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Sniffing the cork on locally made wine

Wineries are places where wine is made. A winery can buy grapes from other people and make wine. They don't have to grow anything themselves. A vineyard, on the other hand, grows grapes and may produce wine in its own winery.

Facilities that make wine have existed for decades by using grapes grown in other areas if they didn't have the means to grow the grapes themselves. It is a fairly common practice even in places that don't have sandy soil. The late 1990s brought real vineyards, places where grapes that are used in wine production are grown, to the Myrtle Beach and surrounding areas. Overcoming the once-proclaimed cursed and unfertile soil for grapes, we started growing and making South Carolina wine.

Truth be told, South Carolina has been producing wine for many, many years. However, most of these wines have gone unnoticed by the often-snobbish wine world. Indigenous South Carolina wines include muscadine, scuppernong and other various fruit wines. True, these don't follow the traditional standards that wine has been bound to the last 60 or so years, but it did establish the foundation for where we are today. Since the birth of actual vineyards on our shores, we are growing and producing most of the major varietals and are doing them with our own style.

Whether you are at a New York, California or South Carolina vineyard, every place celebrates the migration from the earth to the bottle. When grapes started their growth (pun intended) in our area, we started doing what we do best. We began throwing parties and events to celebrate the signature wines of the Grand Strand.

La Belle Amie Vineyard, located off S.C. 90 near Little River, throws one of the best wine parties in our area on select Saturdays. The themed festivals boast live music, food and, of course, the vineyard's own wine. La Belle Amie also offers tours of the vineyard and a complete gift shop that offers everything from bottles of wine to wine accessories to gift baskets. Admission is $10 for these events, but the vineyard also holds charitable promotions that often reduce the price and support local causes in Myrtle Beach. These events are great for locals and tourists to sit back and sip some local wine while meeting new friends at the actual vineyard where the grapes are grown.

The next festival at La Belle Amie is the Summer Parrot Head Festival on July 24. I think you know that this event will include sounds from the tropical islands and wine from the Carolinas. Bring a chair, a few friends and spend a day at the vineyard. Being a working vineyard, operators ask that our four legged friends stay at home and that everyone enjoys the food and beverages provided on site. If you can't make it to the festivals, La Belle Amie is also open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday for tours, tastings and purchasing anything from the gift shop.

The comparison between a winery and a vineyard comes to life with Carolina Vineyards. The company's grapes are grown in one location, but the wine is made and sold at the winery located at Barefoot Landing. Open from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily during the summer, everyday is an event. Carolina Vineyards produces the traditional varietals, but specializes in the local fruit wine. From strawberry to pomegranate, it seems practically anything and everything is made into wine here. Possibly the most inventive use of wine I've tried through the years is Carolina Vineyards' wine smoothie. Don't knock it until you try it as it is as delicious as it is curious.

Just across the South Carolina state line, Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. produces some of the area's best wine. Everything from Viogner to Sangiovese is made alongside of the usual suspects at Silver Coast. Reading over the awards page on Silver Coast's web site is quite impressive. This vineyard has been instrumental in pushing the envelope of wine making in our area. In standard fashion, festive events are held at this vineyard as well.

The next event is Shaggin' for Shelter on Sept. 11, benefiting Habitat for Humanity, this event will feature beach music icon the Craig Woolard Band. If you want to get a peek at the Silver Coast wines this summer, the winery is open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon until 5 p.m. Sunday. It's worth the short trip to taste some great wine from our area.

While we are not on the map with the likes of California or Oregon just yet, we are still producing our own wine and celebrating the bounty of our soil. Venturing out on a tasting tour is easy to do and very rewarding. If you get to talk to the winemakers in our area, you'll find that the passion and precision is similar to some of the larger wine producing regions.

Drink local.