East Lake vineyard produces very private label


This past Sunday, I had finished my first glass of wine by 10 a.m. The second glass came about a half-hour later.

A little early, even for me. But this was a special occasion: I was witnessing an annual celebration of a local fruit, here in the East Lake Commons communal kitchen. A few residents were starting a batch of muscadine wine, made with native grapes from their own farm, Gaia Gardens.

It’s become a tradition for the group, which was working on its fourth vintage of Barking Frog—named after a yipping amphibian in its midst. “It’s really fun to have a local wine,” says Lisa Marquardt. “These are from our grapes, our neighborhood.”

The collaborative housing community owns Gaia, a 3-acre organic oasis just south of Decatur, which it leases to independent farmer Joe Reynolds. The wine makers had been enjoying weekly pints of fresh muscadines through their CSA, but they went in together on an extra 22 pounds of mostly scuppernongs (a white variety) just for this project. After several more sessions of mixing, straining, racking and bottling in the coming months, they anticipated splitting 27 bottles made from the juice they had just pressed through a hand-cranked grinder.

Longtime resident David George was leading the process, reading instructions from a pamphlet and making careful notes. “We do it according to the book,” he explains. “If you want to learn from what you’re doing, you’ve got to keep records.”

From what I could tell, the effort was paying off. The first glass I had, the 2009, was quite tart, with hints of green apple and, uh, Welch’s. My second glass, a blush, was poured from the very first opened bottle of 2010. It was a bit tannic and musky, but it had definite potential—an impressive effort, to be sure. The group was pleased.

“The 2008 was terrible; the 2009 was drinkable,” says Christine Fortuin. “We’re steadily improving.”

I hope to score another taste in a few more months, to see how the 2010 develops. But if it’s another Sunday morning session, next time I’ll plan my coffee consumption accordingly.