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.