Monday, April 1, 2013

Wine and Spirits: Wine-tasting and ghost chasing in Tennessee

Hidden within the highlands of the Upper-Cumberland region of Tennessee, Red Boiling Springs is a retromantic and mysterious destination for anyone seeking some Victorian era nostalgia, delicious wine and perhaps even an encounter with the unexplained.

Looking for an escape from the mundane, Angela and I booked a suite at the Thomas House, one of three bed-and breakfast style hotels in the small town. Before arriving at our intended destination we first stopped in for a visit at the Red Barn Winery a few miles away. The narrow lane which leads to the quaint vineyard epitomizes the rural Tennessee landscape that many who live in the urbanized areas surrounding Nashville forget exists.

The Red Bard Winery
Inside the Red Barn we found a welcoming atmosphere for tasting and a wide selection of wines that are made on site. This isn’t Napa Valley of course, nor is it trying to be. Tennessee wines have their own unique history and distinct taste. In fact, winemaking in Tennessee was purely a bootlegging industry after prohibition laws were in place after commercial wine production ceased. Not until recent decades have wineries begun to produce native varieties again for commercial sale. After my second time coming to Red Barn, I can confirm that it offers some of the best in Tennessee.

Leaving the picturesque vineyard, we then ventured to our final destination. The history of the Thomas House is interlaced with that of Red Boiling Springs which began as a resort town during the Victorian era. The location owed its popularity to the belief that local mineral springs had curative properties and restorative health benefits. Once boasting more than a dozen hotels, dance halls and an amusement park, it's popularity continued to roar through the 20's and 30's as a get-away for the well-to-do of society. However, the postwar era brought its decline as transportation to other places became easier with the new interstate system. Except for a small resurgence in the 1950’s its decay was steady until a flood all but destroyed the town in 1969.
Thomas House

The Thomas House is intriguing to say the least. It’s widely known for its paranormal activity, making it a frequent destination for researchers of the paranormal. It was even the location for an investigation which was featured in an episode of Sy Fi Channel’s Paranormal State. The building itself dates to 1890 and exists on the site of a previous hotel. An all brick structure, it has two floors and countless rooms to explore, mostly decorated in the flamboyant style of the Victorian era. Several rooms are also dedicated to various themes like ‘Gone with the Wind’, one full of antique Christmas decorations, still another one is full of children’s toys.

Gone with the Wind Room
We made reservations on a night when they were hosting a group of swing dancers which contributed to the timeless atmosphere of the hotel. After dancing we sat and talked with the Cole family who has owned the hotel since 1993. They relayed to us a number of strange encounters with apparitions that appeared to be living people only to disappear from sight. Unfortunately we had no experiences ourselves that could be characterized as paranormal.

This sort of destination isn’t for everyone. If you are too easily freaked out, require five star accommodations or enjoy the music of Ke$ha and Lil’ Wayne then you probably won’t get the beauty of this place. But the adventurer, the wine connoisseur or the artist will all find something here that captivates and refreshes them, much as it did for those who were looking for an escape more than a century ago.

Room at the Thomas House

Creepy Swimming pool

Donaho Hotel

Spring House behind Donaho Hotel