Thursday, April 21, 2016

Of Teas, Trees and Booze

The coastal area of South Carolina is comprised of a series of small islands. In many instances you don't even realize that you are moving from one island to another. Our tour bus took us out to Wadmalaw Island, SC.

The first stop was at the Angel Tree. It is reported that the Angel Tree could be 1500 years old. It is so large, I couldn't get it all in the frame of the picture!

Then we made our way to the Charleston Tea Plantation.

This is the only tea production farm in the US. Tea plants were first cultivated in the Charleston area around 1800. Cuttings from those plants were brought to the current plantation in 1963.

Today all of the shrubs, a type of camellia, come from cuttings of ancestors of the original plants. I knew that tea came from tea leaves, but I was clueless about how it is produced. Cuttings are rooted in the greenhouse, and remain here until they have well established roots. The taller plants on the right will be planted as soon as the temperatures begin to warm up.

The small shrubs are planted 18" apart. They have irrigation until they are well established.

Mature plants that are just beginning to show new growth. 

The leaves that are used come from the new growth on the shrubs. A unique machine runs down the rows and 'mows' the top of the shrubs when the new growth is 4"- 6" high.

They will get up to four cuttings each year, but the best tea is made from the first cutting. The mowed leaves are dried and chopped up in the production area.

So as not to be considered teetotalers, our last stop was at Firefly Distilleries and Deep Water Vineyards. First we participated in a wine tasting. The wines are produced from local grapes. In the sultry south, the only grapes that grow well are various Muscadine varieties.

These grapes are much larger than those grown in California, and they must be harvested by hand as the grapes don't all mature at the same time, so workers hand pick ripe grapes, day by day. The wines tend to be on the sweet side. I enjoy sweet Riesling wines, but I didn't particularly care for wines made from the Muscadines.

The history of the winery is rather interesting. A couple, entering retirement, decided it would be fun to open a winery on this SC island. They did some research. They planted the vines. They began harvesting the grapes and making wines. They worked for several years to develop their share of the market, and to market their wines. Then.... they sold the winery, and opened a distillery. Perhaps they grew tired of picking the grapes!

We moved from one venue to the next. Here is our group, waiting for our turn in the tasting room.

Firefly Distillery seems to specialize in flavored vodka and moonshine. Our hostess was very enthusiastic and let us taste anything we wanted. She ran down the list, "Who likes peach vodka? Here, taste this." Then, "Who likes tea flavored bourbon? Here, taste this." We had many tastes. I liked the sweet things, like coconut vodka and Red Velvet Cake Vodka.

We hopped back on our bus, and I happened to spy this:

Perhaps it was a good thing the bus driver was behind the wheel. I must have consumed more alcohol than I thought, as surely, a goat on a spiral staircase in the middle of nowhere must be some sort of hallucination!


  1. Thank you for sharing the places you travel.

    1. Thank you for reading them! I so often wish I had more to say, or that I had taken more pictures. When I'm on the road it is so hard to deal with the technology at hand, that posting is sometimes hit or miss, but I know that I will enjoy going back to the posts.
      Happy spring to you! Glad to hear that Iris are doing well. I can't wait to get home to see our yard!

  2. What a funny photo op of the goat and the spiral staircase. The tastings sound delicious.

    1. The tasting was great fun, but the goat topped it all off. It was so amazing to see him up there!

  3. I love that tree, there's just something special about ancient trees.

    1. You are so right. Just imagine the tales those trees could tell us!


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