Last year when we were in Charleston, a place I’ve lived for 30 plus years before moving to France, Ron’s brother and his wife joined us for a week. They came armed with a fun list: all the “Diners, Drivie-ins & Dives” that have been featured in Charleston. And so we were off to dives like The Tattooed Moose and the Dixie Supply Bakery and Café (5 tables, and attached to a 7-11), and did some mighty fine eatin’, in places we might never have discovered.
This year on our Charleston visit, our old and dear friends Audrey and Bob came down from Ohio. They wanted to tour the Charleston Tea Planation (knew about it, never been) and the Deep Water Vineyard (what, Charleston has a vineyard?), both on nearby Wadmalaw Island.
First, the tea. It turns out that this is the only tea in the world made from 100% American grown tea. There are acres of tea plants, and you cruise around in a shuttle to see them. Along the way you learn how tea is grown and made. Did you know: that tea is made from a plant in the camellia family? That the first tea bushes were brought over from China to Charleston in the 1700's? That decaf tea is full of chemicals, but you can make your own natural decaf tea, from regular tea?
Then we had a tea tasting at the gift shop: hot and iced tea in many flavors, all delicious. We bought some fun teas for Charleston-ophile friends.
The winery was another matter altogether. On the way over, I told Ron and our guests, “the only grape I know that will grow in this climate is a muscadine and their cousin, scuppernongs. And they are about the nastiest thing you will ever taste!” Surely they weren’t growing those.
Muscadines have a strong, unusual taste and you either love it or hate it, kind of like okra. My mom, for example, who is from south Georgia, loves them. Most folks I know can’t be in the same room with them.
The winery turned out to be about as far from a fancy French winery as you could possibly get, but still fun. Set in the deep woods, there was a big chicken coop by the dirt parking lot. A rustic building with picnic tables outside for sipping served as the tasting room. Sure nuff, they were selling muscadine and scuppernong wine! And as our tasting revealed, they had embraced the full flavor of the grapes. They also make something called Firefly Moonshine, which tastes pretty much like its name.
Below: fields of tea plants growing under the live oaks at the Charleston Tea Plantation.
You can scoot around the plantation on a shuttle bus tour.
Workers clearing the banks around an irrigation pond for the tea plants. They have to be careful not to dip their toes in the water; the pond is home to a number of alligators.
At Deepwater Vineyards, they sell southern "moonshine". Love this:
Favorite Reads, from our readers: Meredith recommends WTF?!: What the French, by the very witty Olivier Magny, who is always a fun read (see my interview with Olivier in this 2013 post.) Julie recommends Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort. Julie says, "She was one of the few Americans who had permission to travel freely in war zones, so she went with a group to visit with and document the lives of soldiers in the field. She was close enough to look the enemy in the eye across forest lines. It's a unique piece of reporting." Thank you, ladies, for some interesting recommendations.