Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beaches, Mountains, Vineyards, Food 
After completing a whirlwind tour of plantations, farms, markets, dairies and vineyards all sponsored by Georgia’s outstanding tourism department, we’re headed out for more original stories this month as the heat gradually rises. Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and it’s also one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains. Doc Lawrence will be there to meet the challenges and adventures of the “White Lightning Tour” providing our readers with lively reports and exciting photographs of this treasured and beautiful part of America.

The new posts in Wines Down South include stories about two Georgia cities, Statesboro and Vidalia, complete with a glimpse into Georgia's rich history, cultural experiences, outdoor adventures, world-class attractions, culinary delights and more. Known around the world for sweet onions, the Vidalia area is full of local flavor offering unique shopping, dining, scenic drives, and outdoors adventures.

Less than 60 minutes from Georgia's coast, Statesboro is emblematic of Southern charm and is home to Georgia Southern University. The school’s 11-acre Botanical Garden blooms year-round and the Wildlife Center teems with raptors, reptiles and waterfowl. We explore the new Civil War archeology finds at the Natural History Museum and show you how to have a better getaway with fine and antique shopping, arts venues, a historic downtown stroll, and more than 200 restaurants. The Bulloch County courthouse is beautiful and the Saturday Farmer’s Market is just across the street from the Emma Kelly Center for the Performing Arts, named after one of the great characters in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

Doc Lawrence pairs filet mignon (click for recipe) from Will Harris’ nationally acclaimed White Oak Pastures (see video on the right) with two Georgia wines, one from Horse Creek Winery in Nashville and Still Pond in Arlington. Both are featured on the right.

Visit Wines Down South and join Doc and Lynne Brandon at Lauri Jo Bennett’s cannery in Norman Park Georgia, have a glass of something special at the only tasting room on Georgia’s Interstate system, and watch Vidalia onions sorted and packed for the world to enjoy.

Summer is underway and we want you to come along as we enjoy the delights of our South.
It's a heralded farm producing the best beef, chicken and more for great restaurants and respected stores like Whole Foods. Enjoy the tour with owner Will Harris (click).


teak Oscar Recipe

For the White Oak Pastures' Steak Oscar few wines work better than the Hahira Red from Ed and Andrea Perry's Horse Creek Winery in Nashville, Georgia.

The Bulloch County Courthouse in lovely Statesboro
Wines Down South

Sheila Brewington    Doc Lawrence    Stephen W. Cannon    Val Kruse
 Jordan Bloomingdale    Guy McKenzie     Anne Marie O'Keefe     
Lynne Brandon
Copyright © 2012 Wines Down South, All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 24, 2012



“When I want you in my arms,
  When I want you and all your charms
  Whenever I want you,
   all I have to do is dream.”
                  Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, recorded by The Everly Brothers

By Doc Lawrence

NORMAN PARK, GA—This small town nestled deep in South Georgia is nearer to Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city than the great metropolis of Atlanta, unofficial headquarters of the New South. Colquitt County is the home of the Georgia Baptist Convention and the fertile soil grows almost anything that roots. Nearby Moultrie was the home of the great songwriting team, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant who as husband and wife wrote over 1500 songs for legends like the Everly Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Buddy Holly, R.E.M., Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan and others, and they penned “Rocky Top,” the official song of the University of Tennessee,
Drink the wonderful water here and you might feel an itch to write a love song.

Lauri Jo Bennett has her jams, jellies, and pickled vegetable headquatered in this fertile land. A highly respected schoolteacher, she longed to plunge into the challenges of entrepreneurism and began making gourmet delights from local sourced fruits and vegetables. This family effort now sells a couple dozen different products like pickled green beans, asparagus, okra and fabulous Strawberry pepper jelly in over a slew of states. Everything is made by hand from scratch including the labels. Laurie Jo is emblematic of farm-to-table and needs no hype.

Lauri Jo is the real deal: impossible not to like and admire. Leaving Norman Park I wondered if any state official ever thinks of having her as a representative of Georgia’s best. I can see Laurie Jo serving her goodies to the communist rulers of China served along with the wines of nearby Horse Creek. Friendships are crafted this way. It’s part of the magic of South Georgia’s hospitality tradition, something as natural as a smile and handshake.

Laurie Jo began her company with a dream. This is a place where dreams are revered because they often come true.

Enjoy more about the food and wine of this great part of Dixie:

Thursday, May 17, 2012




By Doc Lawrence

“You can reach over in the corner mama
  and hand me my travelin’ shoes
  You know by that I’ve got them
   Statesboro blues.”
               Blind Willie McTell, recorded by The Allman Brothers

STATESBORO, GEORGIA. It’s home to Georgia Southern, an acclaimed university that serves as the cultural hub of all that is wonderful about this deep South region nestled in the Coastal Plain. Vidalia onions are grown nearby and the town of the same name has a museum dedicated to this edible bulb and all it means to the local economy and food heritage.

Statesboro, made very famous by the Allman Brothers rendition of Blind Willie McTell’s blues classic, has all the energy of a college town and is a good place to lose those bad economy blues. Also, it is the launching pad for the annual Georgia Media Marketplace a press tour like no other in any state.

Joined by noted travel writers from other states and Canada, the itinerary includes visits to places like Horse Creek Winery in Nashville, a serious operation producing award winning muscadine and vinifera wines, with dinner and overnight at nearby Shadow Oak Plantation.

Lakeland is home to Georgia Olive Farms, the leading East Coast producer and marketer of olive trees and Georgia Olive Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is a near perfect prelude to Lauri Jo’s Southern Style Canning in Norman Park. Lauri Jo Bennett’s down home cooking is in Mason jars and blossomed into a full-blown market in 13 states
Other visits include Weeks Honey Farm in Omega, Gin Creek and Sparkman’s Cream Valley in Hartsfield.

Glass Enterprises Gator Houses in Camilla is one of only three-dozen alligator farms in the United States and Pelham, with a remarkable downtown, is home to the Pelham Wildlife Festival, held in October.

Still Pond Farm Winery in Arlington is Muscadine headquarters. The manicured vineyards supply fruit for the 11 award winning wines and many other wineries throughout the country.
Publix and Whole Foods feature the meats from White Oak Pastures in Bluffton a family farm that cooperates with nature to produce artisan products that are healthy, safe, nutritious and delicious.

Arlington’s Quail Country is an Orvis endorsed hunter’s paradise. Literally a step back in time showcasing Southern hospitality and a wildlife habitat.

Everything is finished with a tour of Blakely and Early County featuring the Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge and the 12th Century Kolomoki Indian Mounds.

Returning to the Atlanta International airport, a survey seems to be in order: Is it true that the Statesboro Blues make you feel good all over?

More about the food adventures of Georgia and Florida:

Monday, May 14, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

Ponce de Leon led the first European’s to land in Florida, but it was oil tycoon Henry Flagler who was truly the state’s founding father. Next year, the Sunshine State embarks on a celebration of Florida’s 500th anniversary, but for now we toast to Flagler’s foresight and iron-willed determination. This year marks a century since his Florida East Coast Railroad joined Key West and Florida’s Atlantic coast with the world.


Flagler, who along with John D. Rockefeller was co-founder of Standard Oil, became one of the most influential leaders during the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His monumental projects in Florida connected St Augustine to Palm Beach, Miami and Key West, producing an immeasurably beneficial impact on this economic and cultural development of the state. A swamp became an oasis featuring luxury hotels more opulent and better designed than most counterparts Europe. And through Flagler’s efforts, rail transportation opened up Florida tourism and commerce to the rest of the world.

For some time now I traveled the entire route of the Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, from where it began in St. Augustine, then south just the way Flagler built it. Flagler’s love of luxury accommodations is fascinating. Although he wasn’t much for heavy drinking or extravagant dining, his hotels along the rail line remain international legends, time-honored examples of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach has no equal in the country.

The Breakers, an architectural wonder adorned with priceless objets d’art, represents the best in gourmet dining and fine wines, maintaining a global reputation for excellence. My visits there over the years include unforgettable Bordeaux wine dinners, a delightful conversation with rock star Sting, a frequent guest, days and nights covering the gourmet gathering of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, and more than a few overnight pampered stays. Today, a glimpse of the Breakers from the street conjures up images of Henry Flagler whose descendants still own it. Here is an American treasure, just as important in its way as Flagler’s railroad.

Flagler, with a little help from ships, connected New York City with Havana via Key West. If there were delays, his resort hotels in Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Miami, Palm Beach and Key West made a layover a fairytale experience.

With the imposition of mindless Prohibition, the popularity of the “Havana Special,” as Flagler’s passenger service from Miami to Key West was called, soared. While “dry” America sunk into boredom, the good life continued in the Conch Republic. Les Stamford’s magnificent book, “Last Train to Paradise,” recounts typical days there during America’s failed social experiment: “The city’s bars never closed, the rumrunners never stopped their trade between Key West and Cuba, and federal agents were known to beg off any posting to the wide open southernmost city.”

Flagler, according to those who worked with him, was motivated to build his railroad by vision while the luxury resorts were extensions of his lifestyle. More than one colleague recalled that Flagler never asked if his railroad would make a profit, but instead wondered whether it could be built.

Flagler’s remarkable achievement suggests that there likely would be little of consequence in Southeast Florida today without his rail line. However, the Key West part of the story ended in tragedy. In 1935, before hurricanes had names, a monstrous storm struck Key West northward, destroying lives, property and most of the Flagler rail line in the southernmost extremity. Ernest Hemingway, then a Key West resident, reported much of the tragedy. His words are not for the feint of heart.

Henry Flagler died as a result of a fall in his beautiful home Whitehall in Palm Beach. Today, his mansion is the acclaimed Flagler Museum. Among the last words Flagler spoke were these: “Sometimes, at the close of the day, when I am fortunate enough to be alone, I come here. I look at the water and the trees yonder and the sunset and I wonder if there is anything in the other world so beautiful as this.”

NOTE: The Southern Culinary Triangle is a hot new tourism magnet. Tupelo honey, Mayhaw jelly, goats that faint, artisinal cheeses all with some gourmet restaurants dotting the landscape:


Thursday, May 10, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

My dear departed mother left a trove of priceless memories. She remains the best self-taught cook I’ve known, a kitchen magician who could transform things ordinary into a feast for angels. All moms are special and all things possible begin with them. Alabama’s tough and crusty coaching legend Bear Bryant always ended his weekly television show with a command: “Call your mama!”

He meant each day.

My stylish mom loved to cook and entertain. She glowed with beauty and strength of character. Her favorite hobbies were family and friends. At Christmas, I might get a handful of cards from a few close friends. Mom would be deluged, proving the old adage that you receive love by giving it.

She was from northeast Alabama. You can see towering Lookout Mountain from the place she was born. Old cemeteries nearby have graves of Revolutionary War soldiers, Confederates and many strangers who might be kin. The town, once a warm mineral water spa for tourists, no longer exists. The area is called Sequoia Valley and it’s as lovely as anything in Wyoming or Montana. Rural, big skies and underground caverns you can explore. I feel her presence there.

My mother was a child of the Depression and World War II. During my baby days, she was very ill, in and out of hospitals, but somehow managed to carve out a career with one of the South’s legendary retail stores, Rich’s.  I still have folks stop me while I’m shopping in Atlanta, asking about her.

With apologies to all the talented chefs I have the privilege to know and admire, my mother could take almost nothing and miraculously create a banquet. Sunday dinner (she never skipped church) was a spread of congealed salads, perfectly seasoned fresh vegetables, fried chicken, roast beef, biscuits and gravy plus cornbread and desserts. Tea was brewed and the table was set with boundless love.

To this day, I’ve never had a better dessert that her lemon custard pie with graham cracker crust topped with billows of soft meringue. And if she owned a cookbook, no one ever saw it.

I learned that Elvis died when my mother called me. Rain or shine, she attended his concerts in Atlanta. She adored the Atlanta Braves. A joke in our family was that mom would not die during baseball season. She departed on a cold December night.

Sunday I’ll make the journey to the cemetery with flowers. Mom is buried next to her youngest son who predeceased her by three decades, an unimaginable pain she carried with unwavering dignity.

The roses will be bright red. The prayer in gratitude. The memories precious. Somewhere from the backroads, I’ll hear her favorite hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” the version by Elvis and the Jordanaires.  I’ll be back for sure on her September birthday. Maybe then the Braves will be in first place with a chance to win it all in 2012.

Nothing would make her immortal soul happier.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA. It’s the stage where Elvis performed four shows in the spring of 1956 before the Ed Sullivan TV appearances. A magnificent Moorish design, a tribute to the performing arts, the old gal with its splendor and history was once scheduled to be torn down by mindless developers and likely would have met a wrecking ball without local outrage, philanthropy and some special events by The Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers and other celebrities.

All is forgiven now as this great Deep South city welcomes back to the Fabulous Fox stage an old friend, Garrison Keillor hosting a live broadcast nationally and internationally of A Prairie Home Companion. Keillor long ago revealed that the inspiration for the show combining music, comedy, farce and variety came from enjoying Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry on a journalism assignment.

During past shows, Keillor has, through music and program segments reintroduced many who fell into obscurity, all Georgia natives and local stars in another era, particularly Blind Willie McTell who played a 12-string guitar and performed for quarters at the Blue Lantern, a honky tonk that once flourished on nearby Ponce de Leon Avenue. Blind Willie is easy to remember when the Allman Brothers sing his glorious, “Statesboro Blues.”

This week’s show also features the incredible vocal sound effects of Fred Newman, a native of LaGrange in West Georgia.

Atlanta is a near perfect place for Prairie Home. A crossroads of momentous events and home to many who transformed America and the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up here, preached sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church and is buried not far from the Fox. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in minutes away. Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia DeHavilland, Margaret Mitchell and the cast of “Gone With The Wind,” partied the night away across the street at the posh Georgian Terrace Hotel after the world premiere of the movie. Ray Charles recorded “I Got A Woman” at a nearby radio studio.

I’ll be there, looking for friends and famous faces. Maybe a glimpse of Ted Turner, Hank Aaron or Andrew Young. Might spot comedians Ron White or Jeff Foxworthy, musicians Sir Elton John or Greg Allman or even movie mogul Tyler Perry. Before the curtain rises, there’s time for hot dogs and a frosted orange at The Varsity, literally around the corner.

A special starry night in the capital of the South.

Vacation idea: Thomasville near Georgia's border with Florida.

Sunday, May 6, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

NORTH WILKESBORO, NC- It’s the childhood home of the great Junior Johnson, the man who made NASCAR a national sport and gave Moonshine some legitimacy. Immortalized by Tom Wolfe’s story in Esquire as “The Last American Hero,” Johnson remains a legend in progress selling country hams and promoting his Midnight Moon, legal North Carolina-distilled moonshine that is, according to the irrepressible racer turned entrpreuneur, “smoother than vodka and better than whiskey.”

This annual event, the “Shine To Wine” Festival showcases the food, art, music, folk traditions and yes, the always amazing and delicious wines of North Carolina. Daniel Boone once lived here and Tom Dooley, the subject of the folk song of the same name was executed here after the Civil War. Karen Reynolds’s outstanding play ‘Tom Dooley,” suggests that he might have been innocent. You make up your mind after watching the play performed locally during the ensuing season .

Carl White, the host and producer of the highly popular television series, “Life in the Carolinas,” is a native of Wilkes County and a familiar face in this small and lovely city considered by tourists as the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. White’s television programs explore the cultural treasures of North and South Carolina. His programs have no equal anywhere in the South.

While the music may be favored to Bluegrass, North Carolina has a rich music heritage and everything from jazz to gospel manifests almost on cue. What draws visitors here, I believe, is authenticity. This is America and it is the South. You almost want to bottle everything, particularly the lovely, gentle accents, knowing that they will be absorbed by popular culture and soon disappear.

Some of my favorite wines from wineries I know well and admire were represented here including wines from Laurel Gray Vineyards. Kim and Benny Myers’ exceptional Viognier, Pinot Gris and  Meritage reminds the nation that North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley wineries are major forces on the Southern dinner table.

With some works by local artists, two bottles of Junior’s Midnight Moon and some Laurel Gray wines in the trunk, the next destination beckoned. But, I’ll be back. For those who love the unspoiled South, North Carolina from the Tennessee border to the Outer Banks is almost an obligatory journey


Wednesday, May 2, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

SUMMERVILLE, GA- Rev. Howard Finster was Georgia’s spiritual Rock of Gibraltar, a man of God who had divinely-inspired visions and acted upon them. His art works were dated and numbered and total in the many thousands. Few remember him as a musician. The self taught artist and country preacher was also an accomplished Bluegrass banjo picker, and he loved music. Like everything about Rev. Finster, music, like all God’s children, was the sum of component parts.

In the world of Finster-and it remains a very good world-we are one.

Finster Fest was one of my memorable journeys. This year, with some new life breathed into it, it’s being held at the park in Summerville. It’s an easy drive from Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Birmingham and worth the time. If you hear reggae, country, rock, gospel, bluegrass, R & B (chances are you will), all the better. In past years during Finster Fest, I sat on the porch with Rev. Finster while all kinds of diverse music was playing and listened to this grand man of tell me about his favorite scripture. He never once failed to say that God loved me.

This is also a wonderful opportunity to meet Rev. Finster’s close friend, Chicago gallery owner David Leonardis. David, a wonderful young man, has introduced Finster’s art to new generations and to an expanded audience. He has invested resources into preserving the Finster legacy here and throughout the world. Stop be the Howard Finster Vision House, once Rev. Finster’s home where he received his mission from above to create art, and look for David Leonardis at the two-day festival.

I’ll be there Saturday, May 5 and Sunday as well.. It will be like old times and you’ll love the folk art, colorful countryside, music, good food and fellowship.

Great Wine Event In West Georgia: