Vineyard set to bloom this spring

By: By Chrysta Carroll -

ELIZABETHTOWN — In biblical times, wine was symbolic of joy. If that were still the case, happiness would abound at a new venue in Bladen County, and that’s exactly what business owner Alex Munroe is hoping for. Cape Fear Vineyard and Winery, located in Elizabethtown’s Industrial Park, is slated to open in this spring and will feature numerous attractions.

Twenty years ago, Munroe started a business in Wilmington called Cape Fear Systems LLC manufacturing plastics for construction products. He moved his assembly to the Industrial Park two years ago, and began eyeing his neighbor’s business.

“I would take my dog for a walk and would see the vineyard across the street from the office,” he said. “One day I asked (the owner) what was going on with the property and started talking to him about buying.”

After acquiring the property 18 months ago, Munroe began making sweeping changes.

“We’ve put in landscaping, irrigation, fencing, lots of palm trees, camellias, and done a lot of work improving the property,” Munroe said.

The winery currently has one of the largest camellia exhibits in the state, according to Munroe, and five of his camellias won first place recently at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden’s 69th annual Camelia Festival in Fayetteville.

The property will house a working winery where Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, muscodine, and varietals will be produced. Oak barrels will be used to age Cabernet. Munroe plans to begin this spring bottling some wine from last year’s harvest and anticipates producing around 30,000 bottles per year.

A waterfall bordered with cypress trees provides the backdrop for the Barrel Bistro, the winery’s outdoor restaurant, which will provide casual dining that Munroe calls “southern cuisine uncorked.”

Diners will look on serene pastures of miniature llamas, donkeys, and horses, along with a Clydesdale, pheasants, and peacocks. A fire pit will warm visitors on cool evenings.

“You can dine under the stars — it’s really beautiful,” said Munroe.

The Cork Room, which will provide fine dining for 60 to 70 people, features a bar and wood panelled walls made from 1000-year old cypress trees that grew along the Cape Fear River. Chandeliers made from repurposed wine barrels provide ambient lighting.

The Gallery Ballroom will feature 30-foot ceilings with Edison lighting and will be lined with stone and antique pecky cypress. With a 200-person capacity, the Gallery Ballroom is so named because of the art, some original and some limited edition, that will line the walls.

“I’ve been collecting since I was a kid and have always been partial to celebrity art,” Munroe said. “I have pieces by John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Sid Caesar, Johnnie Cash, Jacques Cousteau, Burt Reynolds — people that you wouldn’t expect to be artists but have done art.”

Also included are works by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, as well as Elvis Presley shoes and sunglasses and a Waylon Jennings guitar.

The winery’s website boasts that the art collection is “one of the most comprehensive collections of celebrity fine art in the country.”

Cottages constructed with North Carolina- and New England-inspired architecture overlook a natural lake with geese and swans. Brides who choose to book the venue will walk through a rose garden to the site’s pergola and gazebo, also overlooking the lake.

“In phase one, we have four cottages with seven rooms which provide upscale accommodations for rent. In phase two, we’ll add more cottages, because they are already booking up,” informed Munroe. He added that they are already booking into 2018.

In addition to lodging, restaurants, and a ballroom for rent, the business will have a lake-side stage and amphitheater with seating for 250 people, which Munroe hopes will be utilized for marriages, plays and concerts.

Munroe hired as his events director Corky Chaple from the Tropicana Resort in Las Vegas, where Chaple served as food and beverage director. With more than 3,000 weddings under her belt, Chaple will aid guests in planning special events on the site.

Tea, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries will also be grown on the premises, an undertaking meant to encourage agritourism.

“People can come and meander through the blueberries and taste them right off the vines and experience all the wonderful crops grown in this part of North Carolina,” said Munroe.

A gift shop, wine tastings, and tours will also be available. Munroe has plans to expand the gift shop and to repurpose the wine barrels for use as chairs, stools, and wine racks that will be sold on the premises.

He anticipates employing between 20 and 30 people and plans to begin hiring within 30 days.

He longed, “It’s a beautiful place to relax and be happy. That’s what I want — for people to be happy here.”

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll