Sweet Tea and Spirits

Since we had a weekend of pleasure, Tuesday was a day of work. It was a day spent primarily filling out forms, scanning and copying, calling and emailing. This was all in preparation for my locums work which will likely commence in July. Also, in the morning, I met Peter and George from the North Sails loft here in Charleston. They removed my mainsail for repair and measured for a new stack pack (the canvas bag that encloses the lowered mainsail). I also arranged for Luther Marine to come onto Beatitude early next week for the mechanical and electrical repairs and other projects. Additionally, we did a couple of loads of laundry at the marina.

Laundry time!  It's a long, long walk from Beatitude to the Marina office, which is where the laundry is located.

Laundry time! It’s a long, long walk from Beatitude to the Marina office, which is where the laundry is located.

Sail repair

Sail repair

A blue heron on the dock in front of Beatitude

A blue heron on the dock in front of Beatitude

Wednesday, Cindy and I had our own private driver and guide for some sightseeing. Our guide was none other than our friend, the inimitable Shera. She picked us up around 10:30 and drove us to Wadmalaw Island, a 25-minute drive southwest of Charleston. Our previous anchorage in Toogoodoo Creek was actually very close-by.

Our first stop (after some fast-food for lunch) was the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only working tea planation in the United States. It exists at the site of a former tea research station run by Lipton for 25 years. Bill Hall purchased the land in 1987 and established the Charleston Tea Plantation, creating the American Classic Tea Brand (the official tea of the White House). Bill is a 3rd-generation tea taster from England. Several years ago the plantation was purchased by Bigelow, but it is still run by Bill.

Shera with Bill, the man behind the Tea Plantation

Shera with Bill, the man behind the Tea Plantation

The tour trolley.

The tour trolley.

We had no idea how tea was made, so it was a fun trip. It turns out that tea is made from a plant called Camellia sinensis, a bush that is planted and manicured in straight rows. The tea itself is made only from the new growth which occurs on top of the bushes. In other countries (with cheap labor) these leaves are hand-picked, but at the Charleston Tea Plantation they invented the “Green Giant,” a cross between a cotton-picker and a tabacco harvester, which is used to harvest the leaves. The leaves go through a series of drying processes, are ground up, undergo varying degrees of oxidation (That is what makes black tea different than green tea. Who knew?), and baked to remove moisture. Excess sticks and fibers are removed and… you have tea! The harvest season is from May to October. The “first flush” festival was just held in celebration the first harvest. Sheryl Crow was the featured entertainment. Our visit was quite educational and enjoyable. We took a 45-minute trolley tour of the property and watched a 15-minute video on the production process. One of the best things was, that you could drink all the tea (iced or hot) that you wanted while at the plantation. My favorite was the mint sweet tea. It was good!

Rows of tea bushes

Rows of tea bushes

Cindy at the greenhouse, where new plants are nourished for planting in the fields.  It takes about 5 years for a tea plant to reach maturity.  At that time, they are quite hardy.  But, until then, they need lots of TLC.

Cindy at the greenhouse, where new plants are nourished for planting in the fields. It takes about 5 years for a tea plant to reach maturity. At that time, they are quite hardy. But, until then, they need lots of TLC.

Carl in the field, pulling out the weeds by hand so that the "Green Giant" can harvest the leaves.

Carl in the field, pulling out the weeds by hand so that the “Green Giant” can harvest the leaves.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Green Giant!

Ho! Ho! Ho! Green Giant!

The leaves are dumped onto this conveyor where they are spread and start drying.

The leaves are dumped onto this conveyor where they are spread and start drying.

Ground up tea leaves undergoing oxidation.

Ground up tea leaves undergoing oxidation.

From there, we drove a bit further on Wadmalaw island to the Irvin House Vineyards, Charleston’s only winery. Like the San Sebastian winery in St. Augustine that we visited, the wine here is made from Muscadine grapes, which are native to Florida and the southeastern U.S. Jim and Ann Irvin planted 2700 vines in March of 2001, establishing the business. I’m not a great fan of muscadine wines, but the trip was fun and the wine-tasting was better. My favorite of the five wines that Irvin House produces was the Mullet Hall Red, a dry, red table wine.

Vines.   No grapes were visible yet.

Vines. No grapes were visible yet.

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Can't pass these up!

Can’t pass these up!

In addition to the Vineyard, Jim Irvin teamed with Scott Hewitt, establishing Firefly distillery on the property. This makes it one of the few places to have both a winery and distillery. This micro-distillery produces a number of spirits right on the island. Their specialty is sweet tea vodka. Now what could be more southern than that! They use the sweet tea produced right up the road by the Charleston Tea Plantation. There are several variations on the sweet tea vodka, including original, skinny, raspberry, and peach. There is also straight vodka and moonshine. They even make a couple of liquors and rums using Louisiana sugar cane. And the best part was… there was also a spirits testing room. I must say that the sweet tea spirits were pretty good – better than the muscadine wine.

Old Ford Pickup

Old Ford Pickup

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On the way back to town we stopped on John’s Island for a brief visit to the Angel Oak Tree, reportedly the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi at approximately 1500 years old. It stands over 65 feet high, its trunk is 28 feet in circumference, and its sprawling branches provide over 17,000 sq. feet of shade. Some of its branches are the size of tree trunks and lay over onto the ground under their own weight. Unfortunately, the little boy in me was suppressed by the prohibitions posted everywhere not to sit on, climb on, or in any other way molest the tree. It was impressive though.

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Look at this branch!

Look at this branch!

We then returned to Beatitude for another fine evening on the water of Charleston Harbor.

My view while relaxing in the cockpit.

My view while relaxing in the cockpit.

Another day is done.

Another day is done.

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