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The Best Birthday Present? Your Own Birthday Entourage Of Course!

When it comes to birthdays, there are two kinds of people; those who love them and those who really do not want to celebrate getting another year older. Let me start out by saying I sit firmly entrenched on the side of those who go all out after completing another lap around the sun. For me, birthdays are an event to be celebrated, savored, and shared with those you love and care about the most. During this pandemic, birthdays are especially important to me. Sadly, I know too many individuals who have celebrated their last birthday, many succumbing to the ravages of covid-19.

This past December, on the 27th to be exact, I was blessed to celebrate my 64th birthday. As I have established, I love to celebrate this occasion; however, this birthday was special because it inched me closer to celebrating an incredible milestone. The next birthday will be a huge event for me and my family because I will have reached the magical age of retirement.

For many individuals, the age at which you retire can vary tremendously, but with Medicare eligibility starting at age 65 it is a target for many people seeking to hang up their work boots. After careful consultation with my wife and financial advisor I am hopeful that in less than a year I can leave behind me the duties and responsibilities of a middle school science teacher.

So, back to my recent birthday. Also, more specifically, my birthday entourage.

My family left it up to me how to celebrate my special day. I can assure you I had several options to consider. As an avid golfer I have often spent at least four hours or even more of my special day on the links. From Hilton Head to Pinehurst, I have often blown out the candles after a few birdies, bogeys and yes “others”. My culinary background has often lured me into a restaurant to commemorate the day especially dining establishments considered elegant or with foie gras on the menu (another culinary weakness).

But rest assured no one in my family was the least bit surprised when I proudly announced that for my 64th birthday I wanted to visit North Carolina vineyards and wineries – my passion. In addition, I had made plans to visit at least two brand new establishments that had been open less than a year. Rave reviews about these wineries on social media and breathtaking views equally abundant on the web assured me that Serre Vineyards, Mt. Airy ( and Hidden Vineyards, Dobson NC ( were two destinations that would make my birthday special. Plus, I had the ulterior motive of collecting more wine labels chronicling my visits to North Carolina vineyards and wineries.

No trip to Dobson is complete unless I stop in to visit Deane & Becky Muhlenberg at Haze Gray Vineyards Dobson NC ( ) and the recent release of their Aviator Red was more than enough reason to squeeze them into my busy day. If I had been fortunate enough to stay longer, I can assure you a few of their wine slushies would have been a part of my birthday festivities as well.

Finally, a stop at The Wisdom Table ( , located in downtown Elkin was chosen as the final stop for my birthday journey. My dear friends Jeremy & Krystle Stamps are living my personal dream to one day own a wine tasting room. I became enamored with this concept during a visit to the Napa/Sonoma wine country to celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary with my wife Mary. Although quite common in places like California and Michigan in North Carolina wine tasting rooms featuring multiple vineyards and wineries are rare. On a trip to The Wisdom Table, you could indulge in anything from a Pinot Noir flight to an Albarino flight with many offerings to choose from between. For those of you with a sweet tooth they always boast a menu of sweet offerings you are sure to find tempting.

And if all that were not enough, did I mention that Krystle Stamps is a gifted and talented seamstress who not only sells wine themed face masks at The Wisdom Table, but she has graciously agreed to collaborate with me on custom made face mask, bow tie and pocket square combinations that are sure to make me a candidate for “most dapper wine blogger”. On my birthday it just so happened that Krystle had a newly composed combination for me to test drive and provide her feedback on for future creations.

So, as you can see, I love to enjoy the pomp and circumstance of my birthday. I had meticulously planned all the details and components of my special day to make it one to remember. I had everything orchestrated and even an itinerary composed so the day would flow as if under the skillful hand of a seasoned tour guide. But, as the title alludes to, there was one thing that I did not plan on nor could I have ever seen this materialize – my own personal birthday entourage!

Let me share with you how this unfolded…

To embark on this birthday odyssey, that I had so carefully orchestrated, it would never have been even remotely considered without my wife by my side. Together she and I have visited 120 North Carolina vineyards and wineries. I was also blessed to have my daughter Stefani in town for the holidays as well before embarking on a trip to Breckinridge Colorado for skiing and New Years festivities. So far, the count is three – me, my wife, and my daughter.

Batman had Robin, the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Thelma had Louise and Cagney had Lacy. My partner is Bryant Harrison or as I like to call him my “wine ride or die”. No matter what the vineyard or winery, he and his wife Michelle are always ready to explore vineyards and wineries with me especially in the state we call home. From the Smoky Mountain railroad dining train experience to frequent trips to the Yadkin Valley the Harrisons are often by our side. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Bryant is a chemist employed at Vin Ventions (formerly Nomacorc) the world’s leading manufacturer of corks and closures? When they asked to share my birthday with me, I was more than delighted. So now, if you are keeping count, the tally is up to five. This is still three less that the requisite eight necessary to be deemed an entourage. So where did the remaining three people come from to round out my very first birthday entourage? Well, read on and do not forget your math. The count now stands at five.

We deliberately left our home in Holly Springs in time to have our mandatory Bojangles biscuit combo breakfast in Siler City before we head north on Hwy 421 to begin our day. We also considered carefully when the first winery opened for business. We intended to be one of the first patrons there especially since the birthday boy had created such an aggressive itinerary. Not only did we arrive early, but I had to pull over as I parked to let the owner come in. My friends Bryant and Michelle arrived shortly after us and together the five of us descended on Serre Vineyards tasting room.

When I walked into Serre (rhymes with stair) it was as if I had been there before although it was my first visit. Their social media coordinator, Heather, had artistically documented the construction of the building and the picturesque views on social media, especially on Instagram. So much so that rather than walking into a space I had never seen, I had the sense of seeing something for the first time I was familiar with – but truly could not appreciate.

The modern spacious tasting room is a welcome and inviting open area. It is obviously multi-functional and able to accommodate events from weddings to tastings. Its versatility is only exceeded by their picturesque view that is hard to describe in words. You truly must see it for yourself. From their vantage point perched high atop the crest of a mountainside you look down over the surrounding countryside for miles. For their array of wines to be incredibly delicious was the “pièce de resistance”. I could not have selected a better venue to kick off my slate of birthday activities. Things could not have gotten better! Yet, minutes after we walk in and are just beginning to take in the splendor of the winery three more people walk in.

And I know two of them!

Just a few weeks prior at a special holiday wine club gathering hosted by my friend Jay Raffaldini at Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery in Ronda, NC ( I had the pleasure of meeting David and Lorissa Vines. I am not sure exactly what our initial conversations were that day we met although wine, cigars and bow ties were likely among the topics we conversed on when first we met. What ever the topic, rest assured when I saw David and his wife at Serre it was like seeing an old friend that you had known for years. They were accompanied by their friend (now mine as well) Jason Meyer.

As fate would have it there was a table large enough to accommodate all of us and be socially distant. Between sips of wine and chatting, those of us around the table enjoyed dynamic conversation and delicious wine all under a beautiful Carolina Blue sky (sorry no allegiance to my friends in Chapel Hill, I will always be Wolfpack, that’s just the color the sky was lol). As we conversed, enjoyed fellowship and good wine under a crisp December sky in the Old North State I relished in my small role as a drum major for the wine industry in North Carolina.

As we sat and discussed the occasion and our plans for the day it was then that someone, I cannot remember at this late writing who asked where we were headed next, and from that point the birthday entourage was formed. As we discussed everything from Carolina Panthers and their drumline to the intricacies of making smores, over the course of a little over an hour we created memories I will long cherish.

By the time we arrived at Hidden Vineyards ( located in Dobson, NC we were a troupe of old friends. At Hidden Vineyards Claudia and her husband Josh continued the exceptional service and hospitality we were lavished with at Serre by Melissa and her staff. We were even treated to a private tour of the cabin they have on their property. A bottle of their petit manseng is tucked away in my wine cellar for just the perfect opportunity to again experience their quality wine making.

Afterwards, we traveled the short distance to Haze Gray Winery, located in Dobson NC. Becky and her husband Deane, both former veterans, have opened a relatively new winery that is quickly developing a following. I had seen rave reviews about their Aviator Red blend and was dying to give it a try. If you have not visited them, they are a must try stop in Yadkin Valley. If their live music does not lure you in their wine slushies will. After a brief but exhilarating visit with Becky Muhlenberg at Haze Gray we headed for our last stop of the day The Wisdom Table in downtown Elkin.

Just prior to my visit Jeremy, a certified cicerone, had released a “sparkling/champagne flight”. Since champagne and sparkling wines are among my all-time favorites to enjoy and often commensurate with celebratory occasions like birthdays to indulge in this flight was a no brainer.

Krystle presented me with a NC inspired face mask and bow tie combination and the visit was ceremoniously concluded with a peppermint crème brulee. My visit to The Wisdom Table that day was a fitting end to a storybook birthday celebration fitting for the moment. Although I can take credit for orchestrating portions of it, parts of it were truly a blessing that can only be of divine origin.

While enjoying myself at The Wisdom Table that day I ran into Chad & Christa Guebert, the owners of Golden Road Vineyards ( located in State Road. I had the privilege of meeting Chad at my very first NC Wine Bloggers Summit hosted by my good friends Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling (aka the NC Wine Guys). They reminded me that they were open for business and that I owed them a visit. I am glad to say that I did recently pay them a visit and they are sure to be the subject of a post soon.

After a few hours on the road and the curtain of darkness signaling the end of the day descended my 64th birthday sadly had to come to a finale.

Let me be clear. The allure of having your own birthday entourage with you in tow to celebrate your birthday not only appealed to my narcissistic side but my sense of vanity as well. However, the best part about my birthday entourage was the unique opportunity to share it with those outside my normal circle of family, friends, and acquaintances and make new ones. No doubt that as the individuals who were there that fateful day read this account, they will remember many tidbits that I have left out. Things like getting lost on the way from Serre to Hidden Vineyard momentarily taking a wrong turn and ending up in Virginia; or what expletive Michelle would use as a signal to Bryant as a warning he was treading on thin ice, the day is full of more memories than I can document here.

What made this birthday truly special was not only the fellowship and camaraderie, but the group of friends that allowed me to patronize multiple North Carolina vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms in the short span of a few hours. To see the look on the owners faces as my throng descended on them all intent to sample their offerings was gratifying and a feeling that I look forward to recreating soon. Many thanks for the individuals and wineries that made my 64th birthday a day to remember.

Stay tuned, the big one is less than a year away.

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Natalie Hampton
Natalie Hampton

What a fun birthday event, Arthur! Thanks for sharing the experience.


David Nershi
David Nershi

Arthur, what a great tale filled with plenty of wine adventures. Can't wait to see what's in store for your next birthday!

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