been able to sell their own product on-site at the distillery until this month?

Benson-based Broadslab Distillery has been offering tours and tastings since March of this year. But, in order to buy the product, visitors to the property where Jeremy makes his "shine" would have to leave the farm and drive into Benson, to the nearest ABC store, to lay their hands on a full bottle of product. This year NC legislators voted to change that. For the first time in over 100 years, visitors to Broadslab can purchase a bottle of shine from Jeremy.  One bottle. Per person. Per year. For those visitors from states with more liberal alcohol laws this may sound restrictive. But for the members of the North Carolina Distillers Association it's a step in the right direction... and hopefully a singular step on a longer path to making our state a mecca for visitors looking to experience authentic southern liquor.  I invite you to visit and give Broadslab a try. You can now take one for the road! The tasting room is located right off I-95 in Benson, NC near the intersection of I-40 and I-95. This makes Broadslab convenient from the Triangle if you're looking for things to do in Raleigh or you want to expand your tour of Raleigh distilleries.

The Real Deal

Jeremy is what we would dub the "real deal", with a back story about growing up in a family of moonshiners in a community known for the trade.Broadslab Legacy Shine Gold Medal Unlike some distilleries in the state using moonshine stories as a marketing ploy, Jeremy is building a brand whose story has honest origins. Jeremy was raised by his grandfather, and helped him on the farm for many years as he ran a produce stand there at the house, now the tasting room.  His grandfather's heart and hands and spirit tended the land and his shine stills once dotted the landscape back before Jeremy was born.

The Broadslab recipes are the embodiment of a 5 generation legacy and were passed down by the great-great grandfathers on both sides of Jeremy’s family. One of them, William “Bill” McLamb, was active in the dawn of the moonshine trade and distilled smooth, sipping whiskey long before prohibition. But it was Jeremy’s grandfather, Leonard A. Wood, who eventually passed on the family recipe.

Once moonshine became legal in NC Jeremy saw the opportunity for his family to turn a lawless legacy into a labor of love operation. His grandfather Leonard finally agreed to share his knowledge, recipes, and oral shine history. And so they toiled together, perfecting the process and arguing between decades of tradition and modern techniques. As Jeremy’s mentor and personal advisor, Leonard was integral in building the Broadslab still, but passed away before opening. Since then, Jeremy has purchased land from his family to own the farm his grandfather loved so much.  Jeremy has roots in the land like many other Johnston County farmers. The distillery sits in the footprint of many of his stills on the family farm outside Benson, NC.

From Dirt to Bottle
Broadslab Legacy Reserve Shine Bronze Medal
As far as Jeremy knows, he is the only distillery in the state that is growing the grain, harvesting and processing it, and making it all with natural ingredients. If you're standing in the Broadslab tasting room, you're standing on the land that the corn in your whiskey was grown on. There will be no additives, artificial ingredients or syrups in Broadslab products.  Some are even considered organic for those foodies that seek out that designation. But, there are some other important "organic" ingredients to Broadslab Distillery's product that make it truly one of a kind. The hand-crafted love that goes into every step in the process is one ingredient. From "dirt to bottle", Jeremy is the engine behind the process putting that drink in your hand.

Jeremy's grandfather told him there are two kinds of shine, the shine you sale and the shine you drink.  Jeremy is making the shine you drink.  He has altered the methods his grandfather used to pour off the harsh chemicals that are in front of the "drinking shine", and he cuts off the still before the bitter taste at the bottom effects the product.  This "sweet spot" so to speak is the fine product Jeremy is producing. Jeremy has remarked more than once that his grandfather would get upset that Jeremy was "wasting" a portion of the product in order to craft a better taste. While Jeremy understood the practicality behind his grandfather's idea, he wanted his product to be a smooth as possible.

And Now, Award-Winningb2ap3_thumbnail_Apple-Shine-Medal.jpg

The hand-crafted glass of Broadslab shine or rum you sip on in the tasting room doesn't just have your basic white lightening ingredients in it. It has the weight of a war between the lawful and the lawless. The sense of secrecy as hands toiled to distill in the dead of night or run boxes up the river under cover of darkness. The smell of wild southern nights, gun smoke, and pure grain alcohol. The taste of sizzling lightening tempered by time and passion into a smooth and robust drink.

If you don't believe me, believe the judges at the Blue Ridge Spirit Competition this year. Jeremy took home Gold for his Legacy Shine, Silver for his Apple Shine, and Bronze for his  Reserve Legacy Shine. Congrats to Jeremy and Broadslab! 

Visit Broadslab Distillery for the shine and you certainly won't be disappointed.  But stick around for the stories and you'll find yourself perched on the barstool long after the shot glass in your hand runs dry. The tasting room is open Thursday through Saturday, starting at 12N, with tours, tasting, and shot glass for $12.00. Find out more at --

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Wine, Weddings, and Wonderful Food Meet at Gregory Vineyards

Wine, Weddings, and Wonderful Food Meet at Gregory Vineyards


Cruising the expanse of road that leads you through Gregory Vineyards and up to the tasting room gives you time to take-in the idyllic view. Rows of grapevines stretch out over an expanse of green grass as it slops gently towards the calm waters of a large pond. It would be easy to sit and rest on the porch with a glass of wine with nothing to do but soak-up the autumn sun.

If you have been following along on the Meet the Makers blog series then you know by now that North Carolina has almost 200 wineries and a booming wine industry that not just locals but visitors, from all over the nation and world, enjoy. You also know that Johnston County has talented artisans working in various industries; JoCo can now boast 2 wineries, 2 craft breweries, and a moonshine distillery. Tourists can visit all 5 establishments on our Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail and many visitors are led to the county by other beer, wine, and spirit trails that extend across the state.


Greogry View

It is because of this growing relevance between beverage crafting and tourism that I started Meet the Makers. In this installment of the blog series I sat down with Lane Gregory, owner and winemaker at Gregory Vineyards to discuss what he does every day and what's around the corner for the vineyard.


A Serendipitous Start

One of the first things Lane told me about Gregory Vineyards is that the grapes were originally meant to be ornamental, "a winery was not the purpose of the vineyard. I put the vineyard in as a backdrop for weddings."

To clarify, in 1987 the Gregory's opened Lane's Seafood, a delicious restaurant that enjoyed many years of prosperity. Then, when Lane wanted to spend more time with his children, he left it in the care of a couple who just couldn't manage it like they thought and the restaurant closed for a time. In 2009 the Gregory's reopened the restaurant building, on their beautiful land, to host weddings. The vineyards were planted at that time because Lane thought they would make an excellent backdrop to the weddings and the guests who came to the restaurant to dine.

Gregory Wines
But, when you plant vineyards you are also growing grapes as Lane pointed out, "We had to do something with the grapes. In 2011 the winery opened. We have 12 acres now and we run a small but successful operation." Gregory Vineyards produces award-wining muscadine wines. When asked why he doesn't make a merlot Lane says it's due to the Eastern North Carolina climate. Not all varietals do well, but muscadine grapes flourish and 2014 was a bountiful harvest, making 2015 an excellent wine year for Gregory. Lane says he expects that 2015-2016 will be similar.

Lane plans to expand the vineyard, planting 8 more acres within the year and eventually hopes to add between 20 and 30 acres. Expanding the vineyard means expanding production. The Gregory's still sell almost 100% of their wine on-site. They do not mass distribute and they do not sell in grocery stores.

I asked Lane what he plans to do with more grapes, "we're already licensed to make wine, beer, and liquor, we've just chosen to focus on wine. We are moving in the direction of distilling brandy for fortified wines. In fact, the first fortified wine product hits shelves soon - called Fearless.  Fortified wine means distilling an un-fortified wine and taking the alcohol from that process, which is brandy, and then adding it back into another wine." At that point, the wine goes from less than 16% to 18-20%. Legally a winery can sell wine with up-to a 24% ABV.


A Labor of Love

So, what does Lane Gregory like most about making wine, since he didn't particularly start out to become a vintner? "If I can make wine, anyone can make wine," he jokes, "But, really, it's basic chemistry. And a lot of fun. I think that my years in the restaurant business gave me the ability to blend wine well and to pair the wine we make with the food we serve in the restaurant."

 Almost every unique wine has a creative label and person associated with it, "my wife and I visited a lot of wineries and for the most part Winery-Signwe found that the wine had a generic or esoteric name. We wanted our wine to have a story, most are named after good friends and family members."

People come from all over to have dinner at Lane's Seafood & Steakhouse, and to taste the delicious muscadine wine. Gregory Vineyards gets visitors from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Flordia to name a few. Lane says a lot of them are in the area to visit family and are looking for things to do. Gregory also hosted the NC Grape Stomp Festival this year a few weekends ago and around 3,000 people attended. The vineyard also hosts weddings for most of the year now from early spring to early winter, the original plan if you remember, and did over 100 events last year.

I asked what the future held and Lane said that for now, he and his wife are content to grow the vineyard and the business at a manageable pace. He hinted that there would be more initiatives to unveil very soon. Exciting! I love to see small, local business booming. Lane said that even with growth they will remain a Mom & Pop operation, "I still call it a hobby, but a hobby that works me pretty hard."

If you are interested in a wine tasting, a delicious surf and turf dinner, or holding a wedding - possibly all three? - feel free to contact Gregory Vineyards. And if you have a Saturday afternoon free, go sit a spell on the porch with one of the best views in the Johnston County.

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Savor Fall with Sweet Potatoes

Savor Fall with Sweet Potatoes


When the leaves start to change and the slow heat of summer takes it's sweet time clearing the air and making way for a brisk fall breeze, that's the time of year I love the most.

In the South, the long stretch from late September to early November becomes a time of daily wardrobe uncertainty. Rarely is there an October day that I don't leave my house without a jacket hiding a tank top, pants that aren't too heavy and can be rolled up, a coat just in case, boots on with flats in my bag, and an umbrella. How else can you Sweet Potato Ice Creamdress for 75 degrees at mid-day and 40 degrees when the sun goes down? If I'm leaving my home at 7:30AM and not returning until 9:00PM, a North Carolina fall means I must be prepared for wildly varying temperatures that make for a pleasant day, but a difficult outfit.

Warm days mean shopping on main street and picking grapes off the vine. Cool nights mean drinking craft beer wrapped in flannel at a local brewery and visiting a haunted corn maze with your friends. The leaves change, the trees burst into color, and the ground becomes littered in autumn-colored confetti.

While the retail industry tries to convince you that the beginning of October means the beginning of Christmas, in Johnston County we're content to let the fall holidays unfold at their own pace. It could be that most southerners are content to let things happen in their own time. It could be that in our agricultural region we're too busy with the harvest to contemplate Christmas lights. From picking pumpkins straight from the patch for Halloween, to cooking up our bounty and counting blessings at Thanksgiving, to celebrating Christmas with light shows, carols, and cookies, each holidays gets its own time to shine.

While Starbucks fueled pumpkin frenzy descends upon your social media channels and grocery store isles (no offense to Starbucks and their excellent lattes), I'm much more focused on the lesser-acclaimed vegetable of the fall season- the sweet potato. Versatile. Savory and Sweet. Filling. Served as a side dish or dressed-up as a dessert. The perfect compliment to a cool fall evening meal, a Thanksgiving feast, or a Holiday Lunch!Sweet Potato Casserole

North Carolina and Johnston County, have long been a leader in the U.S. for sweet potato production. In celebration, I've linked recipes below that highlight the flexibility of the sweet potato as an ingredient. Enjoy! And be sure to share pictures as you attempt these, and your own, sweet potato creations.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Pudding

Curried Carrot, Sweet Potato, and Ginger Soup

Sweet Potato Ice Cream

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Growing a Grape Legacy and Fermenting a Future

Growing a Grape Legacy and Fermenting a Future

If you have been following the Meet the Makers blog series, then you'll know that I have endeavored to sit down with Johnston County's great makers in some of the fastest growing industries in the state - craft beverages. Beer, wine, and liquor production by small sized and often family-owned companies account for billions of dollars in tax revenue for North Carolina. It's also an excellent reason to visit the Ole North State. And many visitors and locals alike trek to Raleigh wineries and other regions of the state to experience the venticulture we have here. If you haven't been reading Meet the Makers, then Welcome. You can find the previous two blog posts here and here regarding craft brewing in JoCo. Today however, we turn to winemaking.

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” ― Paulo Coelho

In my humble opinion there is no more beautiful time to visit a winery than October. October means warm sunshine and cool breezy afternoons. At Hinnant Family Vineyards in Pine Level, NC October signals the end of harvest, when the literal fruits of a year's labor can be divested of their green, leafy vines. These grapes are ready to move forward towards their full potential, becoming grown-up bottles of delicious Hinnant wine.

On one such beautiful Fall day I sat down with the man who has for almost 5 decades had a hand in getting grapes from field to bottle. Bob Hinnant was just 6 years old when the first grape vines were planted on Hinnant Vineyards. His father and his father's siblings sold grapes wholesale to grocery stores and wineries. Bob helped out whenever he could, watching his father cultivate plants from a few acres to what is now a sprawling 100 acre vineyard. In his spare time first his father and then Bob took up making homemade wine with the muscadine grapes they grew.


Not All Vineyards Are Wineries - But They Could Be

"It wasn't until about 12 years ago that we started making wine with a true commercial interest. I saw smaller vineyards with successful wineries and I thought we could do it," Bob admits they started small though with just 1,800 cases of wine produced in 2001. There's 12 bottles in a case to help you with the math. But since that time Bob has grown the winery into a 30,000 cases per year production.

Bob says it's not just Hinnant that's growing, it's the wine industry in NC as a whole, "when we started we were the 16th winery in the state. Now North Carolina has almost 200 wineries." That's a lot of wine and a lot of competition, but Hinnant has met and exceeded expectation. In 2014 alone they took home the Muscadine Cup from the State Fair. But even more impressive they took home Best in Show that year. It's impressive because their muscadine wine beat out all other categories and varietals to win that award. There is a prevailing assumption among the wine community that sweet wines are somehow classed down from traditional, dry, old-world tasting red wines. It's something that Bob is working to change and visitors to Hinnant love the variety of wines available.

Hinnant Bottles

"We grow Muscadine, but we also grow Concord and Blanc Du Bois. We bring in a small amount of other grape varietals from other places, that we can't grow here, in order to blend and alter taste profiles." If you're not a wine connoisseur, allow me to translate for Bob. The varietal of the grape, more than almost anything else, affects the taste of the wine. Growing climate affects what sort of varietals will flourish in a given region. Hinnant grows a lot of grapes, but uses other grape sources and the fermenting process to draw flavor profiles out in their wines. If you like sweet white wine, Hinnant has a wine for you. If you like dry red wine, Hinnant has a wine for you also.

Hinnant didn't take home any State Fair awards this year but Bob thinks that next year is going to be another winning year, "The harvest this year still isn't over, it's been longer than usual. It rained and rained and then it dried up. That means the grapes can sit on the vine and soak up water before harvest. The wines we make out of these grapes will be promising."

But like the grapes on the vine, Bob is about to pull a disappearing act, "I'm gonna take off soon. Harvest has been crazy around here and I've been present every day for months." Don't worry, he's coming back. I think.


Technology Versus Tradition

I asked Bob what's changed over the decades aside from the work load. How does a family-owned winery move from home fermentation to commercial winemaking? He says that capacity doesn't matter, temperature does, "In order to make really good fruity wines you need to control your fermentation temperature. It doesn't matter if it's a 5 gallon bucket or a 500 gallon tank. In that regard technology has made winemaking easier than it's ever been. A large part of making good quality wine is about filtering and about cold stabilization. There are machines for that now. In the old days people would ferment and age wine in caves, or bury it in the ground to keep it cold."

I wanted to know what was over the horizon for Hinnant or for the wine industry, "we're really working on re-branding our labels to make them look distinct on the shelf. We have moved into bottling with Stelvin screw caps instead of cork. That's something that the industry as a whole is moving towards. We also have 2 private label wines right now we're making exclusively for Walmart. That partnership has potential to take-off. I hope down the road to begin making brandy, sherry, fortified wines, and grappa."

That sounds amazing, but some of those drinks would require a distilling permit due to the alcohol volume. I was told that it's in the works. Exciting. In the meantime, you can enjoy a glass of Hinnant wine on the wrap-around front porch of the tasting room. Or pick-your-own grapes. I followed Bob out to the vineyard so I could see the unique double wire system they use to grow their vines. It's called the Geneva Double Curtain and it splits the branches of the plant so that the vines creep along two running wires and not one. This increases grape production by about 40% more fruit per acre.

With my head stuck up in the middle of a grapevine between two pieces of wire and with a leaf in my hair, I could certainly see what Bob was talking about. The particular grape vine plant I was standing in was massive, with large and ripe red grapes. With the sun shining down and the hint of fall chill to come in the air I honestly wanted to stand in the Hinnant vineyard until the sun went down. I highly recommend doing the pick-your-own and sticking your head in a grape vine... that's how you find the best grapes.

Bob's son is too young yet to show any true interest in maybe one day being the next Hinnant to run the vineyard. But there are many harvests left yet before Bob is ready to step down. Bob's hope, and certainly my hope as a Johnston County native, is that Hinnant Family Vineyards continues to grow and prosper. Much like the grapes growing on the vine every year, only time will tell.

To experience all the Beer, Wine, and Shine that Johnston County has to offer. Try the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail!

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Menacing, Melodious, Masterful

Menacing, Melodious, Masterful

Celebrate the timeless nature of classical music. Be thrilled by the haunting sounds of the season. Explore the collections of masterful composers. The 4th Annual Clayton Piano Festival will regale audiences with a week of expertly themed concerts starting on October 30th and going through November 7th.

Hometown classical musician, Jonathan Levin, started the festival in 2010 to give back to the community where he was raised. "As many may know, I grew up in the Clayton area and it was here that my musical education began as well," stated Levin. "Clayton Piano Festival (CPF) is my way of giving back to a community which gave much to me and to share my love and enthusiasm for great music with as many people as possible."

“Taking high art off of the top shelf” has been the mission of Clayton Piano Festival for the past four years as it has presented fun, family-oriented outreach shows, innovative classes for local music students and accessible, festive concert performances by world renowned guest artists from all across the globe throughout the Clayton area and beyond.

The festival returns this fall with another stellar line up of concerts in partnership with the Historic Wagner House to promote an intimate atmosphere where audiences can experience world class performances up close and personal.  “It’s almost like having a live concert in your own living room”, says Levin.  “There’s no need to know anything about the music before coming or to worry about uptight concert etiquette.  People will have fun and enjoy amazing music, guided through the experience by performers who are as communicative with their performances as they are presenting the music to new audiences.  The idea is for those who aren’t classical enthusiasts to be able to discover something incredible they weren’t sure they would enjoy, and for those who are, to be able to listen with a fresh perspective.” 

This season starts off with a special Halloween party and concert on October 30th called Night of the Living Composers.  The event includes dinner, the concert and a dessert reception afterwards.  Jonathan Levin will treat listeners to a rousing collection CPF Evening 1of some of the most horrible works for the piano, in the best sense of the word of course!   The program includes famous numbers CPF Evening 2 featured in horror movies and other pieces which have themes associated with menace in some way.  Come dressed for the occasion and participate in a costume contest to win free tickets to the concert on November 5th.

On Sunday afternoon, November 1st, Professor at Baylor University and expert on Spanish music, Dr. Paul Sanchez presents an evocative and thrilling collection of works from two of the most influential Spanish composers, Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados.   The only American pianist to be invited to study in Spain with the legendary Alicia de Larrocha, Paul will guide the audience through the rich and colorful music of this country.  The concert, called In the Gardens of Spain, explores the dances, tangos, folk influence and traditional melodies that make up the unique Spanish flavor.  

On Thursday November 5th, Russian-born pianist and producer/broadcaster, Yana Reznik presents an evening of Russian favorites titled, From Russia with Love.  The concert includes an exhilarating collection of works which everyone knows and loves like selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and famous preludes by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  You may choose to come early and have a full, wholesome Russian-style CPF Evening 3dinner, or just come later for the concert, which will again be followed by a dessert reception.
CPF Evening 4
The closing concert of the 2015 season is titled Beethoven and Why the Piano Matters, which will be held at Hopper Piano Company in Raleigh. Noted author, teacher, and broadcaster David Dubal hosts this unique look at the life and works of Ludwig van Beethoven through live performances of his piano music featuring the dynamic pianism of Russian born guest artist Michael Bulychev-Okser.  The program explores famous sonatas of his early middle and late periods, highlighting the evolution of his style, which was so inextricably linked to the composers' own life and inner journey.  Audiences will see how this titan rocked the music world, leaving an indelible mark on the history of music and the piano – a force of influence that is still felt strongly today.  

The Clayton Piano Festival is supported by grants, donations, and tickets sales. Ticket prices vary between performances and both a senior and child ticket price will be offered, with package deals as well including the three Wagner House performances. More information and to purchase tickets, visit

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It's Fall Ya'll

It's Fall Ya'll


There is so much going on in Clayton this Fall that I might not fit it all into this one post. But, I will try. The season of crisp air, warm apple pies, plump pumpkins, and autumn leaves is a magnificent time to be in Johnston County. Festivals, concerts, spooky hay rides, 5K races, and pumpkin patches dappled with autumnal light are just a few highlights from what is unabashedly my favorite season.

Clayton Shindig

Clayton Shindig

If you haven't already circled October 10th on the calendar like we have, get a red pen out. In just two weeks the 4th Annual Clayton Shindig is bringing bands, beer, and BBQ to Johnston County. Running from 11:30AM till 9:00PM the line-up this year includes some heavy hitters, like Grammy nominated band The Steeldrivers and nationally recognized band The Black Lillies. The line-up also includes some of JoCo's own talented artist and you can see the full list at The link to purchase tickets for the event is on the site as well.

Moreover, the bands won't be the only thing on tap at the Shindig. Local breweries Deep River, Double Barley, Draft Line, Aviator, and Raleigh Brewing will be ready to quench your thirst as you rock out. And thanks to Squealin' on the Square there will be some good ole' eastern style BBQ being served up.

Squealin' on the Square

You might not want to get up quite as early as the Fifth Annual Clayton Chamber of Commerce BBQ Cookoff teams do. Squealin' on the Square teams are serious about cooking their pig to perfection, and some get started as early as 5:00AM. The good news for BBQ lovers and Shindig go-ers is all that hard work pays off Saturday evening.

BBQ plates will be available to the public on Saturday, October 10th for $8.00 per plate from 4:00PM to 7:00PM. Purchase your BBQ plates from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce tent set-up at the Shindig. Or purchase them ahead of time by contacting the Chamber offices at 919-553-6352.

Clayton Center Concert Series

From sweet American blue grass and Celtic folk tunes to wildly talented guitar playing, the Clayton Center kicks off their Palladian Series with 2 stellar acts in October and November respectively. On October 24th the Annie Moses BandAnnie Moses Band (pictured at right) takes the stage, bringing their effervescent harmony and blended instrumentation to popular folk tunes and classical compositions. On November 7th join Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo - a charismatic duo of guitar technique wonderment.

The season continues into December and well into 2016 with 4 other amazing acts: 3 Redneck Tenors Christmas Spec-Tac-Yule-Ar, Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway performance, the rocking honky tonk sounds of Lee Roy Parnell, and lastly the swagger and soul of Grammy-winning Mike Farris. For more information on each artist, and to purchase tickets, visit

That's just a sneak peek of Fall in Clayton. There's so much more to do and see in all the nooks and crannies of Johnston County. For more information on happenings over the next few months, visit And try not to overdo it on pumpkin spice everything. It's Fall Ya'll!


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Family-owned Farm in Clayton Delivers Fear and Fun

Family-owned Farm in Clayton Delivers Fear and Fun

Boyette's Family Farms Inc. has farm fresh fun for the whole family and for all ages. Johnston County locals and visitors have been traveling to Clayton, NC to experience hayrides and haunted houses at Boyette's for many Autumns now. This year is no different.
Boyette Corn Maze
A recent conversation with owner Anna Boyette revealed all the things that the Clayton Fear Farm - Boyette's Halloween-esque business name for their Fall activities - has planned for the season, starting the first weekend in October, "The activities are split into daytime and nighttime with the more kid-friendly things taking place during the day. We have a pumpkin patch for kids to pick out their own pumpkin, a corn maze, and a hayride that transports you around the farm. In the evening, we have 7 spooky attractions." Not recommended for the faint of heart.

While there is no age restriction enforced at Clayton Fear Farm, Anna recommends the scarier stuff at night for 13 years old and up. That's not to say that the evening Fear Farm hours are for all adults. "We don't have a chicken refund," Anna says, mostly joking. Truthfully, she says that the fear factor of each part of the farm depends not on how scary Boyette's makes their haunted horror attractions, but how afraid you are of certain things. Clowns, zombies, ghosts, serial killers, darkness... you can pick your poison.
Fear Farm Slaughter House
A day time ticket gets you onto the farm for the day. Evening tickets can be purchased at $12 per attraction, or gain access to all 7 with a $25 all-inclusive tickets. You can learn more about all of Boyette's Fall activities by visiting their website; the site has links to the Facebook pages for each event the farm offers - the daytime and evening Fear Farm events have separate pages.

On October 10th, Boyette's will be having a Fall Festival complete with tractors for kids to explore and learn about. The Fall Festival would be an excellent time to explore the corn maze - don't worry, it's not haunted during the day.

Anna mentioned that the vineyards side of the Boyette operation is no longer offering pick-your-own or selling grapes to the public. However, Lights on the Neuse will still be happening this year starting the day after Thanksgiving and going through Christmas Eve. Lights on the Neuse includes beautiful holiday light extravaganza hayride, meeting Santa, and even cookie decorating.

It's a farm full of fun at Boyette's this time of year. Check it out for yourself. And for more holiday events in the area, visit

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Unveiling of New Exhibit at the Ava Gardner Museum

Unveiling of New Exhibit at the Ava Gardner Museum


The Ava Gardner Museum will be unveiling a new exhibit including artifacts and information associated with Ava's friend and costar Omar Sharif, who sadly passed away this year. The exhibit will also include a tribute to her husband Frank Sinatra in honor of his 100th birthday this year, and a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Ava's death.

The museum’s Executive Director, Deanna Brandenberger, explains that this year is particularly significant in commemorating Ava’s role in Hollywood history and that the new exhibit as a three-part tribute will be a first for the museum, “the new exhibit’s design will be different from any we have done before. Our main gallery case will be split into three sections, giving each commemoration their space."

The grand opening of the exhibit will be on Saturday, October 3rd at 9 AM in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Ava Gardner Museum in its current location. There will not be an Ava Gardner Festival this year, but the museum invites Ava fans to come view the new exhibit and celebrate Ava, Frank, and Omar. Light refreshments will be served throughout the day.

Ava's Contemporaries

Mayerling - Ava with Omar Sharif
Omar Sharif, a widely-respected Egyptian actor, is mainly known for his epic roles in the blockbuster classics Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Ava first starred with Sharif in the 1968 film Mayerling, in which she played his mother, the Empress of Austria. Ironically, almost two decades later in 1986 she played his wife in Harem. Harem was also one of the last movies Ava ever made before she retired from the spotlight for health reasons. The new exhibit will include artifacts, photos, and information from both movies as a tribute to Ava's friendship with Sharif.

In Mearene Jordan's book Living with Miss G she says that Miss G (Ava) and Omar Sharif became fast friends while filming Mayerling, "Sharif immediately captivated us with his sense of humor, his charm, his immense knowledge about practically everything, and the fact that he was completely on Miss G's wave length." On both sides however, the friendship remained platonic.

According to BrandeAva and Franknberger, "Sharif once described Ava as one of his dearest friends up till her death and that he considered her to be the ‘most beautiful woman in all of the world.’ Omar’s passing was a major loss for the industry and its history and we wish to highlight his role in Ava’s life as we have done with other friends, such as Lena Horne. Ava’s husband and friend Frank Sinatra also held a similar view of Ava and they were a large part of each other’s lives for five decades. "

And so, another tribute within the new exhibit will be to Ava's third husband and love of her life, Frank Sinatra. Though their marriage did not last very long, Frank and Ava were life-long friends who loved each other passionately and forever. Even post divorce Mearene said that Frank and Ava's love affair was still in high gear, "...there were daily phone calls. If they couldn't reach each other by phone there was an unending stream of loving cablegrams reinforcing their undying devotion to each other."

This year would have been Frank's 100th birthday. His son, Frank Sinatra Jr., is currently touring the country performing his tribute show - Sinatra Sings Sinatra, which features his discussion of his father’s life as well as a concert of the songs for which his father is known. He will be performing at the Carolina Theatre in Durham on November 18th.


All of Ava

The final tribute within the new exhibit will be in honor of Ava herself. Since this year marks the 25th anniversary of her death, Ava will also be receiving a historical marker to be placed near Sunset Memorial Park, the cemetery in Smithfield where she is buried. While the new exhibit will premiere in October, the plaque dedication is slated for sometime in November with details to be announced soon.

Brandenberger says that this is a wonderful time to focus in on who Ava was as a person, "the 25th anniversary of Ava’s death is a time for us to draw attention to Ava the woman, and give a eulogy to her personally as well as professionally. When people visit the museum, they will discover the dichotomy of the movie star and the country girl she always remained. Essentially, we hope to represent Ava as those close to her remember her: as a true Barefoot Contessa.”  

In Ava's own words, "no one believes me, but I've always been a country girl at heart with a country girl's values." The museum is excited to continue to bring you new and exciting parts of Ava and her contemporaries.  

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield at 325 E. and admission is $8 per person. The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday, 2pm-5pm. Information is available on or by calling 919-934-5830. 

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Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail Now Offered as a Tour

Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail Now Offered as a Tour

Double Barley



 Thanks to Clayton Food Tours, the Johnston County Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail will now have a guided option. The tours have previously been central to the downtown Clayton area with a focus on local and delicious cuisine. However, the tour company is adding on a tour that will take guests along parts of the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail (normally a self-guided endeavor) on a bus. The experience includes tours and tasting of each location on the route, as well as lunch provided by a local restaurant.

The Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail has 2 wineries, 2 breweries, and a moonshine distillery location throughout the county. Due Broadslabto travel time and allowing ample time to tour and taste at locations, each tour will involve different stops along the trail. The first offered tour, in mid November, will include Hinnant Winery, Broadslab Distillery, and Double Barley Brewery. Lunch is to be provided by Simple Twist. The bus will leave promptly at 11:00am from Double Barley, where the tour will end. There is ample parking around the back of the brewery. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes early to check-in.

All Clayton Food Tours come highly recommended and wonderfully reviewed. We are very excited that they have decided to make a tour out of the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail. Subsequent tours following the first one will switch off between the locations listed above and Gregory Vineyards, Broadslab Distillery, and Deep River Brewing Company. Having 2 tour offerings means being able to highlight all Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail stops completely without having to fit all five stops into one very long tour. This will be an exciting and relaxing way to enjoy Johnston County's growing beverage scene. The tour is great for couples and friend groups celebrating special occasions.

The cost is $89 per person, with a minimum of 20 people needed to run the tour.  Welcome bags will be provided by the Hinnant WineryJohnston County Visitors Bureau. Space is limited so call (919) 585-4498 today to reserve your spot. You can also visit Clayton Food Tours on the web at

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World Class Wakeboarding in Johnston County!

World Class Wakeboarding in Johnston County!


Did you know that Johnston County is home to one the United States’ premier wake boarding parks? That’s right! Hexagon Wake Park at Tucker Lake is one of only 30 cable wake parks in the US. In an area known for Civil War history, tobacco farming and mules, this park offers a unique opportunity to enjoy this active sport in a safe, environment. 

If you have never heard of a wake park, allow me to explain. Hexagon is a cable wake park. Just like those wake boarders you see skimming across Lake Jordan behind speedboats, Hexagon offers the same thrill, but there’s no boat needed! Since there’s no boat to maintain and it doesn't use gas, it’s less expensive than traditional wake boarding.

Cable wake boarding uses an overhead cables system to pull wake boarders across the water.  Personally, I like the consistency with cable wake boarding too. Speed is easily controlled, which gives beginners like me some confidence. 


The Hexagon Experience

Hexagon Wake Park at Tucker Lake uses a straight line cable to teach the basics to new wake boarders and a hexagonal shaped continuous running cable wake system. The straight line cable gives beginners a chance to learn the feel of the cable system and how to stand on a board. Basics mastered, boarders move on to the continuous hexagonal shaped system. It's faster and offers jumps and rails for advanced boarders.

Hexagon Wake Park is located at 3025 Allens Crossroads, Benson, NC. Guests should park in the lot opposite the wake park office. At check-in, guests must complete a liability release form — this is an adventure sport after all. 

Once fitted with a board, helmet and life jacket, a training video explains the basics: how the helmet fits, what to expect at the water and how to stand up. In my opinion, this is not the best set-up for such an important feature. The video plays on a small TV high on a wall in the corner of the store/registration area, where nearby noise and activity distracts. My son, who has been cable wake boarding before, was fine with it. My daughter, a first-timer, really didn’t understand what she watched and got distracted by everything going on around us. 

I spent some time reviewing the safety instructions and tutorial with her, then we headed out to the dock and the straight-line training cable.

My son did great -- he got to his feet no problem and headed off to the Hexagon cable to try the “real” one.


Going... going... gone! He found his feet!



Ben mastered the Hexagon! Next trip --- jumps and rails

My daughter did not fare so well. She tried, but she never got on her feet.


Almost on her feet -- but she didn't lock those knees. Nice try!



Look at the face! Such determination.

The key to successfully wake boarding is NOT to think! The cable does all the work. All the rider has to do is let it —- let the cable pull you to your feet, then lock in those legs and enjoy the ride. If you think too much, you’ll try to stand up and topple forward. If you resist and pull against the cable, you’ll tumble again. 

Hunter, a Hexagon staff member, tried everything he could to help her. When she wanted to quit (the first time out), he talked her into taking a break and trying again. It just wasn’t her day.

Back to my son… his first three attempts on the Hexagon cable looked much like my daughter’s on the training cable. He just couldn’t figure it out. The staff member worked with him (amazing young man -- wish I could remember his name), fixing his stance, showing him how to hold the handles, and teaching him to listen for the click signaling that he was hooked in to the cable. Just like that, he was on his feet. He made a full circuit, and didn’t wipe out until he mis-judged a turn toward the end.

The wake boarders in line cheered him on! There’s a special camaraderie among this group of people. (We noticed this in Illinois too!)


Hexagon Wake Park is located at 3025 Allens Crossroads, Benson, NC, convenient to Interstate 40, Exit 328B. Out of town visitors have ample hotel options in nearby Benson or at the I-40/State Route 42 interchange. 

The facility

The bath house/changing room is located at the far side of Tucker Lake Park, so I suggest you arrive ready to board: swim suit, rash guard and sunscreen. 

There are no lockers at Hexagon Wake Park. We took our duffle bags, towels and camera to the wake board area and set them on a picnic table. If you aren’t comfortable with that, just lock valuables in your trunk.

Recommended ages

While there are no age restrictions, boarders under age 10 must pay for an extra coaching session their first visit. I have seen very young kids successfully boarding, but it all depends on their personality. I wouldn’t force a timid child to try it. Adults, unless you have physical limitations, I really think you should try! If I can do it, anyone can. 


Rates for Hexagon Cable Park vary. All wake boarding rates include admission to all the amenities at Tucker Lake Park. Come for the wake boarding and stay for the slides! 

I strongly suggest a 2-hour session for first-timers as it can take a while to figure out how to stand up. For complete rates, click here

You will not be on the cables the full time! Every time you fall, you have to get back in line and wait your turn to board again. My son said that after a run, the break is good to rest hands and muscles before another ride. 


Hexagon Wake Park is a bit of a secret to locals, but not to the rest of the world. The owner of the Illinois park has visited. A family from Wilmington was there for their third visit of the smmer. We met an 11 year old boy from California who declared it the highlight of his vacation! Locals, this is your park too! Come on out and see how easy it is.

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Double the Barley. Double the Laughs.

Double the Barley. Double the Laughs.

Double the Barley. Double the Laughs.


You always know how Cheryl Lane's day is going the minute you greet her. And even on a bad day, she'll  make you laugh. When I breezed into the chill-vibe taproom at Double Barley Brewing for the interview she greeted me with a hug and said, "you know, the way I've been feeling today, I'm not sure I want you to put me in a blog called meet the maker." Classic Cheryl. I am never not laughing when I'm at Double Barley.

Last week I talked about my new blog series Meet the Makers - not The Maker, Cheryl - and if you missed it, click here to read.
Larry and Cheryl Lane
I recently sat down with another craft brewery in JoCo called Double Barley, owned by Larry and Cheryl Lane. Both have an engineering degree - if you read the last Meet the Makers blog you will notice a pattern, and for good reason. Larry explained, "engineers are analytical. We love processes. Crafting a great beer recipe takes ingenuity, but to craft great beer consistently at commercial volumes, that takes precision."

So what makes consistent beer? "Having the same ingredients, going into the process in the same order, at the same time in the process, at the same temperature," Larry gestured around the tap room to the patrons, "the better question is, why is consistency so important? There is a bond in the craft beer industry between the people that make the beer and the people that drink the beer. When you drink your favorite beer today you want it to taste like it did yesterday and last month. As a brewer, delivering that consistency is important to me."

I asked him about the creative part, "I'm not particularly creative, but I love food. If you have a developed palate then you have a taste for beer." Larry admitted that he doesn't do a lot of the day to day brewing. I wondered why and was told that he still has a full-time job as an engineer.

I must have looked stupefied because Cheryl laughed at me and interjected, "honey, we have 3 growing boys at home and it's all I can do to run this place and run them. We don't wanna kill ourselves trying to grow this place hand-over-fist. We had a plan when we opened the brewery. Larry was always going to keep his day job. Slow, steady, positive growth is good with us."


Behind the Barley

So, who brews your delicious Double Barley beer? That would be Mark Kirby, also at the table with Larry, Cheryl, and I. He's almost a one-man-show. Cheryl gestured to him, "by the Grace of God we found Mark."

Larry rolled his eyes, "I wouldn't go that far."
Behind the Scenes
Cheryl laughed, "He's like family. Everyone who works for us is like family."

Mark is in fact not an engineer, but he has one rule, "I don't make bad beer." Sounds simpler than it is. Larry, Cheryl, and Mark are the brewing team, making decisions on Double Barley brews from staples to seasonals to sensational experiments. The team likes to start with a style of beer and then brainstorm flavors based off of corresponding matches. Larry explained, "fruit flavors work really well with wheat beers. We're always going to do a summer time wheat beer with fruit. Last year it was strawberry. This year it was blueberry."

Mark and Larry banter back a forth about hops as I madly scribbled things down in my notebook, "matching the hops is vital to the style and the flavor you want. There are over 2,000 different varietals of hops. And those are just the ones with names.  Some are still in an experimental phase and simply have a number assigned to them."

Apparently hops can give off flavor and aroma profiles. Sometimes when you smell or taste what you perceive as a food additive to a beer - lemon, mango, pine - you could be getting that from the hops used, not necessarily because that food was added to the beer. Fascinating.

So, what crazy things does Double Barley do to experiment? They are currently working on a Russian Imperial Stout aged in red zinfandel wine barrels. It will have a 15% ABV (alcohol by volume) which is the highest percentage allowed by NC law. Other barrel aging experiments include gin bourbon barrels and whiskey barrels. Despite the best brewing and marketing though, sometimes a beer doesn't take off like you think. Cheryl was really proud of their Touché IPA, but it entered into an IPA saturated market. Their Abby's Amber on the other hand had almost no competition in the market. It was a traditional English Amber, hard to find in NC. It did even better than they had hoped.

The brewery is also considering the possibility of adding cans in addition to the bottles they currently package beer in. Never fear, just the packaging is changing, not the killer beer or uniquely humorous names and stories that accompany each beer. Cheryl says that keeping the names of the beers, and the stories behind those names, is important to the entire Double Barley team, "most of the time we brew the beer first and then a name follows. We collaborate together on the concept for each beer, which can lead to better ideas but also means the melding of more opinions. We always aim to be funny. It's the coolest part of the job for me."


Come for the Beer. Stay for the Fun.

No matter your favorite sort of beer, Double Barley has something for every craft beer enthusiast. People Double Barley Flightcome from different cities and states to spend time tasting in their tap room. Larry mentioned that they get tons of people who have found them online and come off I-95. As the interview progressed, a couple from Virginia ambled in to the tap room. That happens a lot at Double Barley. The tap room is in the cross-hairs of business 70, highway 70, highway 301, and I-95. Folks visiting Raleigh, Johnston County, or just on the way somewhere else, stop by for a now renown beer. There's certainly an awakening in the Raleigh brewery and craft beer scene; Double Barley and Johnston County continues to be a part of that growth. 

Larry summed up why people love their beer, "we're a family here and everyone loves what they're doing. You can taste that passion in the beer."

If you haven't ever been to Double Barley, make sure you head over tomorrow for the release party of their Gourd Rocker pumpkin porter. Another up-and-coming event will be the beer release party for a special beer created by Double Barley for Crobot, a rock band. The band will be at the brewery to drink their brew and play some tunes on the 10th of October. It will be a rousing, cold-brew-fueled, heck of a good time. Which honestly describes Double Barley on any given night. Check out what visitors to Double Barley already know... it's double the fun!

Catch you next time for Meet the Makers. Cheers!

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River Deep, Tourism High

River Deep, Tourism High

River Deep, Tourism High


It is an exciting and profitable time for the beer, wine, and spirits industries in North Carolina. Not only do these booming industries create jobs and stimulate the economy, but they also boost adjacent industries like tourism. Studies show a precipitous rise in the last decade of travelers not only interested in touring and tasting local craft beer, wines, and spirits, but the actual willingness of a tourist to travel to a state or city with the explicit purpose of exploring tDeep River Canhese establishments.

This is great news for North Carolina, ranked 12th in volume of craft breweries per state by the Beer Association of the U.S. The number is 115 breweries as of 2014, with 58 more in the planning stage. What's the economic impact from that, you ask? About $1.2 billion in 2015; and those numbers are trending up. Plus, that's just the beer! North Carolina also has over 100 wineries and 25 distilleries.

The even better news for visitors is that all of these various industries converge in Johnston County which boasts 2 wineries, 2 craft breweries, and a moonshine distillery. Tourists can visit all 5 establishments on our Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail and many visitors are led to the county by other beer, wine, and spirit trails that extend across the state.

It is because of this growing relevance between beverage crafting and tourism that I am taking the opportunity to start a new blog series called Meet the Makers. In this series I will sit down with the owners, brewers, distillers, and vintners right here within Johnston County to discuss the hard work and the magic behind what they do every day.

We will start with Deep River Brewing Company located in Clayton, NC and owned by Lynn and Paul Auclair. Sitting down with Lynn and Paul in the office of Deep River, with their large Labrador pups trying to get my attention, I am struck by how welcome I always feel at Deep River. Lynn and Paul themselves are both funny and warm, so pleased with their job and proud of their brewery. Getting to spend time with them is like getting to hang with your really cool cousins. Except that I already have really cool cousins. But, Lynn and Paul own a brewery. It's different. It's also amazing how long a conversation can last that starts with, "tell me more about what you do every day."


Beer Makers Must be Masters of Test and Taste

In April of 2013 Deep River Brewing Co. opened 6 months later than planned. It's ok to talk about it now because the brewery has had such phenomenal success, but to Paul and Lynn it was a time of uncertainty. Not an uncertainty of vision, but at least one of gumption. As Lynn puts it, "there were a lot of sleepless nights - well, there still are - being an entrepreneur is a risky business. A lot of people thought we were crazy."

But they had a vision. And a business plan. And a passion for beer acquired through home brewing. So how does one navigate the road from home brewing to a booming craft beer brewery? You get an engineering degree. Just kidding. Sort of. Both Paul and Lynn have engineering degrees that they were putting to good use with corporate jobs. Paul was at a small firm owned by awesome people, with an awesome culture, and by his own admission he might still be there, "but they were bought out and the corporate culture went downhill fast. I wanted to get out. I wanted to start my own venture."

Lynn adds, "the brewery wasn't the first idea to pop into our heads, but it was the only idea that we came up with that both of us really liked." So they took their passion for the craft beer scene and they started conversations with brewers that had come before them, "the craft beer community is full of giving and creative people who were willing to share their stories with us. Then we had to take our business plan to the bank."

In the spirit of not putting all your eggs in one basket - or all your beers in one case? - the plan was for the brewery to be a side-job and then as Deep River became more successful first Paul and then Lynn would leave their corporate jobs behind.

Lynn laughed, "do you know how long that lasted?"

Paul interjects, "two weeks. I quit my job two weeks after we opened. There was no way that running a brewery was going to be a side-job."

Both are now full-time brewery owners and happier for it. Paul brews and bottles. Lynn works the business side. They are both actively involved in every single aspect of the business, including naming the beers and designing the cans. But I wanted to dial in to the meat and potatoes of the operation... or, in this case, the beer.
Deep River at Festival
It turns out that brewing beer is at once super technical and super artistic. You have to have an analytical mind says Paul, "as an engineer I know that research and documentation is my friend. Delicious and consistent beer means getting every aspect of the process down to a science: record keeping, precise equipment, water consistency, yeast pitching rates, hop alpha acids, malt sugar levels."

If you're confused don't worry, I was too. Lynn laughed at my helpless look, "he reads books about water. Water! It's crazy."

Add to all of that the conundrum of producing at volume and it no longer seems laughable that an engineering degree is necessary to get from home brewing to a 10,000 barrels per year operation. Paul assures me it's all about understanding efficiency and ingredients.

But a good brew master is also one with the ability to create something mystical out of half-cocked ideas. A Leonardo da Vinci of beer, if you will, able to look at styles and ingredients and think, what would happen if? Both Paul and Lynn say you cannot be afraid to experiment. Lynn adds that, "Mango Tango Foxtrot happened because we were trying to get a mango taste out of an IPA without using actual mangos. On the other hand, we actually added real cookies to our holiday beer mash last year."

I asked Paul what he likes to dream up first, the beer style or the ingredients. He said it's a dance, "the craft beer aficionado wants variety. I want to always have a variety of styles on tap, and there are some ingredients and styles that just go together, like putting together great choreography. Right now I'm working on a Berlinerwiesse German-style beer flavored with rhubarb and soured in rum barrels."

To each their own, but I think that sounds amazing! Deep River is also aging beer in bourbon and whiskey barrels. It sometimes seems like their more daring adventures have been the most popular. In March of this year they launched Collaboration Without Representation with Bottle Revolution. It was a limited edition Barrel Aged Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout with Coffee using Raleigh Coffee Co beans. Genius.


Expand Your Circle, Deepen Your River

One thing is for sure, aside from awesome beer-making skills, a fledgling brewery needs the ability to grow uninhibited and the power of positive relationships, "we wouldn't be here now if people hadn't worked with us and believed in us," says Paul, "from the bank to contractors. We didn't want to have investors or a board to answer to and so, we had to amass all the start-up capital ourselves."

Lynn explains the lack of investors, "we didn't want that sort of oversight, people trying to turn a profit. We want to love what we're doing every day, not make a billion dollars." Deep River is proof that great things can happen when people follow passion instead of profit. Not that the brewery isn't doing well. Both Paul and Lynn expect to see continued positive growth moving into the future. They still plan to handle their own distribution in order to further solidify the relationships they have with their accounts.

Lynn had a great point, "nobody cares as much about your beer as you do." The fact that Deep River is continuing to grow in volume and popularity proves that the Auclair's certainly love their beer. As do their loyal customers and the many visitors who come from out of town to try Deep River for themselves. As of now the brewery is not permitted to distribute outside of North Carolina, but Lynn says that doesn't stop the calls from coming in, "I had a guy call me the other day from Georgia asking how he could get Deep River on tap in his bar."


Dive In!

Deep River Cans in Ice

Most nights that the brewery is open you can find both the inside and outside filled with people drinking beer, enjoying the food truck fair of the evening, listening to music, playing trivia, or any of the other many activities happening at Deep River. If you're in the area or visiting the area, next week is an excellent time to try Deep River. Their fall seasonal beer Pumpkin Pie Porter will hit stores and the tap room next Wednesday the 26th of August. In addition, if you plan on being at any of the festivals around the state look to see if Deep River will be there, they take their beer to over 50 events a year.

Establishments like Deep River provide a jolt to the social scene and provide a watering hole for local craft beer lovers. But, they also put Johnston County on the map for visitors to NC who seek out brewers, wineries, distillers, and the experiences and tastes they offer. Thank you to Lynn and Paul Auclair for taking a leap of faith. I can't wait to see how much deeper the river gets.

Catch you next time for Meet the Makers. Cheers!

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Evans to Unveil a Jewel of a Store

Evans to Unveil a Jewel of a Store

Evans to Unveil a Jewel of a Store

Evans New Shop

Evans Jewelers is happy to announce the Grand Opening of their new location, 320 E. Market St. in downtown Smithfield. On September 18th a ribbon cutting ceremony will begin at 5:00pm followed by a night of live music, food, and beverages. It is open to the public and it is a night more than 2 years in the making. As owner Daniel Evans said, " we have been so blessed in our business that we needed more space, but we wanted to do it right. We had been discussing it for a while before deciding on our new location and getting to work on the remodel." 

The new space is truly only a few paces away from their current story, but much larger. Daniel said he chose the location because he loves being in downtown Smithfield, "the downtown area is historic and it has a lot to offer."

Visitors to the new shop will be pleasantly surprised. It does not look like a jewelry store. It has an open, urban loft feel to it with plenty of hardwood, brass, and cooper elements to give it a warm feeling. Honestly, I wanted to move in. I was assured that was the feel they were going for. Evans Jewelers will be a destination... and one with a lot to offer.


Not Your Typical Grocery Store

To begin with I was told that Evans will always first and foremost be a jewelry store, as it has been for over 40 years. But the new location will allow for the offering of ancillary products. One of those products will be cigars from the Dominican Republic. There will be 5 blends on offer, uniquely made for Evans Jewelers and stored in the stunning Spanish oak walk-in humidor in the shop. Eventually the shop will also carry affordable boutique wines. It will be a small collection, but full of vineyards and varietals you can't find in a grocery store.

The new store location will also see the edition of a bridal registry. Not just fine china, but everyday china, pewter serving pieces, glassware, crystal, and other giftware. But the selection won't be limited to brides. Baby, graduation, and retirement gifts will also be available. Brides will be able to sign-up for the registry in-store and sit down with Anna Evans to discuss the makings of their ideal registry. Evans will send out registration announcements at no additional cost to you and they can also take orders over the phone and ship purchases for guests that do not live in the area.

ring options
The wine tastings, cigar blendings, charity events, and other happenings will soon be a normal occurrence in the new made-for-entertaining Evans space. But I asked Daniel in light of all the new additions, what he liked best about being a jeweler, "about 75-80% of our products are custom designed pieces. So, what I enjoy most is seeing a customer smile when we really get it right, when the piece of jewelry we make for them is exactly what they wanted. And knowing that the piece we created for them may one day be a family heirloom, that creates connectivity across generations." 

Almost every product at Evans is truly unique and Daniel says that it is this sense of matchlessness that lends itself to the hard work and individuality they put into the new Evans Jewelers location. He says that he hopes customers will appreciate the blending of old and new. If you want to see the amazing space for yourself, mark the evening of the 18th of September on your calendar. I'll see you at the grand opening!

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Kaylin Roberson Talks About Her Message and Her Music

Kaylin Roberson Talks About Her Message and Her Music

In this JoCo Has Talent Blog I sit down with local artist Kaylin Roberson to discuss her message and her music...

It's pretty hard to imagine having a life-altering experience at 9 years-old. At that age I was still struggling to decide which Backstreet Boy was cuter and how I could convince my parents to let me have a kitten. Kaylin Roberson however, was dealing with a traumatizing dog attack and having an epiphany regarding her place in the world.
"I was 9 and I was visiting my grandparents in Virginia. We had just gotten back from the fair and I went into the living room to pet their black lab who was sleeping. He woke up and he bit my face. I was in the hospital for 3 days and I was on life support for about 4 hours."

It's hard to believe that a child at such a young and venerable stage in life could take something inspiring away from that sort of incident, but Kaylin did. It was a wake-up call. In her more than 2 weeks recovery process Kaylin spent a lot of time making videos. She had always enjoyed dancing, acting, and singing; she can also play the heck outta a piano. But, those 14 days allowed her to reflect on her passion for music and her current circumstances.

"I knew that I would have to go back to school and my face was still swollen. I had to have over 200 stitches. I wondered if my friends would ridicule me. I thought about what I had been through and what I would have to go through and music really helped me. I thought, what if I can help other kids."

Sharing Her Music

And so, eight years later, that's what Kaylin Roberson is doing. Using music to inspire and help others. You may have seen her at JCC performing in the Country Music Showcase, or more recently out at The Farm Food Truck Festival as one of the local acts. She also travels around with One Voice Project (an anti-bullying tour) and Doggone Safe (a dog safety and bite prevention non-profit) in order to use her story and her music to inspire and comfort. She has sung for orphanages, schools, and dog attack victims.
Kaylin Singing
Once Kaylin realized what she wanted to do with her music, she got serious about it. She started taking lessons and also committed to other talents she had previously dabbled in. She is what the industry calls a triple threat - trained in singing, acting, and dancing.

For an artist who has taken voice lessons with Clay Aiken and shared a stage with Jason Michael Carroll, it's humbling to hear her talk about the highlight of her career so far, "I love seeing the reaction other kids have to my music. A lot of kids I've visited with and played for still follow me, still ask when I'm coming back to perform near them. The other day a lady called my Mom to tell her that her children had started a Kaylin Task Force at their school to combat bullying."

At 16 Kaylin is well on her way to the big stage, but she says that she doesn't mind if she has to play a thousand little gigs to get there. It's all part of working your way up. She shared with me her thoughts on making it big, "you have to be the background music before you can be the main act." Sage advice. A young lady very mature for her age, I often forgot that I was sitting with someone more than a decade my junior.

When she isn't performing Kaylin is busy song-writing, something she finds more of a relaxing hobby than a chore. It is important in the music industry to build a catalogue of solid, original songs and she is well on her way. She has two new songs dropping very soon, one is called Sad But True. She also has a music video out for her song Life Must Go On.


Her Inspiring Message

I asked her where she draws her inspiration from when writing lyrics, "the best songs come from personal experiences, but I also listen to the cool things that other artists are doing. I steal experiences from my friends sometimes. Writing songs is about really emotional moments - joy and sadness."

Who's her dream collaboration? Sam Hunt. Excellent choice. She also says that she has a real respect for singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Birdy. Her favorite song to cover recently has been Cam's Burning House. Kaylin's next big step is going to be getting signed by a record label... hopefully! But you can still catch her around the county from time to time. She played the Ham & Yam festival a few months ago and she loves performing in JoCo.

When she's not working on or performing music Kaylin likes to dance, shop, hang with friends, and go to country concerts. She also plays with her dog, a chocolate lab who's older now but who came to her and her family as a puppy... a few weeks before the dog attack that changed Kaylin's life. She said she wouldn't let her parents get rid of the dog and she didn't want the dog that bit her put down either - he was saved thanks to Virginia's first bite forgiveness rule.

"I'm not afraid of dogs. It's not the dogs fault. But, dog attacks do happen and much more often than you think. That's why I work with Doggone Safe. They educate adults and children on how to interact with dogs and it allows me to work with victims to share my own story and share my music."

Check out Kaylin's music at the provided links, and if you have a chance check her out in concert (she performs at a lot of events in Raleigh, the Triangle, and Johnston County). She is one talented teen and one incredibly thoughtful soul. I certainly wish her the best on her musical journey.

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A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate     

People tell me it's a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.
-Bob Dylan

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, blame it on a simple twist of fate. Nathan and Colleen Roby named their little-restaurant-that-could Simple Twist. And so it seems that the providence of that namesake has carried them into the present with not one, but two thriving locations.

The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and long hours. But Colleen credits their success to the locals for the passion they have shown for Simple Twist through their patronage, "we opened the first location in Garner in June 2014 and community support helped to make it an instant success."Simple Twist Burger

Both excellent service and fresh, unique cuisine choices help to set Simple Twist apart. Colleen and Nate - who runs the kitchen and sets the menu - have developed partnerships with local producers, "we have close relationships with farmers in the area that have brought us all kinds of locally grown produce. We only serve Certified Angus Beef, the best kind of beef you can get. We use high quality ingredients to create delicious meals."

It's this same dedication to sourcing that carries over into the quality of the food. Colleen stated that the restaurant also works hard to keep menu items homemade, "Everything is made from scratch, there is hardly anything in the freezer." She points out, "In fact, we converted a large 2 door freezer into a cooler when we first opened since we did not need the space for freezing product." Cool.

Customers can taste the love and passion that goes into every bite and they showed their appreciation by showing up. A lot. In June 2015 Simple Twist opened a second location here in Smithfield to keep up with demand. Smithfield's residents and workforce couldn't be happier.

And the restaurant's business keeps growing. Nathan and Colleen just recently decided to extend their hours at the Smithfield location, "we plan to open Sundays starting August 30th. We will have Bloody Marys and Mimosas served with our regular menu, and will be open from 11AM-4PM." Simple Twist is also working with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau on initiatives that will bring visitors into Johnston County and into Simple Twist. You can read about the Girlfriends Getaway Hotel Package here.

One thing I suggest you don't leave up to a simple twist of fate is a visit to this restaurant. Click here to print a coupon for your first visit. I absolutely love the twisted guacamole. It includes three of my favorite things - avocados, bacon, and bleu cheese. Yum! Click on the video below to watch Chef Nathan Roby whip up this amazing appetizer.

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Stanfield's Stores a Little Bit of the Past in the Present

Stanfield's Stores a Little Bit of the Past in the Present

Stanfield's Stores a Little Bit of the Past in the Present

In 1914 it was Massengill's Store & Warehouse. Stanfield's General Store

In 1944 it was RA Temple's O-Kay Groceries.

In 1965 it was Austin's General Store.

Now Stanfield's General Store, this piece of real estate in downtown Four Oaks, NC has been a rural destination of supplies and sustenance for the people of southern Johnston County for decades.

Before the birth of super-markets and mega-stores, the local general store was where life's necessities were acquired. Sometimes stretching across multiple store fronts, general stores had hardware materials, farm supplies, groceries, toys, cleaning products, clothing, and candy. Because of this, general stores were also normally a community's hub of activity, of social interaction, and of gossip.

David Stanfield kept all this in mind when he opened Stanfield's General Store a few months ago after purchasing three connected store fronts on Main Street. Along with some hardware supplies and lawn care products, he carries delightfully unique arts and crafts, food stuffs, drinks, toys, and jewelry. All of these products are made locally. David said he wanted to highlight and support local craftsmen, "I also wanted products in my store that you couldn't get anywhere else."

Good Things Are in Store

Stanfield's General Store Shelves
Since its grand opening, Standfield's has welcomed shoppers from all over the county and beyond. So far the store only exists within one store front space. This leaves David with two other spaces to expand into or do something completely different with. No definitive plans have been made yet. As for growing in-store events, Stanfield's may soon have bluegrass jam session nights. Or possibly days where you can meet local craftsman of the products you can purchase in the store. In the meantime I recommend the cheese straws and the glass bottle Coke's. 

The possibilities for expansion are endless. Among them the opportunity for general stores like Stanfield's to once again become the hub of social interaction for the community. A place where families gather to play music together, to purchase necessities, to chat over life's ups and downs, and to find what glaringly-lit box stores can't offer - a sense of community and a feeling of pride that only shopping local can give you.

You can visit Stanfield's at 105 N. Main St., Four Oaks, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Reach them by phone at 919-963-9607 or search “Stanfield's General Store” on Facebook.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.


Meeting Planners

meeting venue with presentation screen

Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?


Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.


Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.


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Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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