Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina, as the wise, old song goes – that is, unless you have a glass of fine wine from La Belle Amie Vineyard in-hand.
Just a mile and a half west of the south Atlantic coast in Little River, S.C., and through the woods on the northern end of the Grand Strand, this family-owned vineyard is a tourist’s (and local’s) hidden treasure. Hop on one of Plantation Resort’s shuttle tours any Thursday at 10 am and you’ll return in the afternoon (with sacks of wine) and find out why this tour is something you don’t want to miss!
It starts with owner Vicki Bellamy, whose personality is larger than the 40 acres where the muscadine grape vines, gift shop and wine tasting room are now built, planted and thrive. She gathers tour guests like us ’round on the patio outside the gift shop in true storytelling fashion, peppered with plenty of comedic sass.
We’re sitting on what was once the grounds of the Bellamy farmhouse, which stood amidst a 600-acre tobacco plantation with roots that run as deep as the 1800s. Vicki’s late mother, Berta, in fact, was born and raised at the farmhouse. Berta, who passed away in 2002, as Vicki tells us, was, essentially, the reason for the birth of La Belle Amie (the European origin of the family name, meaning “the beautiful friend”) Vineyard.
When her mother, at the spry age of 86, returned to the farm about 25 years ago to tend to her ailing brother, Gifford, who then passed away in 1993, Vicki knew she needed to uproot from Texas and move back to her hometown with her. “This farm was like her Tara,” says Vicki.
But the Bellamy family’s Tara harvested tobacco, and that was a laboring crop Vicki didn’t want to struggle with. Instead, there was another vintage she had a hankering for – one that was planted in the family ancestry in the south of France and passed down to her Uncle Gifford, who had continued the tradition on this land in South Carolina with a couple of wild grapevines he dug out of the woods and replanted to “make some pretty good wine in a barrel some years,” says Vicki.
Those old grapevines still grow today in the vineyard’s four large vine arbors – two of them are more than 100 years old – and produce grapes that are used to make the grape preserves sold at the shop. In honor of Gifford, Vicki named her sweet red muscadine wine Gifford’s Red.
Vicki’s idea to carry on the family winemaking tradition in 1993 remained just that for a while, as she had no clue how to make the idea a reality. That is, until she conducted a hefty amount of research and teamed up with the vitacultural and enology program at NC State to learn the ins and outs of planting and nurturing her muscadine grapevines, the only varietal that will survive our area’s sandy soil. By 1995, Vicki cleared the fields and planted the first vineyard, followed by the second vineyard in 1996.
A wicked heaping of hurricanes over the next handful of years, however, ripped through those precious plants in the early years. But Vicki’s perseverance weathered the many storms that could’ve beaten her down before she even began, which is how the vineyard now thrives over today’s three acres of healthy vines that yield 8 to 10 tons of grapes per acre.
And Vicki’s mom, Berta, looks down from heaven with a smile over what her daughter has grown and accomplished on her Tara. Berta passed away in 2002.
La Belle Amie’s nearly two dozen wines include an alternate ego label: Twisted Sisters. “Because everyone has a twisted sister,” says Vicki.
The handful of wines take on fun names like “Beachin’ Babes” and “Island Mama” to seem less pretentious for the non-connoisseur.
As for the others, La Belle Amie will be your beautiful friend – and so will the staff in the wine shop. From the Goddess blush, a sweeter wine with a soft finish, to the Old Goat, a light-bodied red with a fruity finish and whites and dessert wines in between. All are bottled at the vineyard’s winery farther inland.
Surrounding the wine tasting bar are oodles of gifts and wine accessories, along with specialty finishing and dipping sauces, dressings, mustards and more. Wine tastings are served Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. Take a bottle of wine outside on the front porch or out on the pavilion to enjoy a picnic and live music on Wine Wednesdays and Wine Down Fridays, 12:30-4 pm. And on Saturdays, there’s always a festival or bonfire in the winter to heat things up on the farm.
Don’t miss the chance to bring a few of your favorite bottles to one of our favorite events, the Prime Rib and Pasta Dinner at Plantation Resort Thursday evenings, 5pm – 7 pm at the Activity Center.
Anytime you choose to go, the wine is always fine.
For more info, visit www.labelleamie.com.