If you are traveling Interstate 95 to southern beaches along the East Coast, you might want to veer off the highway when you see signs to Smithfield and other towns in Johnston County, N.C. The county is inviting visitors to check out its beautiful rural landscape, shop for homegrown products in local country stores and deals at Smithfield’s Outlets, and experience the recently expanded JoCo Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail.
The trail feature two wineries and two breweries, plus a distillery where five generations of one family made moonshine illegally for years. Thanks to new laws, moonshine now is legal and can be sold to the public.
Broadslab Distillery, located in Benson, is the state’s first “farm” distillery. Jeremy Norris, owner and master distiller, uses recipes passed down by his great-great-grandfathers on both sides of his family.
“One of my great-great-grandfathers, William ‘Bill’ McLamb, was converting corn and barley into highly desirable, smooth sipping whiskey long before Prohibition created an even wider demand for it,” said Norris on the company’s website. “Following Prohibition and government control, Bill was active in the dawn of the moonshine trade, which gained and maintained a strong foothold in this region.
“Most of my own personal knowledge of the art of whiskey distilling came firsthand from my grandfather, Leonard A. Wood. He was my mentor and personal adviser during the development of Broadslab Distillery.”
The tasting room and gift shop are open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons, with scheduled tours at noon, 2:00pm, and 4:00pm. Tastings are $12 per person and include a shot glass.
The 100-acre Hinnant Family Vineyards, near Pine Level, is the state’s oldest and largest muscadine vineyard. It is open daily, and tastings are $5 to $10 per person and include a souvenir glass.
Gregory Vineyard, located on 135 acres of farmland near Angier, is home to a winery, distillery, and tasting room. Open noon–9:00pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, it offers tastings of wine and moonshine brandy. The vineyard is next door to Lane’s Seafood and Steak House, host of the North Carolina Grape Stomp on Oct. 1.
Deep River Brewery, which occupies a former cotton spinning mill in downtown Clayton, produces beers from locally sourced vegetables, fruits, hops, and grain. Open 4:00–9:00pm Thursdays and Fridays and 1:00–6:00pm Saturdays and Sundays, the brewery offers beers, live music, and a food truck.
Double Barley Brewery in Smithfield has five year-round beers and 10 seasonal beers, plus food, served in a rustic taproom and beer garden. It is open afternoons and evenings, Wednesdays through Sundays.
A Sip & Stay package includes accommodations and coupons for use on the trail, and a Girlfriends Getaway package focuses on shopping at Carolina Premium Outlets in Smithfield.
In addition to libations, Johnston County has several other attractions of interest. The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield focuses on the life of the Hollywood star. The Bentonville State Historic Site is where the largest Civil War battle in the state took place. And, the Tobacco Farm Life Museum depicts the agricultural heritage of the area.
Eastern North Carolina food
More than a dozen restaurants in Johnston County offer eastern North Carolina-style barbecue, served chopped with a vinegar-based sauce. Also popular are locally produced red hot dogs, available at several eateries in the area.
Farm-to-table restaurants also are on the rise in the region, but the most acclaimed in this category is Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, about an hour’s drive from Johnston County.
Vivian Howard, star of the PBS series A Chef’s Life — winner of a prestigious Peabody Award — and her husband, Ben Knight, have a big following, so make sure you have reservations in advance.
Around the Mid-Atlantic
Fall is the ideal time to explore the beauty of the Mid-Atlantic region by traveling its roads and byways. One of its most scenic of these is the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as “America’s Favorite Drive.” The parkway extends 468 miles from Milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap, south of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, to Milepost 469.1 at U.S. Route 441, near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee, N.C.
With the speed limit set at 45 mph, motorists can anticipate their stops at visitor centers on the parkway, interpretative signs, scenic overlooks, nearby attractions, and more.
Insider tip: For the latest information on fall color, call the Parkway Information Line at 828-298-0398, or visit blueridgeparkway.org. For updates on color in Shenandoah National Park, visit the park’s webcam at nps.gov/shen/learn/photosmultimedia/view_webcam.htm.
Copies of the Parkway Directory and Travel Planner — which includes maps, a bloom calendar, and information about historic sites and landmarks, natural resources, camping, wildlife, lodging, attractions, and services — are available at Virginia and North Carolina welcome centers and parkway visitor centers. The full publication also is available at the park’s website.
Maryland’s tourism website lists 18 different byways to explore this fall. The itineraries take you into the mountains of Western Maryland, along the National Road, and parallel to the C&O Canal. Drive into Civil War history or Maryland Horse Country. Or, follow John Wilkes Booth’s escape route, a religious freedom route, or an Underground Railroad tour, among others.
Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at email@example.com.