May­berry, mu­sic and moon­shine

North Carolina’s Yad­kin Val­ley of­fers range of at­trac­tions

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Myscha The­ri­ault Tribune News Ser­vice (TNS)

As the birth­place of the Round Peak sound prized by as­pir­ing artists from around the world, Yad­kin Val­ley has been on the travel radar of old-time mu­sic lovers for quite some time. Fac­tor in a tra­di­tion of stringed in­stru­ment pro­duc­tion and a lo­cal luthier with skills so sought after he once put Eric Clap­ton him­self on a three-year wait­ing list for a gui­tar, and it’s safe to say the mu­sic her­itage of this place runs deep.

Then of course, there’s the moon­shine. The ridge-run­ning roots of the area’s dis­till­ing her­itage are alive and kick­ing in the form of mod­ern-day dis­til­leries, spe­cialty food items and more. Pad­dling op­por­tu­ni­ties, hik­ing and bik­ing trails, a wine scene that’s start­ing to find its way and a se­ri­ous farm-to-fork food scene add ex­ten­sively to the des­ti­na­tion’s va­ca­tion value.

Per­haps the most pre­cious place to be­gin your ex­plo­ration of this re­gion is the town of Mount Airy. Child­hood home of Andy Grif­fith and in­spi­ra­tion for the clas­sic fic­tional tele­vi­sion town May­berry, this place is the quin­tes­sen­tial ex­am­ple of au­then­tic Amer­i­cana and chock­full of charm. Spend­ing time on Main Street is a must. His­toric build­ings, wagon rides, moun­tain mu­sic piped into the streets and more are sure to make you feel im­mersed in the ex­pe­ri­ence.

If you hap­pen to be there on a Satur­day, head over to the his­toric Earle The­ater. Home to the Old-time Mu­sic Her­itage Hall, the the­ater also hosts live ra­dio broad­casts of tra­di­tional area tunes ev­ery Satur­day. Open to the pub­lic for $8 per per­son, the en­try ticket also grants ac­cess to the Andy Grif­fith Mu­seum.

A cou­ple of ca­sual lunch op­tions ex­ist on Main Street. Walker’s Soda Foun­tain of­fers hand-mixed soda fla­vors along with ba­sic burg­ers and fries. Mam’s Eatery of­fers home­spun food. If you’re in the mood for an up­scale meal, Old North State Win­ery’s chef’s ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ence is worth the throw down.

Those seek­ing sweet treats can go see Miss An­gel. Owner of Heav­enly Pies on Main Street and the farm where all the fruit for said good­ies is grown, this sparkly lit­tle en­ergy tor­nado whips up pies, baked goods and other yum­mies you can or­der served with a side of moon­shine ice cream cre­ated at her cream­ery next door. She’s also a rec­om­mended stop on Surry County’s sonker trail. A fruit cob­bler-like dessert so unique to this area there’s an en­tire driv­ing trail de­voted to show­cas­ing places that of­fer it, sonker is a fun way to ex­pe­ri­ence the ac­tual fla­vor of the val­ley while vis­it­ing the var­i­ous towns within it.

Re­gard­ing rec­om­mended day trips from Mount Airy proper, there a cou­ple worth your time. JOLO win­ery in the town of Pi­lot Moun­tain of­fers some of the best wine in the area, along with live mu­sic on Sun­days through midnovem­ber. With their view of the moun­tain and out­side seat­ing area, it’s a great place to en­joy a high-end pour and groove out to lo­cal tunes. They oc­ca­sion­ally do ver­ti­cal tast­ings with gourmet food pair­ings that are also worth the splurge if your travel tim­ing is right. Dob­son is a scenic day drive and home to Rock­ford General Store, an au­then­tic vin­tage mar­ket with home­made canned goods, retro candy and a fun vibe. They are also on the sonker trail, and of­fer in­door and out­door seat­ing. Open Wed­nes­day through Sun­day, it makes a great pre­lim­i­nary stop to an early din­ner at Har­vest Grill restau­rant lo­cated at Shel­ton Vine­yards, which is also in Dob­son. Their glassed-in din­ing room with fire­place over­looks the vines and of­fers de­lec­ta­ble higher-end fare with plenty of at­mos­phere. Menu items ro­tate sea­son­ally.

When you are ready to start ex­plor­ing the other end of the val­ley, switch­ing your base camp to the Wilkesboro area makes a heck of a lot of sense. Home to Mer­lefest, the Blue Ridge Mu­sic Hall of Fame and the W. Kerr Scott Reser­voir pop­u­lar with out­door re­cre­ation en­thu­si­asts, this mid­sized town with re­cently re­fur­bished com­mu­nity ameni­ties is strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned for a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this por­tion of the area. Also, while the dis­till­ing tra­di­tions of Yad­kin Val­ley are preva­lent in the other towns you’ll visit, this is where the white light­ning her­itage re­ally starts get­ting se­ri­ous.

Call Fam­ily Dis­tillers puts seven gen­er­a­tions of ex­pe­ri­ence into their moon­shine, with fa­cil­ity tast­ing tours in­clud­ing a peek at some of the orig­i­nal souped-up shine-run­ning cars from back in the day. This fam­ily’s her­itage in­cludes not only the fa­mously un­catch­able Wil­lie Clay Call, but also the Rev­erend Dan Call, who taught the trade to Mr. Jack Daniels him­self. Hard spir­its fans will also want to stop at Cop­per Bar­rel. Lo­cated in an old fur­ni­ture plant, their mas­ter moon­shine dis­tiller is a plain-speak­ing, over­all-wear­ing bit of liv­ing his­tory by the name of Buck Nance, who pro­duces some se­ri­ously sen­sa­tional hooch.

Those ready for a bit of driv­ing ad­ven­ture will want to make their way to Mo­ra­vian Falls to search out the Hol­man Dis­tillery. Depart­ing from the lo­cal moon­shine scene in fa­vor of a freez­ing method known as jack­ing, which dates back to the colo­nial days, this ru­ral fa­cil­ity is a nifty day trip for trav­el­ers who like ex­plor­ing the back roads.

Wine scene more your speed? Make your way to Raf­fal­dini Vine­yards. A spec­tac­u­lar view, Ital­ian-style villa and pic­turesque walk­ing trails all serve as the back­drop for sip­ping some se­ri­ous wines. As a fan of big reds, my fa­vorite is the 2016 Il Falco, but their 2015 Grande Ris­erva is nice as well. They also have out­door seat­ing and pic­nic sup­plies avail­able if you want to come with friends and en­joy a pour while tak­ing in the coun­try­side.

Jodi Ton­sic

Bi­cy­clists cross a sus­pen­sion bridge while en­joy­ing some of the many trails in the Yad­kin Val­ley.

Myscha The­ri­ault

Down­town Wilkesboro’s gath­er­ing ar­eas of­fer charm and easy ac­cess to com­mu­nity ameni­ties.

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