It has been almost two months already since we returned from my birthday weekend in Banner Elk, North Carolina. With all of our wine trips and personal vacations canceled, we had to get something on the books where we could be “distanced and safe.” And a cabin in the woods outside a small mountain town seemed like the right answer. Gary and I, along with another couple, spent four nights and five days chilling, drinking wine, and sitting by the fire.
Banner Elk: The Cabin
We chose this cabin after seeing our friends/neighbors post about staying there over the summer. They loved the location and thought the cabin’s amenities were all that anyone should need. What sealed the deal was the hot tub. Gary loves hot tubs.
You can see how this cabin expanded over the years. It started as a single-story, one bed with one bath mountaintop getaway. Now it is a two-story, two bed and two bath with a front porch and large back deck. The second bedroom is a loft-style with just a half wall. And the bathroom requires walking a catwalk to the side of the cabin that has plumbing. It sits at the end of a gravel/dirt road at the mountain’s peak.
There are a couple of other houses on the road, but they are far enough away that it is as if you are alone. When you sit on the deck, the only way you know there is anyone around is because someone’s two chocolate labs may come for a visit—sweet typical labs hoping that you will give them a snack and a good petting. We petted but did not feed.
We Barely Left the Cabin
After close to seven months of Covid sheltering, you would think that we would have wanted to get out and explore. But we learned quickly that all we really needed was a change of locale. Someplace different than the four walls at home that seemed to be closing in on us. Yes, one day for a couple of hours, we drove around the neighboring communities of Banner Elk and Boone to see if there were any “musts” that would still be distanced – we did not find any. We also talked about perhaps doing some hikes on one of the many mountain trails.
But no, other than running to the store for food and firewood, we were, happily, cabin bound. With a coffee mug in hand, we meandered between the living room with the gorgeous view to the back porch with a much more expansive view, only to switch to a wine glass at some point in the day. Later, we’d retire to the family room with a roaring fire in the fireplace, a blanket, and more wine.
Oh, That Hot Tub!
Just after sunset on the first night, we headed into the hot tub for a warm soak. The brochure claims that the tub seat four, and technically, it does. But not when the four are all grown men. I was the last one in. As I sat down, the bubbling hot water that was already at the tub’s edge as if it were an infinity pool began pouring over the top and down underneath the decking. Then there was the matter of long legs and where to put them. Mine extended into Gary’s personal space with my feet on his chest. I have no idea how our friends were ultimately intertwined, but we all had a real good laugh over the close quarters. Let’s say it was a good thing we were couples.
After the first night, it was clear that all did not equally enjoy the hot tub. So I gave up my spot, as did one of our friends. We sat by the warm toasty fire, while the “hot tubbers” sat in the warm, bubbly water. Everyone was happy, and we no longer had to bring the water level back over the jets each night or play, “where should I put my legs?”
Sunday’s Winery Outing around Banner Elk
By Sunday morning, we were ready to leave the cabin. So we decided to check out a couple of the area’s local wineries. We chose Banner Elk Winery and Grandfather Mountain Vineyard and Winery because they were recommended, and they both claim area “firsts.” Banner Elk Winery established the first commercial winery in the area. And Grandfather Vineyard and Winery established the first vineyard in Watauga County, NC.
With that said, all of Grandfather Vineyard and three of Banner Elk Winery wines are labeled* “American” wine as the wineries do not grow or source enough of the grapes to be considered region AVA specific (Appalachian High Country AVA) or state AVA specific (North Carolina). I will get into that next week when I talk more in-depth about the two wineries. Whether that matters to the thousands of folks who head to all of the area wineries each year is moot. The wineries are great for tourism to the area. And at least the two that we visited both make some delicious, ready to drink wine.
* By law, all wine made in the US must be labeled with the AVA (American Viticulture Area) from where the grapes are sourced. The largest AVA in the country is, of course, American AVA. A wine that sources grapes from more than one state must be labeled as “American.” If all of the fruit were sourced in a single state, it would be labeled that state’s wine – i.e., North Carolina. If all of the fruit came from the area within the boundaries of the federal designated local AVA, then it would be labeled as such, in this case, Appalachian High Country AVA.
Eating and Drinking through the Banner Elk Weekend
Other than lunch, before we checked in on Thursday, we cooked all of our meals. Well, to be honest, “Sam” (his alias) did 90% of the cooking. I made the King Authur Crispy Pan Pizza (previously blogged) on Sunday after the winery excursion.
And here are images of just some of the wine we enjoyed while relaxing in our mountaintop hideaway.
Finally, I will leave you with this goofy image of me after a hot shower in front of the fireplace, warming my toes.
Rick & Gary