So we’re driving down this lovely, winding, tree-draped mountain lane, a group of good friends on a fine autumn day during peak leaf season in the North Carolina high country.

To the left one can look through the woods into a picturesque valley where cows and horses graze leisurely on green rolling knolls. Maybe an old stone chimney or perhaps an ancient tin-roofed tobacco barn stands in a faraway field, lonely monuments to a not-too distant past.

     The sun is shining, the leaves are spectacular, the conversation lively.

My Beloved, sitting in the passenger seat chatting away with our friends in the back seat, suddenly stops in mid-sentence, eyes wide, finger pointing at my neck. Her scream splits trees and shatters stones all the way down the mountain.

Panic loves company. I have no idea what she’s screaming at, only that it’s creeping up my collar.

      The screaming, mine included, continues, punctuated by hysterical laughter. Finally, my buddy sitting in the back seat – and I have to give him credit for speaking in a perfectly calm voice between guffaws – says, “Just stop the car and get out slowly.”

Get out slowly? I suddenly have this vision of a killer wasp the size of a cheap cigar preparing to sting me into anaphylactic oblivion.

Someone else – I think my buddy’s girlfriend – notes, rather loudly, that my new companion is about to enter the inside of my collar. My problems are now compounded by two things. One, my bud can’t get out of the car to help me because he’s laughing so hard he can’t unbuckle his seatbelt, and two, while I consider myself to be a veritable rock of steadfast calm, I apparently have broken into this dance which consists of running in place as fast as I can in midair while waving my arms and screaming, “Auughhh! Get it off me! Get it off me!”

By this time, the third couple, who had been following us in their car, has stopped. One of them gets out, chokes back laughter long enough to knock whatever it was off me, and then proceeds to collapse in helpless laughter.

And the fuzzy red caterpillar, which was, in fact, about the size of a cheap cigar, inches his way to the side of the road.

So our tour of the North Carolina wine country started with 15-minute laugh riot – at my expense, of course – on a country lane halfway up a mountain. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love the Lowcountry; always have, always will, but there are times when you just have to have a change of scenery. A couple of weekends ago, we did just that. My Beloved and I took off with two other couples – great friends of ours we don’t get to see nearly enough of these days – and off we went to the mountains of North Carolina.

      But this was also a “Let’s do something a little different” kind of weekend. All of us enjoy a decent bottle wine now and then and none of us feel like shelling out the arm, leg, and vital organs it costs to go to Napa Valley. And yet, within easy driving distance from here is North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, home to North Carolina’s wine country.

     Wine production is not new to North Carolina, but it has enjoyed a major resurgence in the past two decades. Indeed, many North Carolina wineries are building quite the reputation for their products. We tasted quite a few wines from three different vineyards, most of which I thought were quite good.  For me – and I am no expert – I enjoyed every red I tried, but the whites were a little iffy – many I enjoyed but a couple I felt would do better poured over salad greens than in long stemmed glasses.

But again, I am no expert; I only know what I like.

While one can easily grab a map and visit some 32 wineries within about 30 minutes of each other, we opted for a guided tour for our first time. Aside from having to drive farther than we originally planned in order to catch our bus, I think we made the right choice. We visited three wineries, all of which had different aspects and wines we liked. I certainly did my share to help out the industry – came home with several bottles of my favorites – and, in the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, I shall return.

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