Cape Fear Winery and Distillery Has Something For Everyone
A few years ago, my husband and I decided to try a new winery in the area. We love wine and the social interaction it brings, and ended up at Cape Fear Winery located at 277 Bourbon Street in Elizabethtown, adjacent to the airport on NC 87. We have been to many wineries over the years, but this was like no other I had seen. A giant frog sculpture holding a glass of wine welcomed us at the door. As we looked around, we saw a peacock strutting in the distance, a pen holding Flemish rabbits that were at least 15 pounds and two feet long, horses grazing not far away, and even an Australian Wallaby named Gracie. In front of the winery there was a life-sized statue of a frog sitting at an easel as if he were getting ready to capture the scene on canvas.
“What kind of winery is this?” I thought. Stepping in to the main area of the winery where the food is served, I saw multi-colored paintings on the walls and photographs of some famous, and not so famous people, hanging all around. When I mentioned the artwork to one of the staff, we were invited to look in the event area of the winery. There we saw paintings that were done by famous people like Salvatore Dali and John Lennon. Connecting the main area to the back was a hallway full of photographs from current and old Hollywood stars and other celebrities.
Alex Munroe, the winery owner, has been a fan of celebrity art since he was eight years old. His collection has grown so much that he is building an art gallery on the property which will display classic and quirky original or limited-edition pieces. There was a collection of Woodstock photos on display as well as works from Ringo Starr, Bernie Taupin and Steve Goione, who specializes in marine and wildlife photos.
“This is a cool place,” I thought.
I sat down with Alex to talk about how this unusual winery came about. “I started a plastics company in Elizabethtown right across the street,” he said. “After a few years, the planning commission asked me to help stimulate economic growth. They felt the area needed a winery, a restaurant, an event center and some sort of guest lodging. I had a dog named Daniel, an Irish Setter with some health issues. One day, Daniel discovered the lake on this property and jumped right in. He loved it. It made him happy and the peacefulness of the area made me happy. I asked the planning commission about the availability of the property and found it was for sale. I bought all 14 acres of it the next day. Practically everything here came about accidentally.”
Alex started with the winery idea. He knew that the choices of grapes grown in this area was very limited—mostly Muscadine, the sweet wine associated with the south. He looked west of Elizabethtown to the Yadkin Valley area and the Finger Lakes region in New York for alternatives so he could provide not only the two Muscadine wines he developed but also a more diverse offering for people who enjoy a sharper taste in red and white wines.
It took a few years, but Alex and his team have created several different types of wines, including “Gracie Chardonnay,” which is bold without being tart and very well balanced. This wine has tastes of pears and apples. There is a “Tail Feathers Cabernet Sauvignon,” which paired well with the food we had, and delivered dark berry-like references in addition to a hint of coffee and pepper taste with a smooth finish.
If you enjoy southern sweet wine, you can try “I, Swanee,” a white wine that has fruit and a floral sense that stays true to the sweet Muscadine grape. Or, the Tory Hole, a red sweet wine that compliments barbecue and smoked meats.
The food we had was excellent. If you are going to try this vineyard and sample the food, definitely get the Candied Bacon appetizer. This dish comes on skewers and has thick smoked bacon, cooked in molasses, brown sugar and red pepper. It’s so good that you might end up getting several orders and skipping the main meal.
But that wouldn’t be wise. I had the rosemary brown sugar glazed salmon cooked in a balsamic reduction sauce. It was served over garlic mashed potatoes. The portion was generous and cooked to perfection. I had a side salad with it and the Gracie Chardonnay. The wine complemented the meal and the meal stood up to the wine. I was very impressed.
My husband had the Cape Fear pot roast. If you are into comfort food, you have to try this. In addition to large portion of very tender meat, it had carrots, celery, onion, garlic and fresh herbs in the gravy. He also had the garlic mashed potatoes and side salad, and he paired it with the Tail Feathers Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromas coming from the pot roast and the wine were a good blend. This was a hearty meal for a heathy appetite.
In 2014, when Alex opened the winery and restaurant, he also tested the concept of furnished cottages for overnight stays. He started small with just three cottages. Finding success in his venture, Alex created an event center and increased the number of cottages on the property to 20. The event center has attracted corporate activities and weddings.
There was a wedding going on while we were there. Picture a beautiful couple standing on a wooden deck overlooking a calm, reflective lake with ducks and birds watching the ceremony on a bright autumn day with trees that had leaves changing colors all around. This is a perfect setting for a fall wedding—have your wedding on the deck, your reception in the event center and your wedding night in one of the cottages.
Another part of Cape Fear Winery that was a pleasant “accident” was spirits. “A friend of mine was making moonshine,” Alex explained. “I laughed at him and told him that prohibition was over and suggested that we partner in making refined rum, gin and whiskey. After all, not everyone is a wine drinker.”
When you make alcohol, it goes through a distillation process in which the liquid is heated to temperatures in excess of 170 degrees Fahrenheit to create a vapor and then condensed into a liquid base again. All of this is done in a “pot stiller,” a large, wide container with an arm that starts at the top to collect the vapors and then sends them to a second compartment where the fermented liquid increases in alcoholic content and builds the flavor of the spirit. The liquid goes into barrels while it is still warm and can stay there from 2 to 10 years.
Alex has worked with Dana Keeler, the winemaker from Silver Coast Winery, for many years. They share the same passion for delivering a good and consistent product to their guests. “Making spirits was easier than making wine,” Alex said. We don’t try to get fancy with our spirits, we just make a good product and we make it the way it should taste.” That methodology has earned their spirits program several awards and great reviews.
Alex’s vision has created a wonderful environment for entertainment at so many levels. If you have not visited this North Carolina treasure yet, give it a try. Walk the grounds, study the art, have a drink, pet some animals and escape for an afternoon. It’s totally worth it.