To become acquainted with The Cotton Gin, one must begin with the cotton gin itself, the preserved metal machine with scales that still resides in the front building of the Wright family’s modern-day general store. As Tommy Wright, one of the owners of the business, eloquently puts it, “The cotton gin is the story.” In 1956, the Wright family, who had farmed and hunted in Currituck County since around 1850, purchased a working cotton gin. This purchase was a bit of a departure for the family, who farmed edible crops such as beans, potatoes and corn. The family didn’t intend to gin cotton, however. Instead, they converted the building into a dry goods store in 1960, and the cotton gin became a symbol of an older agricultural practice. For the Wrights, it illustrates both the family’s connection to the past and its adaptability and ingenuity.
Today, The Cotton Gin marries tradition and innovation, an approach that can be seen in all aspects of the Wright family’s business. First, there’s the shopping. According to Candace Wright, The Cotton Gin offers a “maze of shopping,” in the best sense of the word. The flagship store in Jarvisburg (in the heart of Currituck County) mixes the location’s history and down-home charm with sophisticated clothing brands such as Vineyard Vines, Southern Tide and Simply Southern and jewelry brands that include Pandora, Brighton and Spartina. The enormously popular Dune Jewelry incorporates Outer Banks beach sand into its silver rings, bracelets and charms. Candace describes The Cotton Gin as a place with Southern Coastal character where each of the many rooms houses different merchandise. The other locations — in Corolla, Duck and Nags Head — boast this same ambiance and offer everything from coastal quilts to nautically themed home decor to waterfowl decoys to Christmas decorations. Each store also has a wine cellar and offers free wine tastings from the Wright family’s own wine label, Sanctuary Vineyards.
The wines at Sanctuary Vineyards are delightfully diverse, their poetic names evoking the history and character of the Outer Banks. John Wright, vineyard manager and member of the seventh generation to work the land, says, “Our most popular wines are our Wild Pony White, Morton (dry red blend), Pearl (Albariño), Coastal Collage (dry red blend) and Plank (sweet muscadine).” Although Sanctuary keeps sweet muscadine wines on the bar for visitors who love this native grape, the winery is becoming known for its dry wines, both red and white, and has won several awards for these. Growing varietals from France and Italy is another way the family shows its ingenuity.
Wine isn’t all visitors can find at Sanctuary Vineyards. John explains, “Sanctuary Vineyards appeals to visitors who like to see farm life while still being just minutes from the ocean. We are a working family farm dating back seven generations, so there is a lot of history that supports our business. The fields have been left undeveloped for years, so there is the sense that you’re in a coastal wine country surrounded by coastal marshes and habitat. There’s really nothing else like it.”
Wine tasting isn’t the only way to tempt the palate at The Cotton Gin. Thyme and Tide, the restaurant attached to the store in Jarvisburg, is open from May through September and offers a changing menu that emphasizes seasonal vegetables and fruit, “from arugula to strawberries,” as Candace puts it. Indeed, fresh, regional produce is the centerpiece of the menu. John adds, “We don’t buy produce from distributors. We use what’s good right here, right now.” In spring and early summer, the focus is on asparagus, greens and strawberries. Later in the season, the chef turns his attention to squashes and tomatoes. Signature items include the Thyme and Tide Chef Salad and Thyme and Tide Club Sandwich, both of which feature shrimp salad, prosciutto and bacon. Visitors who don’t want a sit-down meal can pick up light picnic fare — breads, cheeses and, of course, wines — at the tasting room and enjoy a meal on the grounds.
Jarvisburg: (252) 491-2387 | 6957 Caratoke Highway
Corolla: (252) 453-4446 | TimBuck II
Duck: (252) 261-2387 | 1185 Duck Road
Nags Head: (252) 449-2387 | The Bypass, MP 14.5