The Our State Wine Guide: In this series, we’ll help you plan a fun wine tour getaway and tell you where to go, what to do, and, most importantly, what to sip in beautiful wine regions across the state. This month, we’re heading to eastern North Carolina.
Spend several days in the southeast corner of North Carolina, sampling wines made from a quintessentially North Carolina fruit: the muscadine grape. The sweet, thick-skinned grape thrives in the warm, humid coastal climate, and its extra high in antioxidants, meaning you can call this getaway good for your health.
As you loop through muscadine country, moving toward the coast, enjoy the various libations that North Carolina winemakers have coaxed from the native grape. Relax on porches and patios overlooking grapevines and ponds. Explore vineyards and the land surrounding them by foot, bike, and pedal kart. Savor the sweet evening breezes around cabins on vineyard grounds. And take advantage of the other perks that the area has to offer: Stroll the white-sand beaches of the Brunswick Islands, taste down-home-style seafood and barbecue, behold a world-record-holding cast-iron skillet (yes, really), and paddle a wild and scenic blackwater river. Off we go!
Begin a relaxing trip at Duplin, the South’s oldest and largest winery, which specializes in sweet muscadine wines. Founded in 1976, Duplin produces 1.2 million gallons of wine per yearfrom muscadines grown across 1,400 acres in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and, of course, the Carolinas — including within two miles of the winery and tasting room. Along the long bar in the gift shop, enjoy a classic tasting, which features 10 to 12 wines (of Duplin’s 40-plus selection), plus a glass to keep — or splurge on the deluxe tasting to receive an additional glass of wine plus homemade cheese dip. Enjoy wine by the glass (or bottle) on the wide covered porch outside, where you can often catch live music. Don’t miss the red and white sangrias; the sweetest offering, Sweet Caroline; or best sellers Hatteras Red, Black River Red, and Carolina Red. If you want to know more about the wine-making process, you can tour the production facility just two minutes down the road.
At Duplin Winery taste nearly a dozen varieties of wine — and grab a bite at its bistro! photograph by Duplin Winery
Fill up on homemade Southern food without ever having to leave Duplin. Decorated with vintage photos and wine-making equipment, The Bistro is the perfect spot to grab lunch. Look for daily soup, entrée, and wine specials, as well as a seasonal menu. Customer favorites include fried pickles, Southern-fried pork chops, the crab cake sandwich, Tabatha’s Cheesecake, and Mama Ann’s Grape Hull Pie.
Six blocks away from Duplin Winery, in Rose Hill’s town square, gaze upon a skillet that will dwarf all others. Weighing two tons and measuring 15 feet across, the World’s Largest Frying Pan is capable of holding 200 gallons of oil and frying 365 chickens at once. Each year at the North Carolina Poultry Jubilee, it’s fired up on 40 propane burners and used to fry the festival’s chicken.
Lu Mil, located on a 250-acre former tobacco farm in rural Bladen County, grows 11 varieties of muscadine grapes. In the tasting room — where you’ll also find jams, jellies, pickles, and salsas produced by Lu Mil’s sister company, D’vine Foods — partake in a sampling of Lu Mil’s wine offerings, including the smooth and fruity Sir Walter Raleigh and the medium-sweet Bladen Blush, an approachable choice for newbies. Lu Mil also offers an alcohol-free tasting of ciders and juices, a great option for kids. After you’ve adequately relaxed on the tasting room’s long deck, consider the extracurriculars available elsewhere on the property: Pluck grapes from the vine yourself from mid-August to mid-October; bring your own pole and fish from the large, stocked pond; or rent a fat-tire bike, pedal kart, or golf cart to explore the vineyard’s three miles of trails.
Why not stay the night? Lu Mil’s nine log cabins, which overlook the vineyard and ponds, comfortably sleep two to four people and include kitchenettes, full bathrooms, and access to a picnic table and outdoor grill. Savor the muscadine-scented breeze from your cabin’s front or back porch — and soak in a red, heart-shaped jacuzzi bathtub. Anniversary trip, anyone?
Locklear is run by Charlie Locklear and his sons Charlie Jr. and Daryl, members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina — which makes them one of the first Native American-owned wineries in the country. Born on the farm that now holds the vineyards, Charlie Sr. grew up watching his mother make wine from the small collection of vines that his father grew on the property. In 2003, he and his sons began planting acres of vines, and in 2006, they opened the vineyard and winery, which now produces nine different muscadine wines, as well as berry wines. Stop by the small, family-run operation for a free tasting, and you’ll likely fall into conversation with Charlie Sr. — he lives a few hundred yards from the tasting room and enjoys chatting with guests. Take a tour of the production facility and learn about the wine-making process, from crushing to bottling. Make sure to taste the blueberry wine and the Noble Sweet red, a best seller.
This all-you-can-eat buffet, just 12 minutes from Locklear, features pit-cooked barbecue coated in eastern-style vinegar sauce, as well as seafood, steaks, veggies, and desserts. The beloved original location in Lumberton, founded in 1986, closed after Hurricane Matthew flooded it with eight feet of water. The new location in Pembroke opened in 2018 and has quickly gained a loyal following. The barbecue is definitely the star of the show, but you have plenty of other meat and veggie choices as well — fried chicken, collards, okra, butter beans, candied yams, and coleslaw, to name a few. Try the chocolate layer cake or banana pudding for dessert.
After lunch, have yourself an outdoor adventure. The Lumber River meanders through four North Carolina counties, passing near a number of vineyards. At the Chalk Banks access to the Lumber River State Park in Wagram, walk a three-mile trail through the lush wetland habitat of mixed pine and hardwood trees. Canoe or kayak the slow-moving river out and back, while keeping an eye out for wood storks, belted kingfishers, and river otters along the way.
Walk along the Lumber River and immerse yourself in nature. photograph by Gerry Dincher/Flickr
Just a 25-minute drive from your lunch stop is Cypress Bend. Dan and Tina Smith opened the winery in 2005 on land that has been passed down through Dan’s family since 1807. For more than 200 years, it was a family farm called “Riverton,” named for the Lumber River, which runs along the eastern edge of the property. Growing Carlos, Noble, and Magnolia muscadine cultivars, Cypress Bend produces 16 different muscadine wines. The Catherine, a full-bodied, semi-sweet white, won Best in Show for muscadine wine at the North Carolina State Fair in 2018; the Campbell, a sweet red, and the McNeill, a sweet white, both won top honors at the Dixie Classic Fair’s wine competition. Cypress Bend also produces dry whites and reds, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, from grapes grown in the Yadkin Valley. Enjoy a tasting around a table in the cozy tasting room, then sit on the stone veranda overlooking the vines and enjoy a glass. Be sure to stay into the evening for Jazzy Friday, which happens every week between 7 and 10 p.m. Under a large white tent near the vines, you’ll find live music, dancing, a food truck, and — of course — all the wine your heart desires.
Enjoy spectacular vineyard views as you stroll Cypress Bend. photograph by Cypress Bend Vineyards
Eat a seafood lunch at Adam’s, located in a low-slung building along U.S. Highway 701 in Tabor City. Try a platter featuring Calabash-style seafood including flounder, shrimp, and oysters. Every meal comes with to-die-for hush puppies — lightly fried and fluffy — accompanied by brown sugar butter. Watch out — it’s addictive! For dessert (no, the sugar butter doesn’t count), you can’t beat the fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
Relax on a wraparound porch at Grapefull Sisters Vineyard Tabor City
Just 15 minutes away, you’ll find Grapefull Sisters. A stone’s throw from the North Carolina coast, sisters Amy Suggs and Sheila Suggs-Little opened the winery in 2005 on land that has been in their family for nine generations, most recently growing tobacco and cotton. Inside a two-story tasting room, partake in a sampling of the vineyard’s nine wines, including Waccamaw White, a Magnolia grape wine with a smooth and fruity flavor, and Sunset Blush, a scuppernong grape wine. Then, select a bottle from the gift shop and sip it outside on the wraparound porch that overlooks the vineyards, a pond, a small white chapel, and an impressive number of daylilies. Make sure to say hi to the goose that hangs out under the porch and likes to greet guests. If you’d like to stay at the vineyard, consider renting a private room at the Inn d’Vine or a spot at the adjacent wooded CarrollWoods RV Park, which offers shady, quiet sites and full hookups.
At Grapefull Sisters, you’re only half an hour from Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach, two of North Carolina’s southernmost barrier island beaches. Take advantage! Ocean Isle, the more bustling of the two islands, offers a wider selection of restaurants, lodging, and entertainment, while Sunset Beach provides a quieter, more secluded experience. Check out each island’s piers and waterfront parks, eat seafood while looking out at the water — and don’t forget to pause for a moment to appreciate the sunset.
After spending a day wandering eastern North Carolina’s vineyards, take a beachside stroll on Ocean Isle. photograph by David Biesack
We’ve highlighted a handful of the wineries in eastern North Carolina, but there are many more to explore. Be sure to come back for another trip or feel free to make this itinerary your own. Consider including:
He was smitten with the flavors of her Zimbabwean cooking. She was intrigued by his rural North Carolina upbringing. Together, they created a life in Durham — and a namesake restaurant that was the first of its kind in the entire country.