By Debi Lander
Hendersonville, NC, may be overshadowed by its neighbor Asheville, but when it comes to apples, the smaller mountain city shines. Hendersonville ranks as the seventh largest producer of apples in America. Since I adore apples, I accepted an invitation to participate in an agritourism tour.
What exactly is agritourism? By definition: any agriculturally-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm, ranch or other business. So, you’d expect to visit apple orchards, and you’d be right. Families, often multiple generations, come together for outings to the farms. They enjoy picking apples off the tree or choosing among the numerous varieties on sale. The farms also sell produce and small-batch products like apple butter, apple salsa, applesauce, and yummy bakery items such as fried apple hand pies and apple cider donuts.
At Grandad’s Orchard, visitors can get lost in the cornfield maze or jump around haystacks. The most fun, however, seems to be shooting an apple cannon. Load an apple and fire at a target. The fruit explodes when it hits, bringing lots of laughs. Those hard-to-please teenagers love this activity.
Stepp’s Orchards offers three apple cannons (the appeal crosses all ages), tractor rides, and pick your own sunflowers as well as apples. Don’t miss their delicious apple slushy.
Orchards aren’t the only places on an agritourism tour. Henderson County was recently named an official American Viticultural Area, and their three vineyards are producing surprisingly good wines. Burntshirt Vineyards runs an estate winery, meaning all the grapes used in their wines grow on site. Taste a dry or sweet wine flight or take a complimentary vineyard tour. Drive up to Point Lookout Vineyards and bask in a gorgeous mountain panorama seen from 2,900 feet.
More than the typical red and whites, some varietals include plum, vanilla, blackberry, citrus or espresso. In addition to wine, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards is growing apple trees from Normandy, France, to make a hard cider that tastes much like champagne. Utterly surprising and delicious.
Hard ciders have become very popular and Hendersonville’s Bold Rock Cidery offers some of the finest. An incredible 70 tons of apples go through Bold Rock every week, all converted to hard cider and seltzer. Sit back and sample a cider flight and learn about the apples that created them.
I hadn’t considered textiles, but the Oriole Mill uses only natural fibers. The very complicated operation weaves artistic patterns into upholstery and fabrics for home furnishings such as quilts, pillows, bags and towels. On a behind the scenes tour, I watched a Jacquard loom in action, first in slow motion, then at full speed. The tour requires reservations, but is free.
You might wonder how the Carl Sandburg Home National Park Historic Site would fit in with agritourism. The reason is, Carl Sandburg’s wife bred champion milk-producing goats, and the darling descendants from the herd are residents. You can stroll the surrounding trails and pet the dairy goats for free, but you need to purchase a ticket to tour the home of the “Poet of the People.”
Japanese Maple trees are a specialty of MrMaple.com, a business run by two young men in Hendersonville. Their weekly podcasts have become YouTube sensations, and they are now internationally famous as are their unique species of the trees. They ship anywhere.
As you can tell, Hendersonville is a lively place. The downtown shops are pedestrian-friendly and full of excellent restaurants featuring local farm produce. A few gift shops devote space to locally made arts and crafts. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of unusual attractions and heartily recommend a visit to the area.
If you go: VisitHendersonvilleNC.org
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander