Wednesday, February 27, 2013

BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival, February 28 Thru March 3-Charleston's Only Winery And Distillery Rocks

Charleston, the toast of the coast, beautiful, hospitable, and drenched in romantic, southern history, is a sort of living museum. A plethora of 18th century homes, plantations, churches, galleries, and shops line its vintage roadways and waterfronts. A considerable number of historic hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts cordially beckon travelers to partake of their opulence. Award-winning restaurants featuring the famous Lowcountry cuisine entice hungry visitors at every turn of the corner and for the surf and sand lovers, four beautiful beaches wrap its coastline. But despite this abundance of old city amenities, Charleston is home to only one varietal repository, the Irvin House Vineyards on Wadmalaw Island.

The Irvin House Vineyards is a 48-acre winery about 30 minutes south of Charleston. The vineyard offers walking trails, a petting zoo, a garden, large pond, winery, and gift shop. You can take advantage of the winery's affordable and informative wine tastings. For $4, you can taste all 5 of their varietals and will receive a complimentary wine glass for a keepsake to remember your time at the vineyard. Afterwards, you can enjoy a self-guided tour through the muscadine vines. Muscadine grapes are a fruit native to the Southeastern United States, perfectly matched to the climate needing fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat.

One event to hone in on is the annual Grape Stomping Festival. In 2012, the event was in August. Check the event news on Irvin House Vineyards website for updates on this years stomping. Interesting fact: After naming their wines, they chose fine Charleston artists to create the labels.

The winery is also home to the Firefly Distillery, South Carolina's only distillery. Firefly became the world's first hand-crafted sweet tea flavored vodka. It is distilled four times, infused with tea grown on the Charleston Tea Plantation just five miles from the distillery. The distillery has a tasting room, where people may taste Firefly products and purchase bottles right on the property. Tastings are $6. It is one of the very few in the country to be both a vineyard and a distillery. Visitors can also take a quick drive down the road to the Charleston Tea Plantation for tours any day of the week. The tasting room is located at 6775 Bears Bluff Road.

Now that I have you all wined-up, it is time to attend the annual BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival, February 28 - March 3, 2013. There will be 80 events over the course of the Festival weekend, affording you the opportunity to interact with and learn from the country's best chefs, authors and beverage professionals. The heart of it all is the Culinary Village in Marion Square Park where the JetBlue + Piggly Wiggly Grand Tasting Tents with over 80 food and beverage vendors from across the country will be set up. Firefly will be part of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival March 1 - 3. You can see them in the Piggly Wiggly Tent. For a complete list of venues and locations click on map. Events and tickets are posted here.

Here are some interesting wine facts:
1) The smell of young wine is called an "aroma" while a more mature wine offers a more subtle "bouquet".
2) Wine tasting is essentially wine smelling, women tend to be better wine testers because women, particularly of reproductive ages, have a better sense of smell than men.
3) Red wines are red because fermentation extracts color from the grape skins. White wines are not fermented with the skins present.
4) The world's oldest bottle of wine dates back to 325 A.D. and was found near the town of Speyer, Germany, inside one of two Roman sarcophaguses. It is on display at the town's Historisches Museum der Pfalz.
5) There is increasing scientific evidence that moderate, regular wine drinking can reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and gum disease.
6) Wine grapes rank number one among the world's fruit crops in terms of acres planted.
7) There is a right and wrong way to hold a wine glass. Wine glasses should always be held by the stem and not the bowl because the heat of the hand will raise the temperature of the wine.
8) One ton of grapes makes about 60 cases of wine, or 720 bottles. One bottle of wine contains about 2.8 pounds of grapes.
9) Most wine is served in a glass that has a gently curved rim at the top to help contain the aromas in the glass. The thinner the glass and the finer the rim, the better. A flaring, trumpet-shaped class dissipates the aromas.
10) Red wine represents 55% of restaurant wine sales.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Ninth Annual MardiCrawl 2013, February 23rd-An Emotional Story And A Good Cause On A Day Of Fun

We were vacationing in Quebec, my father and two of my brothers. It was a fishing trip. At the time my father was in his mid-sixties. While we were fishing, my father's line would get tangled up on the reel of his fishing rod. When that would happen, he would spend the longest time trying to untangle it, thus missing out on quality fishing time. Granted, tangled fishing line can be a challenge to undo, but for some reason he just could not figure it out and would appear to be frustrated by it.

My father was a mechanical engineer, a person who designed and performed trouble-shooting on motors for vacuum cleaners. Yet, a tangled fishing line appeared to stump him at the time. It was the first signs my father was suffering from the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease, the affliction that little by little stole away his personality and eventually his life.

The Ninth Annual MardiCrawl 2013 will be held this Saturday on one of the hottest stretches of water in the Charleston area, and in behalf of a cause for people who have experienced what my family struggled with. The cause is the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and other local charities. The party is hosted by the Lowcountry Parrot Head Club. The Alzheimer’s Association is one of the groups main charities because Jimmy Buffet's father also died from Alzheimer's disease. Beautiful, historic Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant is the place.

I have attended a couple of the Parrot Head meetings held at Red's Ice House. The Parrot Heads are a group of social people who love Jimmy Buffet music and engage in activities that are charitable, educational and that promote the general welfare of the community. The last meeting I attended, I became closely acquainted with one of the mascots - a white parrot who was placed on my shoulder by the head speaker during the group's discussion about memberships and upcoming events they planned on sponsoring. It was the first time a bird of that size sat on my shoulder. My advice to you if you ever attend one of their meetings - don't turn your back to the speaker or else wear a heavy, leather shirt and maybe a few crackers. Curious about the Parrot Heads - they meet the third Tuesday of every month at Red's Icehouse on Shem Creek and anyone is welcome.

The MardiCrawl begins at 2:00 pm at Red's Ice House, February 23rd. Check-in and registration on the day of the event is from 1 - 4:00 pm. Advanced registration costs $25 and on the day of the event $30. Participants will receive an official badge and t-shirt. Then the fun begins. You will crawl, not literally, from restaurant to restaurant eating tasty foods and sipping on favorite cocktails with your friends and new acquaintances. The sequence of restaurants will be Red’s Ice House, R.B.’s Seafood Restaurant, Vickery’s Bar and Grill, Water’s Edge Restaurant, The Shelter Kitchen and Bar, Shem Creek Bar and Grill, and back to Red’s where you will regroup for the after party at 8:00 pm. There will be live music, and of course the beautiful waterway.

Click on Red's Ice House and Shem Creek to learn more about this beautiful area.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Southeastern Wildlife Expostion February 15-17, 2013-Living The Wild Life In The Lowcountry

One of the most fascinating birds of prey, at least from my perspective, is the eagle. I got to observe this majestic bird up close while rafting on a river near the infamous Chilkoot Trail in Alaska. It was golden, the moment that is, not the eagle. The accipitridae was a bald eagle. Recently, I saw a post on Facebook from a neighbor stating they saw a bald eagle in a tree outside their house, which surprised me.

I really hadn't given it much thought, but bald eagles are right here in the Lowcountry. I have been to the South Carolina Aquarium, so I am sure I was exposed to this seemingly out of sight, out of mind fact, just hadn't previously given it much thought. After all, this resplendent raptor is not a frequent spectacle and I don't ever recall seeing one while cruising the intercoastal waters of Charleston's barrier islands.

During my research, I came to learn the southern bald eagle is smaller than its northern counterpart. But that seems to be true of other southern species. Southern deer are also smaller than the northern variety. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for this enigma. Maybe, it has something to do with the warmer climate here in the south. It is more difficult for larger bodies to cool themselves.

Once bald eagles stack out a territory, their dominance can last for decades. They live for 15 - 20 yrs and mate for life. Although, if one of the mates should die, the survivor will invite another mate into the nest. Since their main staples are fish and waterfowl, this keen-sighted opportunist likes to perch itself on the edge of a forest, overlooking a marsh or a field. Benjamin Franklin referred to the bald eagle as "a bird of bad moral character" who "does not get his living honestly." It often capitalizes off the hard work of the smaller osprey, stealing its catch.

This once endangered species has made a recovery. During nesting season, generally October to May, the bald eagle is very sensitive to human presence. Eagles and humans are attracted to the same real estate, water. Laws have been established that require buffer zones between nests and construction sights. During the nesting period, if a structure is under construction in the 330 ft to 660 ft buffer zone, work can only be done inside the buildings. Known sightings in the Lowcountry have been Dewees Island, Pickney Island, Bulls Island, Capers Island, and James Island, but a delightful surprise could occur anytime, anywhere in our coastal communities. If you are a tourist who loves birdwatching in the wild, Bulls Island should be on the top of your list.

Why this sudden preoccupation with the bald eagle? The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition takes place this week February 15th to the 17th. In its 31st year, the exposition has grown to be the largest event of its kind in the nation. 500 artists and exhibitors from around the globe will present their offerings to over 40,000 attendees. It hosts the world's foremost experts in wildlife and nature art, as well as conservation research and environmental education. Birds of Prey Flight Demonstration, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary Show, Julie Scardina, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Animal Ambassador, and Living with Wolves Presentation by Jim and Jamie Dutcher are some of the events I have my eagle eye on. For dog lovers, Two Tank DockDogs will be held at Brittlebank Park.

Marion Square will host the Center for Birds of Prey Demos, conservation exhibits, wildlife gifts and collectibles, Carolina Raptor Center, Edisto Island Serpentarium, power rock climbing, live music, and Taste of the Town. If you can get to Charleston Place on Friday at 10 am, there is the 99 Bottles of Art on the Wall Exhibit. 99 bottles of wine adorned with original paintings and sketches by SEWE artists will be on exhibition. Purchase a bottle of wine labeled with an original 4x5 painting and automatically enter for a chance to win a magnum bottle with original painting.

General Admission for all three days is $40 and $20 otherwise.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Charleston's Growing Craft Beer Market And A Beer Tasting With Azalea Magazine At Coastal Coffee Roasters

Tourists who visit Charleston will hear names like John Rutledge, William Moultrie, John C. Calhoun, William Aiken Jr., and David Dees. What was David Dees notable for?  He was a store owner on E. Bay St. in the famous Rainbow Row and in 1743 received a shipment of 96 clubs and 432 balls from the Port of Leith in Scotland. But names like Joseph Morgan, Daniel Bourget, and Nathaniel Scott are unfamiliar. These were names associated with the brewing of beer in the early years of Charleston dating back to the 1700's. If you want to learn more about the history of beer in Charleston, read the book Charleston Beer.

In recent times, the Charleston area has turned into an enthusiastic and thriving craft beer scene, especially since South Carolina lifted its ban on high-gravity specialty beers with higher alcohol contents. Names like Palmetto Brewing, Westbrook Brewing, Frothy Beard Brewing Company, and Holy City Brewing have become recognized names at many of the festivals and events in the Lowcountry.

Friday, I adventured into that world of crafted beers. It was by way of an invitation to an event that encompassed some of the best names in the Lowcountry, including one of the previously named breweries. It was Beer Tasting night at Coastal Coffee Roasters in Summerville-a planned special event sponsored by Azalea Magazine with Holy City Brewing providing a selection of brews for sampling with Famulari's Pizzeria taking on the challenge of providing the perfect pizza compliment. It was a sold out event, so a packed house was expected.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by Dottie and Will Rizzo, the owners of Azalea Magazine. I was checked in and given a ticket that would be used later in a drawing and a wrist band denoting my eligibility to drink the libations on hand. Although the proceedings wouldn't start for another fifteen minutes, many of the hand-painted tables were already occupied. Joe Tedesco, a familiar face on the acoustic scene, was making last minute preparations setting up and tuning his guitar. He and a friend would be providing the musical entertainment through the course of the evening.

Immediately, I saw some fellow White Gablers and took a few moments to chat with them before the proceedings officially got underway. Elizabeth and Jerry Crotty frequently attend the plays at the local James F. Dean Theatre, so we small talked about the most recent riotous musical Forever Plaid and a few other things. The fifteen minutes went by quickly. It was now time to begin the party. I strategically seated myself at the new burlap-glass topped bar close to where most of the action would take place.

Will welcomed everybody and Brad Mallett, owner of Coastal Coffee Roasters, explained how the samplings would proceed. Through the course of the evening, in 15 minute intervals, six of Holy City's brews would be distributed for evaluation. With each sampling, a serving of complimentary pizza would accompany the brew. Chris Brown, a partner and professional brewer for Holy City, gave a brief introduction for each offering explaining the choice for the name behind the brew and a description of its flavor. Justin and Nicole, from Famulari's Pizzeria, did the same with the pizza. Caleb and Amber Taylor poured the beer, Dottie served the beer, and the rest is history.

The six beers offered beginning with the first were Holy City Pilsner, Pluff Mud Porter, Slanted Porch Pale Ale, Graveyard Shiftee, Collision Stout, and New Year, the strongest of them all at 10.5 per cent  When it comes to a name, you can't get any more Charleston than Holy City. Each name embraces something well known to Charleston or its business community. As you tour the streets of the historic district of the city, you will understand where the namesake, slanted porch, comes from as you observe the features of the old homes. For a complete explanation for the reason behind the names, go to Holy City Brewing. A note of fact: Pluff Mud Porter won the Gold Medal at the 31st Great American Beer Festival in October of 2012 in Denver beating out 44 other Brown Porters from around the country. You can visit the brewery at 4155 C Dorchester Road in North Charleston.

The beers were crafty, the pizza cheesy, the music pleasin', and the hospitality southern. For me, winning a growler of beer in the drawing along with five other people was one of the highlights. It was another fantastic night at Coastal Coffee Roasters. Whether you are a local or a visitor, this is one place you will want to check out, not only for the great entertainment and scheduled events, but for the best fresh roasted coffee in the Lowcountry. And while your at it, pick up an Azalea Magazine. It is a printed mosaic of articles and pictorials commemorating the southern lifestyle that is uniquely Summerville, both past and present.

Don't miss Brewvival on February 23,2013 at 12-6 pm. It will take place in the field across from Coast Brewery in North Charleston. For complete details see Brewvival 2013. Enjoy the slideshow.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Forever Plaid at the James F. Dean Theatre February 1, 2013-Riotous Fun For All

In the 1950's, I was very young. At most, by 1959 I was 10 years old and in elementary school grade 5. Prom night for me was yet in the distant future. Unknown to me at the time, as I hula hooped my way to fame and batted my wiffle ball around my yard, I would be part of a generation that would usher in a time of great cultural change, both socially and morally. Yes, I hula hooped and I was very good. Poodle skirts, greased quiffs, and brightly colored clothes were popular. The infamous bikini was beginning to make its appearance.

The music of the time reflected both the changes that were being nurtured while tentatively still holding on to the societal norms of the past. The Beatles were an English rock band quietly making a name for themselves in the clubs of Liverpool in preparation of setting the music world on fire. This was the backdrop that inspired the off-Broadway musical revue written in 1990 by Stuart Ross in New York called Forever Plaid.

The Plaids were a quartet of high-school chums with dreams of recording an album. Their aspirations ended in a collision with a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles' American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. The play begins with the Plaids returning from the afterlife for one final chance at musical glory. Standing before a packed house, the four of them apprehensively evaluate their unexpected predicament and seized the moment.
With plaid bow ties and cumber buns, John Black(Jinx), Robert Culbreth(Francis), Jonah Klixbull(Sparky), and Christopher Williams(Smudge), each with a their own distinct and unique personalities, took to the stage on the night of February 1st in the James F. Dean Theatre and won the hearts of the largely senior audience who gave them a resounding standing ovation at the end. They sang a long list of songs near flawlessly accompanied by Richard Davis on the piano and Ken Gee on the bass. Their comedic choreography was humorous and at times down right hilarious. Robert, nice touch on the short legged pants.

A sincere actor's commitment is to give their best performance regardless of the size of the crowd, but any actor will tell you when a theater is packed out and aroused it lifts them to higher levels of empowerment. To quote one of the cast members,  "The audience was energized, so we were feeding off their energy."

At one point, they pulled an apprehensive young girl from the crowd who graciously submitted and surprisingly danced very well. It was equally amusing to watch the older couples in the audience thoroughly enjoying themselves. My friend, who is not easily impressed, couldn't resist the contagion and added a few robust chuckles to the chorus of laughter. A few of my favorite songs performed were Perfidia, Sixteen Tons, Jamaica Farewell, and Matilda, Matilda.

Congratulations to the entire cast and production team for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Despite the fact many of the songs were unknown by me, after all I was just a young kid in the 50's, this was by far one of the more entertaining productions released by the Flowertown Players. I recommend it to all. Go to Forever Plaid for show times.

After party at the Ice House with the cast