by Christine Tibbetts
CNHI News Service
— Chemists with a zest for the outdoors seem to be creating soft adventures for travelers in western North Carolina.
I swapped my notion of science limited to test tubes after meeting at least four chemists in Morganton, a cheerful, energetic community on Interstate 40, in between Asheville and Charlotte.
Morganton’s location between two metro areas indicates easy driving or fly-in access. It also means mountains, vast vistas, four seasons, lush grape vineyards and abundant apple orchards.
Hiking opportunities are as plentiful as daydreaming. Table Rock in the Pisgah National Forest lured me to the top — 3,950 elevation.
But it’s the science that makes Morganton, with Bordeaux-style wines, microbrews from locally-sourced ingredients, apples of 15 varieties, and a community of pottery making and blacksmithing.
Chemical engineer Jennifer Foulides left a high-end career in New York City, choosing this Burke County land hugging the Catawba River to expand established vineyards and perfect the making of wine with her husband, Ed Wisnieski.
“We prefer chemistry to wizardry,” she says, “creating a full circle at Silver Fork Winery: growing the vines, aging wine in French, American and Hungarian barrels, bottling and then sharing in our tasting room.”
Why so named? These 32 acres produce grapes in the confluence of Silver and White Fork creeks. Organic chemistry Ph.D. Larry Kehoe planted the first five acres, now well established after 21 years.
At Fonta Flora Brewery, chemist Todd Boera altered the water in his brewing tanks to accommodate 30 pounds of figs procured locally, transporting them on his bicycle.
This brew master oversees seven tanks in the brand-new microbrewery he developed with brothers Mark and David Bennett.
“This is farm-to-table beer,” says Mark Bennett. “We’re brewing to match the seasons and flavors of western North Carolina.”
History reigns too. Fonta Flora is real -- an African American community, submerged in 1912 with the building of a dam to create today’s water sports mecca, Lake James.
Check out the original community map on the brewery wall. Chemist-brew masters who want people to remember.
Apple picking in Morganton benefits from chemistry too. “U Pick” happens at Apple Hill Orchard, where farmer-owner Harley Prewitt says this: “Chemistry unheard of in the 1960s guides us today. Unimaginable then are the tools we have now.”
This apple-picking traveler wanted to know about pesticides. Prewitt says 13.3 ounces is enough to care for his 22 acres.
Chemistry at Apple Hill Orchard seems to influence the size of the trees. Prewitt describes Apple Hill this way: “ Smaller trees, controlled to 14 feet for easy picking. We are almost a pedestrian orchard.”
Pottery relies on science with the art, and Morganton has potters with active studios.
Hamilton Williams shares practical chemistry: “Stoneware offers usability being stronger than earthenware, and the beauty of things is enhanced by using them every day. Williams adds the details easily as he shapes vessels on his wheel in the downtown studio he calls ClayWorks.
It’s hard to know how to title Dean Curfman, founder of Oak Hill Iron in Morganton.
“We’re not your typical blacksmith. We open your imagination,” he says of the 25-acre design and production campus where he lives with his interior designer wife, Lynn Curfman.
“This is part art. What we try to do as artists is incorporate items of nature and create illusion in our work,” Dean says.
Oak Hill Iron’s galleries offer functional hand-forged sinks, bedsteads, fireplace screens, light fixtures, decorative tables, stove vent covers and much more.
Most days visitors get lucky asking for a peek in the shop where the forging happens—that means moving metal, so anticipate heat.
Call ahead for the “Trailhead of Western North Carolina” guide for specific maps with bicycle, auto and motorcycle routes, and details for trails about wine and ale, history, art and oh so many outdoor walking and hiking options.
Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for the CNHI News Service. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com