It was a deliberate destination: address in phone, comfortable shoes and coffee to go. We were headed to Chattooga Belle Farm, a 138-acre Eden where orchards and vineyards are heavy with fruits destined for jam or the distillery, brides flock for the ideal wedding and where, I discovered, the best reason to go out of the way is exactly that. It is out of the way.
As we drove from Greenville to the farm, traffic and parking lots were replaced by rolling farmlands surrounding clapboard houses unchanged for generations. Green spread into green, and the horizon became a soft misty-blue wave as the Blue Ridge Mountains came into view. While eons of wear have made these hills seem gentle and accessible, they are, in fact, home to 125 peaks above 5,000 feet in elevation, a height that creates some of South Carolina’s most astonishingly beautiful landscapes and rushing whitewater rivers—and Chattooga Belle Farm.
Just off U.S. Highway 76, we saw the Belle’s Bistro sign. We arrived just in time for lunch. Our patio table overlooked acres of pristine vineyards and orchards, long stretches of lush green lawn and rows of white chairs set for that evening’s wedding as a cool breeze descended from the nearby mountains. We learned that the berry patches were ripe for picking, and that the apples, grapes and stone fruit would be ready to pick in a few weeks.
Lunch was (sorry vegetarians) Chattooga Belle Farm natural grass-fed Black Angus beef burgers blended with herbs, apple salsa and a mixed-greens salad with blueberries and goat cheese. From our table, we could see the apple trees, the blueberries were down the hill and the cattle were grazing near the distillery. This is farm-to-table in its purest form.
As we ate, an old school bus loaded with rafts wound down the hill. We asked the waitress where it was going. “To the river,” she answered.
The Chattooga River, just minutes from the farm, is designated by Congress as Wild and Scenic, and protected for its stunning beauty. In a drop of almost 2,000 feet, the river forms Class 2–5 rapids and offers an irresistible attraction for adventurous rafters, campers, hikers and trout anglers. It is indeed wild and scenic.
After lunch, we walked next door to the popular farm store filled with jams, compotes, meats and other goodies from the farm or neighboring Certified SC Grown farms. We also saw a stack of empty baskets for visitors who wanted to stroll the farm and pick their own fruit. We opted for store-bought goodies on this trip, including apple butter, sweet pickles and blackberry jam.
The clerk told us that the bottles of brandy, whiskey, moonshine, vodka and wine for sale were from Chattooga Belle Farm Distillery located just down the hill.
As the justifiably proud owner, Ed Land, told us, “The fruit never leaves the farm. It goes from tree and vine to still to barrel to bottle.” In the one-room distillery, there’s a small bar for free tastings, a vat where mash bubbles, oak barrels stacked along the wall and a one-bottle-at-a-time filler and corker next to a table where labels are applied by hand. The bottles go on the shelf, and as Ed says about the vodka in particular, “It gets sold as fast as I can make it.” No retail outlets, no online sales.
As we left the distillery, the tuxedoed groom and groomsmen were coming in, as the groom said, “to get a drink to relax” before the evening’s wedding. Ed laughed and told him that he was limited to one drink or “they’d both be in big trouble with the bride.”
But there’d be no trouble. There was a gentle breeze, a dappled sun on the vineyard, white chairs in a row and an ideal setting for a wedding—or just a visit to an out-of-the-way Eden.Explore farmers markets across the state.