Warm sun and a cool breeze graced the day as guests stepped down from their busses onto the grounds of three local wineries in Lee County.
Sixty-eight guests met for the Auburn-Opelika wine trail at the Opelika Fairgrounds at 8 a.m. Friday to climb aboard the two Tiger Transit buses that would transport them through the countryside of the county.
The Lee County Extension Office, hosts of the Master Gardeners tour in the spring, sponsored the wine tour.
Guests were taken on luxurious and all-inclusive tours of Five Points Farms, Hodges Vineyards & Winery and Whippoorwill Vineyards.
Emily Sanderson, from the Auburn area, came with three friends for a relaxing Friday getaway.
"So far, so good,” Sanderson said. "It has been a lot of fun getting to learn about the different grapes in the area. I have learned a lot about the process of the wine making.”
Bees buzzed around as visitors tasted wine and dined on the lunch provided by Acre.
Tara Barr and Chuck Brown began this project four years ago with a simple idea, a little bit of passion and a few phone calls.
"Our goal was to expand our agri-tourism market, and so we partnered with Auburn-Opelika tourism to feature websites so we could bring people out to see what was available locally,” Barr said.
Each site featured different aspects, unique to the winery.
Five Points focused on the different grapes they had, and the production with their grapes, as well as sharing their story of how they got started. Hodges had done the table wine with a meet and greet and focused on how they bottled their wine on the tour.
Each host had the opportunity to select their own script and service and tailored the guests experiences to their own style.
"We did a wine tour three years ago that was really successful, and we had the three nearby regionally, and we thought that would be a good test," Barr said of this event. "So this is really our pilot project this year. … So far, everyone has really enjoyed it.”
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Guests arrived at Hodges Vineyards around 11:30 a.m., with the rolling hills greeting them.
Hodges, located in Camp Hill, has a full selection of wines from on-site vineyards. The bartender recommended the sweet blueberry wine, made primarily with blueberries from Alabama. Among the staff's favorites were the peach and blueberry wines.
"We hope to increase people coming to the wineries and purchasing the local wine,” Barr said.
Guests on the tour joined from Auburn, Opelika, Troy, Montgomery, Columbus and other surrounding areas.
Barr hopes that the vineyards will be open to the idea of hosting a spring wine tour and tasting in 2018.
"It has been what we thought it was going to be," she said. "We hope that it will be something we will continue.”
“It was a beautiful day looking out over and exploring local vineyards,” said Rebecca O'Rear, a guest. "We have learned a lot, and we didn’t even realize that these places existed, but it has been such a great experience.”
Tickets to the wine tour were $40 for each person, and the ticket included transportation to the vineyards, lunch of special chicken salad and sauce from Acre and a bottle of wine from one of the locations.
"We couldn't have a prettier day," Barr said.