A couple of months ago, I got an email asking if I’d like to be a part of a press tour of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My husband’s father grew up there and I have been numerous times during our sixteen years of marriage, but never to explore the city. So the answer was a big, enthusiastic YES! I’m going to give you the short version of my adventure and then you’ll see numerous other posts highlighting some of my favorite things on the trip. It was exciting and exhausting, and I can’t wait to go back with my family.
Accommodations at Graylyn
Graylyn International Conference Center was where I’d be staying for the first two nights of our trip. When I drove past the big house and up to this place, my jaw hit the steering wheel. Folks, this is The Mews. It’s where Oprah stays when she is in town. No lie. It’s SWEET. There are butlers. There are comfy beds with enough pillows to make a nest. Big fluffy down comforters. Huge televisions.
I sat at the faux fur and leather chair at the desk in my room and watched Pearl Harbor (twice) one night on the big screen while I caught up on social media and blogged. I took two very long showers a day in the beautiful bathroom. There were cookies and punch available in the afternoon and we had wine on the terrace to welcome us on the first evening. A huge spread for breakfast in the morning with some insanely fantastic coffee. Best vacation ever.
One of the most exciting things about this trip was my companions. I was lunching and brunching with James Beard Award Winner Nathalie Dupree, people! I got to know her friend Anne Semmes, who has written for New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, Glamour, Food and Wine, Food Arts and Charleston Post and Courier. (She’s awesome). I dined with Hayley Phillips, the assistant editor of Local Palate Magazine. I chatted it up with Erin Bass, the founder and editor of Deep South Magazine. I toasted, toured and tasted with North Carolina travel book writer, Jason Frye, and Jill Warren Lucas, who is a fellow blogger and was live tweeting for Our State Magazine, and freelance writer, Zenda Douglas. We had three very lovely guides from Winston-Salem CVB, Marcheta Keefer, Brittany Norton and Diane Jackson. I feel like typing this in double bold: The mix of people in our group was absolutely perfect. We were all glued to our phones and constantly calling dibs on the power source in the van (these were MY PEOPLE!), but also were constantly laughing and learning from each other. It was really incredible. Amen. (unbold.)
Wow. Where do I start. We were wined and dined the first night at Graylyn by Executive Chef Gregory Rollins and Winemaker Steve Shepard and his sidekick and marketing and events coordinator Karyn Smith from RayLen Vineyards. We all immediately hit it off with the folks from RayLen.
I sat beside Steve at dinner and asked him tons of questions about wine making. RayLen is home to 35,000 European-varietal grape vines. They produce over 10,000 cases annually of sixteen different award winning wines. Steve Shepard is known as the “Godfather” of North Carolina Wine because of his instrumental role in implementing the wine industry in North Carolina. He was one of the first winemakers in the state of North Carolina and was the first in the Yadkin Valley. He says there’s a new winery opening every month now. North Carolina’s wine industry is obviously booming.
We walked the historic streets of Old Salem and popped in for a bread demo at Winkler Bakery, which is more than 200 years old! We also learned a little about Winston-Salem’s famed Sugar Cake, which has been a staple in the Livengood household since my husband was a kid. We learned about some early cooking methods and then wandered through the Single Brothers Garden with Chef Jared Keiper and picked veggies that he would use to create a wonderful meal for us later at his restaurant, Tavern in Old Salem.
That meal? Incredible. And I once again found myself sitting beside a winemaker! This time it was Sean McRitchie of McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Salem Baking Co., Executive Pastry Chef Alison Turner was there to greet us with Moravian cookies paired with cheese and jams.
We sipped on drinks made from Beta Verde syrups. Owner, Margaret Norfleet Neff was on hand to tell us a little about her syrups and jams. She and her daughter, Salem, run the company and actually were the founders of the Cobblestone Farmers Market, which takes place in Old Salem on Saturday mornings.
We also visited Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies in Clemmons. The company still hand-rolls, hand-cuts and hand-packages each of their six flavors of Moravian cookies. They roll out more than 110,000 pounds of cookie dough each her. We all put on a cap and an apron and gave it a shot. Let me tell you, it wasn’t as easy as it looked! We sampled our way through the tour and then they sent us home with big bags of cookies. I was nice and shared with my family when I got home, but I know for a fact that some of us dug in as soon as our room door closed that night.
In case you don’t know much about Winston-Salem, please go here. They do a good job of explaining, and this blog post is going to be long enough, isn’t it? We toured the homes of both tobacco baron R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine Reynolds and of course, were staying on the grounds of the Bowman Gray estate, Graylyn. Both of these families were a huge part in the early development of Winston-Salem. I won’t go into the history of the homes or much about them for now. I’ll write more about them later. They were absolutely expansive and beautiful and deserve way more than a paragraph.
We did have lunch on the lawn of Reynolda House. We walked up to two beautiful tables laid out under giant shade trees. Big Magnolia blooms floated in bowls of water at the center of each table. We all stood there just taking pictures from afar. Like fresh fallen snow, I hated to disturb the view. It was so perfect and beautiful. We dined on strawberry gazpacho, tomato pie and creamed succotash, white chocolate key lime pie… all provided by Mozelle’s Southern Bistro and inspired by luncheon menus of Katherine Reynolds herself. I sat beside Nathalie Dupree the whole time and grinned my face off.
This post is way too long but I cannot leave out: Breakfast at Mary’s Gourmet Diner. A restaurant filled with folk art and damn good food. Yes, this will be a full on blog post coming soon. And so will our lunch on the balcony overlooking Raffaldini Vineyards. Heavens. And our final meal of the trip, brunch at Sweet Potatoes. And the best part? My husband’s Aunt Janie joined us there to share her stories of Moravian Sugar Cake and growing up in Winston-Salem. OMG, and dinner at Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen and Bar with their amazing Chef Tim Grandinetti. Four days of foodie bliss that words will never do justice, but I can dang try! I am forever thankful to Winston-Salem CVB. I cannot wait to continue my exploration of your fabulous city.
All of this is so out of order, and quite frankly, some of it was a one of a kind experience. But I hope you’ll see how wonderful Winston-Salem is and plan a trip there. I’m happy to help connect you with the marvelous people, and my new friends, at their CVB.