A wine-filled gals' getaway in Duplin County, North Carolina

I know it’s rare for childhood friends to carry those tight bonds into adulthood, but that’s how it is with me and my two besties, Janie and Erin. The three of us have all gone on our separate paths as adults, spread out across the country, but time and distance has had little impact on our friendship. Emails, video chats, and group texts make it easy to stay in touch, and we make it a point to plan a girl’s getaway every year and go somewhere fabulous to reconnect in person.

This year’s trip, our tenth, brought us to Duplin County, North Carolina, where we were excited to slow down from our busy lives and relax with a little bit of small-town charm and Southern hospitality. Plus, this place’s wine reputation was huge! Duplin County is home to the South’s oldest winery, and is one of the few areas in the Southeastern United States where you can find the delicious muscadine grape.

Each of us did some research and picked a winery that we wanted to visit. Cheers!

Lazy, hazy days of summer

First up was Erin’s pick, which started with a stop at the World’s Largest Frying Pan in Rose Hill, where we jumped out of the car for a quick—and hilarious—selfie. Next stop was at The Duplin Winery, which is the largest (and oldest) winery in the South, producing the best-selling wine in North Carolina. We couldn’t wait to start tasting! Walking in the door, it felt like the staff had been waiting in anticipation for our arrival. The warm reception of Southern hospitality made it easy for us to unwind and settle in.

Of course, we opted for the deluxe tasting, getting to experience 10 of the dozens of amazing wines that Duplin Winery offers. Each blend that we tried accentuated the lusciousness of their famous muscadine grapes. My favorite, though, had to be the Midnight Magnolia, if not just for its charming name. Its medium, smooth, and fruity flavors went down easy and wrapped up with a refreshing crisp finish. I ordered a full glass at the end of the tasting to enjoy with the delicious pineapple and habanero cheese dip and crackers the gracious staff served up.

“To a great start to the weekend,” Erin said, raising her glass in a toast.

Old World Style

Janie’s pick was up next. A quaint Old World restaurant with a country Scottish feel, The Country Squire Restaurant Winery & Vintage Inn was like nothing else we had seen in Duplin County. Iris Lennon, the owner, and her daughter, Loraine, are both from Scotland and bring with them all the cozy and delightful charm you would expect from a landmark dining spot. Its rustic beams and paned windows make you feel like you’re stepping straight into a cottage in the Highlands.

Parts of the restaurant were built in the 18th century, and this is where they have opened their winery, which has gained quite a reputation for producing unique and delicious wines. We were excited to start tasting, but we were starving and decided to get some lunch in the restaurant first.

We started off with the Korean beef appetizer, which was delicious! The meat was super tender, and the succulent flavors had me pacing myself in order to savor each bite. “I read in the Duplin County Visitors Guide that the food tastes so good here because a lot of the ingredients they use are raised locally,” Janie said.

After lunch, we headed into the Tartan Tasting Room for—appropriately—a tasting. Each of The Country Squire’s wines were cleverly named, and we had a blast listening to Iris explain how they came up with each one. I think my favorite, though, was the Knicker Dropper, one of their specialty wines with a bold fruity pomegranate flavor and a big kick. All three of us dissolved into girlish giggles when we read the cheeky description on the tasting menu. “The name speaks for itself. Be careful with whom you share this wine.”

After several more delicious tastings of wines with names like Sweet Scottish Heather, Jester’s Folly, and Sunken Garden Thistle, Janie began furiously typing on her phone.

“What on earth are you doing?” Erin asked her.

“How would you all feel about checking out some boutiques and antique shops? I’m downloading the Duplin County App and seeing that there’s information about the towns here, like Wallace and Kenansville.” she said, flushed with excitement. “I especially want to stop and check out Liberty Hall Restoration and get a cupcake too!”

“Sounds good to me!” I said, taking another sip of a lightly oaked Chardonnay called Pride of Scotland.

Life is sweet at the Tipsy Bee

Next stop was my pick, and I was excited to surprise the girls with a sweet treat in the form of a cupcake that was one of the best we’ve ever had! The Tipsy Bee is an adorable bakery filled with organic and all-natural fine baked goods, carrying on the farm-to-table reputation that Duplin County is known for. They have everything from homemade jams and jellies and freshly gathered honey to baked sweets like cheesecakes, cookies, and cupcakes.

Even more than satisfying our sweet tooth, though, The Tipsy Bee has its own winery, adding to the heritage of North Carolina’s wine-making history. We ordered tastes of the white, red, and blush dessert wines and a few tasty treats to go along with them as we enjoyed a little afternoon sipping on the front porch of the Tipsy Bee’s family-owned store.

The White Velvet, a white sweet muscadine dessert wine with a hint of wildflowers paired perfectly with a slice of lemon blueberry cheesecake that we couldn’t resist. The subtle taste of honey in the Red Velvet brought out the freshly roasted flavors in the decadent pecan pie which was also a necessity to taste. And the pink sweetness of The Bee’s Blush was just the blend I was hoping for to top off my final toast of the day.

Blissed out after all those desserts, I smiled as I reflected on our past girls trips. We have had some good times, but our trip to Duplin County was one for the books. I’d think of it every time I tasted a North Carolina muscadine wine.

Erin must have been as euphoric as me, as once more, she raised her glass and said: “In honor of our tenth annual girl’s getaway,” with a grin.

“And here’s to many more visits and good times in Duplin County!” Janie said as we clinked.

Discover good times and great wines in Duplin County!

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