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Jennifer Senator


North Georgia Wine Country

I remember my first taste of Georgia wine, years ago: I was in a small gift shop in “alpine” Helen during (what else?) Oktoberfest, and was offered a Dixie cup filled with complimentary “Muscadew.” I took a sip and, well, Muscadew . . . ew. 
Today, that same little shop is probably serving Georgia-grown Cabernet Franc in a stemless wine glass. Go ahead, laugh it up. But realize things have changed. While the phrase “Georgia wine” continues to elicit chuckles from those who dare not stray from Napa or Europe, these wines-especially those grown and made in northeast Georgia-are receiving national recognition and are being poured in Atlanta’s top restaurants, including Bacchanalia, Aria, Restaurant Eugene, and The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Both Native American and European-style vinifera grapes thrive in northeast Georgia’s steep hillsides (2,100 feet in some areas), sunny days, and breezy nights, explains David Harris, who owns Dahlonega’s BlackStock Vineyards and is a consultant for other area vineyards. Our red clay even helps produce better-tasting wines. “
Good drainage is the key to premium wine grapes,” Harris says. “We get a much higher amount of rainfall throughout the growing season-big thunder-boomers-but since red clay doesn’t take water real fast, the vines have the sense of being in a drier condition than they really are.” If you’ve jumped on the locavore bandwagon, you may already be drinking Georgia wine. Besides the reduction in carbon footprint (that imported Bordeaux comes at a cost to both you and the planet), some insist local wine just tastes better with local food. Several area chefs, including Restaurant Eugene’s Linton Hopkins and Aria’s Gerry Klaskala, have partnered with northeast Georgia wineries, such as Tiger Mountain Vineyards and Persimmon Creek Vineyards, to showcase how local food and wine go together. This month-the peak of the harvest season and the start of fall-is an ideal time to visit a northeast Georgia winery. Here’s a tasting.

BlackStock Vineyards & Winery
Planted in 1997, BlackStock was Dahlonega’s first vineyard. Today, owners David and Trish Harris produce mostly red wines and are the largest producer of premium wine grapes in the state (supplying Habersham Winery, among others). David, who has a viticulture and enology degree from Fresno State University, is the winemaker. BlackStock’s bestselling wine is its 2005 ACE-A Family Reserve (a blend of Touriga, Mourvèdre, and Merlot), which is named after the Harrises’ three children, Austin, Chandler, and Eliza.
Wines offered: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sangiovese, Touriga, Viognier
Noted: BlackStock was recently named the flagship Georgia wine for all Publix stores statewide; named “No. 1 New Up-and-Coming Producer in U.S.” and ACE named “No. 1 Most Exciting or Unusual Wine Find” in Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report 2008
Tasting room open daily ($10 to taste eight wines); vineyard tours available by appointment.
5400 Town Creek Road, Dahlonega
Château Élan Winery & Resort
This French-style resort is the state’s largest wine producer, bottling more than 20,000 cases per year. In addition to tastings and tours of the 42,000-square-foot winery, guests can dine at two winery restaurants or participate in a Saturday culinary demonstration in the new Viking culinary studio, which features food from executive chef Marc Suennemann and wine pairings from winemaker Peter Kasprzak.
Wines offered: Twenty-two, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscadine, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc
Noted: Four Château Élan wines recently named “Great Buys Under $40” by Wine Spectator: Essence de Cabernet Founders Reserve, Chambourcin Nouveau Georgia, Merlot Founders Reserve, and Viognier Georgia Founders Reserve.
Winery tours and tastings offered daily, $10 on Saturday, $5 Monday-Friday and Sunday; customized group tours also available; Saturday culinary demonstration, $20.

100 Tour de France, Braselton

Crane Creek Vineyards
Owner (and Atlanta native) Eric Seifarth became passionate about wine in northern Italy, where he was stationed as an Army officer for ten years. Upon retirement in 1995, the West Point grad planted this vineyard in Young Harris with his wife, DeAnne, who is also a veterinarian. While the eighteen-acre vineyard is smaller than others in Georgia, it is the state’s northernmost vineyard, which brings other benefits. “Our cooler summer nights particularly lend themselves to whites,” Eric says. “Plus, we have a longer growing season.” Crane Creek recently released “a bone-dry version of Gewürztraminer,” he says. “I think it’s one of our best efforts.” Crane Creek’s bestsellers include its Sweet Sally, a sweet white wine made from Catawba grapes and named after the owners’ Labrador retriever, and the Hellbender Red, which is made from 100 percent Norton grapes.
Wines offered: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Chambourcin, Chardonel, Gewürztraminer, Norton, Seyval Blanc/Villard Noir, Vidal Blanc
Noted: Brasstown White Vidal Blanc and Mountain Harvest Red (Chambourcin) recognized at Wines of the South competition.
Tastings offered Tuesday-Saturday, $3.
916 Crane Creek Road, Young Harris
Frogtown Cellars
Expect crowds in the tasting room at this scenic winery that sits high on a hill in the small Frogtown community of Dahlonega. Opened in 1998 by Atlantans Craig and Cydney Kritzer, Frogtown’s forty-acre vineyard is spread out among picturesque steep slopes and includes eighteen different grape varieties. Tastings are offered by wine type (red, white, or pink), and since there are quite a few of each to sample, we recommend sharing. The Kritzers recently planted twenty acres of Muscadine and Florida hybrid grapes in Hahira, Georgia, and plan to open a tasting room there later this year.
Wines offered: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Marsanne, Merlot, Norton, Petit Verdot, Picpoul, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval, Tannat, Vidal, Viognier
Noted: 2004 Frogtown Viognier awarded gold medal at 2007 Long Beach Grand Cru competition; Kritzer Family Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon) awarded gold medal and named best of class at 2007 Atlantic Seaboard Competition; 2005 Frogtown Touche awarded gold medal and named best of class at 2008 Atlantic Seaboard Competition.
Tastings offered Thursday-Sunday, $10-$12 per type.
700 Ridge Point Drive, Dahlonega
Habersham Vineyards & Winery
Located just outside Helen, Habersham is one of Georgia’s oldest wineries (opened in 1983) and largest wine producers, making more than 15,000 cases annually. While there is no vineyard at the winery, Habersham occupies two vineyards elsewhere in northeast Georgia and also sources grapes from BlackStock Vineyards (most notably the Viognier) and muscadines from South Georgia’s Still Pond Vineyard.
Wines offered: More than twenty, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscadine, Riesling, Seyval/Chardonnay, Vignette, Viognier
Noted: 2006 Creekstone Viognier named best white wine in Georgia at 2007 Georgia Trend wine tasting and awarded silver medal at 2007 VinoChallenge International Wine Competition; 2005 Creekstone Cabernet Sauvignon awarded gold medal at 2007 VinoChallenge International Wine Competition.
Free tastings offered daily.
7025 South Main Street, Helen
Persimmon Creek Vineyards
This vineyard was planted in 2000 by dermapathologist William “Sonny” Hardman and his wife, Mary Ann, on land that, according to the family, once produced some of the state’s best white lightning (moonshine). Today, Sonny minds the vineyard while Mary Ann splits her time between working at Persimmon Creek’s new tasting room, Persimmon on the Square in downtown Clayton, and spreading the local wine gospel to area restaurants. “What grows together, goes together” is her mantra, and restaurants such as Bacchanalia, Joël, and all three Georgia Ritz-Carltons are believers (as well as Quince, in San Francisco, and Aspen’s The Little Nell). The property also features a large vegetable garden and fourteen-year-old son Mitchell’s wind turbines (used to power his room) and high-profit pumpkin patch (“he made $2,500 last year on his pumpkins; this year he wants to double it,” says Mary Ann).
Wines offered: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Seyval Blanc
Noted: Named one of the top 10 “Fastest Improving Producers” in U.S. in Wine Report 2008; 2007 Seyval Blanc named one of Sommelier Journal’s “Hot Picks”; 2005 Late Harvest Riesling awarded bronze medal in 2007 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Tastings offered at Persimmon on the Square Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday-Saturday, $8 (with a $5 credit toward wine bottle purchase).
28 East Savannah Street, Clayton
706-212-7972; vineyard tours and private vineyard luncheons by appointment, 706-212-7380, persimmoncreekwine.com
Sharp Mountain Vineyards
This small Jasper winery (they sell 580 cases per year) was planted in 1995 by Jan Rathgeb-who is from Cairo, Georgia-and her husband, Ron. All Sharp Mountain wines are unfiltered and low in sulfites. The winery recently released its 2007 vintage red wines; earlier this year, Sharp Mountain released its 2007 vintage white, dessert, and blush wines, including its bestselling Pickens Pink, a sweet blush wine best described as a “porch wine.”
Wines offered: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano, Viognier
Noted: Vintage 2004 Merlot Private Selection awarded bronze medal at 2006 Wines of the South Competition; 2006 Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon all awarded bronze medals at 2008 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Tours and tastings offered Friday-Sunday (other days by appointment), $5.
110 Rathgeb Trail, Jasper
Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery
Named after nearby Three Sisters Mountain (which can be seen from the vineyard), Three Sisters is “all about Georgia,” says Sharon Paul, who founded the vineyard with her husband, Doug, in 1996. “We’re not trying to be France or Italy,” she says. Accordingly, Southern folk art is on display in the tasting room, where the staff members (mostly family) pour wines from three labels: Three Sisters Vineyards, Chestatee, and Walasiyi Wine Company. Three Sisters is best known for its Fat Boy Red (a blend of Cynthiana and Bordeaux), and just released the first Fat Boy White wine (a blend of Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, and Pinot Blanc).
Wines offered: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cynthiana-Norton, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, Touriga Nacional, Vidal Blanc
Noted: Georgia Port named “Best Dessert Wine” in 2007 Georgia Trend wine tasting.
Free tastings offered Thursday-Sunday (other days by appointment); specialty tasting and tours available for $10.
439 Vineyard Way, Dahlonega
Tiger Mountain Vineyards
Winemaker John Ezzard was the first to plant European wine grapes in northeast Georgia (in 1995), despite doubts from surrounding farmers that the grapes would thrive. Today, Ezzard-along with his wife, Martha, and partners Bill and Leckie Stack-produces some of the most award-winning wines in Georgia, including the only Georgia-grown Malbec and Petit Manseng. Tiger Mountain wines are served in top Atlanta restaurants such as Restaurant Eugene, Aria, and The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead.
Wines offered: Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Norton, Petit Manseng, Rabun Red (a five-grape blend), Tannat, Touriga Nacional, TNT (Touriga Nacional-Tannat), Viognier
Noted: 2005 Cabernet Franc awarded gold medal and 2005 Rabun Red awarded silver medal in 2007 VinoChallenge International Wine Competition; 2006 Petit Manseng awarded gold medal in 2007 Jefferson Cup Invitational and silver medal in 2007 International Eastern Wine Competition.
Free tastings offered daily through November; weekends only December through April; vineyard tours available by appointment.
2592 Old Highway 441, Tiger
Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
This hillside vineyard was planted in 2000 by the Boegner family (father Karl is the owner and winemaker; son Brannon is the assistant winemaker and manages the vineyards). Wolf Mountain focuses on red wines-it sources white wine grapes from neighboring vineyards-and recently released three sparkling wines (Brut Rosé, Sparkling Demi-Sec, and Blanc de Blancs Brut), the first in northeast Georgia. The 8,000-square-foot, Craftsman-style winery includes a cask room and cellar, and offers a wine-paired lunch Monday through Saturday, Sunday brunch, and ongoing winemaker’s dinners.
Wines offered: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Rosé, Syrah, Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Viognier
Noted: Plenitude (a blend of 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Viognier) awarded silver medal at 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and best of category for blended whites at 2007 Vinifera Wine Growers Competition; Instinct (a Rhône-style blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Touriga Nacional; 2006 vintage) awarded bronze medal at 2008 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition and best of category for blended red at 2006 Vinifera Wine Growers Competition.
Tastings offered Thursday-Monday, $10-$15; winemaker tours offered Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., $15 (includes tasting).
180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega
Photograph courtesy Georgia Economic Development Council

South Georgia Wine Country

These South Georgia vineyards are drawing notice for their still and sparkling wines made from sweet Georgia Muscadines. Also featured are recommendations from wine columnist and educator Jane Garvey, who is currently and instructor at Atlanta Wine School.

Chesser Island Winery

The Okefenokee Swamp may seem an unlikely place to find wine in general, much less French-style sparkling wines. But here at their Folkston winery, Tracy and Melinda Chesser produce noteworthy sparkling wines made from blueberries, blackberries, and muscadines, using the same techniques (méthode champenoise) employed to make French champagne. Later this year, they plan to release a rosé-brut sparkling wine (Foxfire Cuvee Rouge) as well as a Sauvignon Blanc–style wine, which they claim is made from the first Blanc du Bois grapes harvested in Georgia.

Wines offered: (Sparkling) brut, sec, and demi-sec, produced from 100 percent Georgia-grown grapes and other fruits; (still) red and rosé table wines, a dessert/port wine

Jane Garvey recommends: Billy Bowlegs Blue

Noted: Chesser’s Okefenokee Brut and Billy Bowlegs Blue (both sparkling wines) named “wines of distinction” at 2007 Georgia Trend wine tasting; Suwanee Tawnee named “wine of distinction” at 2008 Georgia Trend wine tasting.

Free tastings offered Saturdays. 3940 Chesser Lane, Folkston, 912-496-2916, chesserislandwinery.com

Meinhardt Vineyards & Winery

The Meinhardt family planted this southeast Georgia muscadine vineyard eleven years ago; today, they bottle 10,000 to 15,000 cases a year. At press time, Meinhardt wines were available only at Sam’s Clubs and Wal-Mart stores in southeast Georgia (in addition to their two retail stores); however, owner/winemaker Ken Meinhardt says he plans to expand into the Atlanta market by end of the year.

Wines offered: Muscadine, available in fifteen varietals, including a dessert wine, and in blackberry, peach, and plum blends.

Jane Garvey recommends:Lotts Creek Red Georgia Muscadine, $20. “Lovely orange peel notes; 18 percent alcohol. Chill and serve with Flat Creek Lodge’s Colby cheese or Sweet Grass Dairy’s Thomasville Tome and toasted, spiced Georgia pecans.”

Noted: The Lotts Creek Red Georgia Muscadine, a port-style wine, was the runner-up in the wine category in the 2008 Flavor of Georgia competition, sponsored by the Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development.

Free tastings (for up to five wines; $5 for five more) offered Tuesday–Saturday. 305 Kennedy Pond Road, Statesboro, 912-839-2458; another location in Savannah’s City Market, 306 West St. Julian Street, meinhardtvineyards.com

Still Pond Vineyard

This southwest Georgia vineyard and winery, located thirty miles south of Albany, was founded in 1968. Today, it is owned and operated by the Cowart family, who last year produced 4,000 cases of premium Muscadine wine here. In 2007, they released the first batch of their Late Harvest Noble, which is similar to a port wine.

Varieties offered: Eleven varietals of Muscadine, including Carlos, Noble, and Magnolia

Wines offered: Notchaway Red, Notchaway White, Late Harvest Noble

Jane Garvey recommends: Still Pond Gold, $15. “Estate-grown Muscadine; a golden, full-bodied sweet dessert wine.”

Noted: Notchaway Red named one of top ten wines of distinction at 2007 Georgia Trend wine tasting; received gold award at 2007 Wines of the South Competition.

Free tours and tastings offered Monday–Saturday. 1575 Still Pond Road, Arlington, 800-475-1193, stillpond.com

Photograph Courtesy Still Pond Vineyard

Where to Stay in Georgia Wine Country

All those tastings add up, so why not make a weekend of your wine country adventure? Here’s an extended list of our favorite hotels, inns, and cottages located near Georgia vineyards and wineries.

The Beechwood Inn
Convenient to: Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Tiger Mountain Vineyards
Besides a 4,000-bottle wine cellar, a dog named Scuppernong, cozy rooms with fireplaces, and 600-thread-count sheets, this Clayton inn (which has seven guest rooms, as well as the separate Blueberry Cottage, shown here) boasts a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence restaurant.
Owners Gayle and David Darugh prepare frequent wine-paired dinners featuring local and international wines and fare. Rooms from $189 (wine dinners are extra).

220 Beechwood Drive
Clayton 866-782-2485

Brasstown Valley Resort
Convenient to: Crane Creek Vineyards
This 503-acre resort (which includes lodge-style rooms and cottages, golf, and stables) recently added the $3.4 million Equani Spa, featuring Native American–inspired treatments. Rooms from $139.

6321 US Highway 76, Young Harris

Cavender Creek Cabins
Convenient to: Dahlonega-area vineyards, which include: BlackStock Vineyards & Winery, Frogtown Cellars, Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery, Montaluce Estate and Vineyards, and Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery. Has eight one- to three-bedroom cabins with full kitchens, wood-burning fireplaces, Wi-Fi, gas grills, and hot tubs, on 25 wooded acres with a stocked fishing pond and recreation lodge, four miles from town. Cabins from $125.

200 Beaver Dam Road

The Inn at Chateau Elan
Convenient to: Chateau Elan Winery
A variety of luxurious rooms and suites are offered at this French-themed resort, which includes a spa, golf, multiple restaurants, and a culinary studio. Check website for current rates and packages.

100 Rue Charlemagne, Braselton

The Cottages at Persimmon Creek
Convenient to: Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Tiger Mountain Vineyards
All three of these just-finished one- and two-bedroom cottages—named Fiddlehead, Sassafras, and Hickory—are located just up the hill from the vineyards and feature Viking kitchens and Waterworks tubs. Weekend packages (some of which include the services of a personal chef) from $500; for more information call 706-212-7380.

Edelweiss German Inn
Convenient to: Habersham Vineyards & Winery
Located near the village of Alpine Helen, this inn offers in-room German or Continental breakfasts Monday through Friday, and weekend brunch in the onsite restaurant. Guests may also choose to stay in one of three onsite cottages, which include fireplaces and kitchens. Rooms from $145.

747 Duncan Bridge Road, Sautee

Glen Ella Springs Inn
Convenient to: Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Tiger Mountain Vineyards
All of the television-free guest rooms (which include penthouse rooms and two suites) at this historic North Georgia inn include period antiques, heart-pine paneled walls, and (shared) rocking-chair front porches. The inn also houses a fine dining restaurant, where dinner is served nightly. Rooms from $150 (includes breakfast).

1789 Bear Gap Road, Clarkesville

Flat Creek Lodge
Convenient to: Meinhardt Vineyards & Winery
This hunting and fishing resort also features an excellent fine dining restaurant and their own line of cheeses, made at the onsite dairy. The rooms and cottages, outfitted in taxidermy decor, overlook a scenic lake. Call for rates.

367 Bishop Chapel Church Road, Swainsboro

Inn at Folkston
Convenient to: Chesser Island Winery
This 1920s inn houses four guest rooms (two with gas log fireplaces), all with feather beds and down comforters. Rates include breakfast, as well as evening snacks and beverages. Rooms from $120.

509 West Main Street, Folkston

Mountain Laurel Creek Inn & Spa
Convenient to: Dahlonega-area vineyards
The Dahlonega wineries are a quick drive from this bed and breakfast, which features an outdoor hot tub, in-room fireplaces, and an onsite spa. Doubles from $145. 202

Talmer Grizzle Road, Dahlonega

Park Place Hotel
Convenient to: Dahlonega-area vineyards
This new hotel is ideal if you want to leave the car parked and explore the restaurants and tasting rooms on the Dahlonega Square. Rooms have flat-screen TVs and come with a free bottle of wine. Doubles from $99.

27 South Park Street, Dahlonega

Woodbridge Inn
Convenient to: Sharp Mountain Vineyards
This historic inn, which also features an adjacent restaurant, has eighteen guest rooms overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains; Call for rates.

44 Chambers Street, Jasper

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