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Fun, wine is fine at Myrtle Beach area vineyards

The juice of fermented grapes, vintners, tastes and toasts are typical finds at businesses boasting wines, but there is more to explore at area wineries and vineyards.

These beacons of beloved alcoholic beverages, where merlots, chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons and various other wines dwell, also are ideal go-to locations - especially in the spring - for live entertainment, good eats, unique gifts, educational talks and other treats perhaps not detected by your radar.

Strategically located on and around the Grand Strand, area wineries are grown-up playgrounds to explore a plethora of wine and soak in a bit of culture without having to venture far from home.

La Belle Amie Vineyard in North Myrtle Beach holds festivals throughout the year. These mostly outdoor shindigs incorporate the kind of fun that wine aficionados and polished party people appreciate.

Folks sat in the shade, chomped on barbecue and listed to musicians play while a small bonfire burned at Bonfire & Music at the Vineyard last Saturday at La Belle Amie.

Chuck Weigle, whose wife, Vicki Weigle, owns and operates the vineyard, said folks, especially those middle-aged and older, like serene environments that offer a little bit of everything.

The music, lovely outdoor natural setting and the wine, of course, combine for at 1-2-3 punch that excursion people find enjoyable and memorable.

"I think Vicki's idea all along was to give people a reason to come out and do something they would enjoy while being with their family and friends," he said.

Tomorrow, the vineyard will have its Spring Swing Big Band Festival that will feature an afternoon of big band music, food, crafts and other activities designed for those who have wine and more on their minds.

The Spring Swing Big Band Festival will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 per person, with people over 80 admitted free.

Although activities for children are limited during such events, there are two furry creatures that look forward to seeing the children that do tag along with family and friends to La Belle Amie Vineyard.

Amie, a Labrador retriever, and Bella, a border collie, enjoy fetching tennis balls the kids throw for them, Chuck Weigle said.

"They come to work every day," he said. "It's funny. People may not know Vicki or the other hardworking, good people we have around here, but they know Amie and Bella."

There is also a charitable aspect to La Belle Amie Vineyard's festivals.

Whenever attendees bring two nonperishable goods to each event, they get a $3 discount off the admission price and the food gets donated to the food bank of a local Helping Hand.

About a ton of food is donated at each festival, Chuck Weigle said.

"It is something we started in 2008, when the recession first hit," he said. "We will keep on doing it until we get out of this mess because there are people out there really hurting."

Other vineyards, including Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., also have efforts meant to support community causes.

On April 2, it will have its Sunset Beach Bridge Preservation Fundraiser to help preserve the Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge. The event, held from 7 to 11 p.m., will have big band music, wines and hors d'oeuvres. The cost is $25 per person.

Other events at Silver Coast Winery include a free bridal show, from 1 to 4 p.m. on April 10.

Area vineyards often launch events that are supportive of community efforts and groups.

On April 16, from 1 to 6 p.m., Grapefull Sisters Vineyard in Tabor City, N.C., just outside of Loris, will have its "All About Veterans" event to aid veteran organizations.

There will be bands, food and prizes. Admission is $5 per person.

From now through October, each first and second Saturday, Grapefull Sisters Vineyards hosts concerts. Each starts at 6 p.m.

First up is Elvis at the Vineyard, which will be held April 2. David Chaney of Myrtle Beach is the Elvis Presley impersonator and will sing lots of the classics.

On April 9, Bluegrass at the Vineyard will showcase live bluegrass music.

Sheila Suggs-Little, who owns the vineyard with her sister, Amy Suggs, said their vineyard and its appeal to folks are tied to its Southern roots.

"For us, it has a lot to do with the heritage and history of the South," Suggs-Little said. "We make muscadine wines and it the Native American wine. Our vineyard is reminiscent to a time when just about everybody had a grapevine in their backyards - when a lot of people were making wine but they didn't own up to it. It is the heritage of the rural South, and the muscadines that grew in the woods. People had trestles in their backyards. We are stepping back into time."