The owners of Clayton’s storybook Beechwood Inn had a beginning worthy of a romantic comedy. David and Gayle Darugh met while he was working his way through San José State University as a clown, performing for Christmas parties at IBM and other Silicon Valley high-tech firms. Hamming it up in a parade, he hopped into a car with Miss Fire Prevention, who turned out to be, yep, you guessed it.
David and Gayle grew up in Northern California, watching Napa Valley winemaking evolve from garage start-ups to part of a statewide $61.5 billion industry. Their first dates were to local wineries. During their professional careers—David’s as a lawyer and Gayle’s as an anthropologist and nonprofit executive—they pursued their culinary interests stateside and abroad. In Dijon, they joined the Ducal Order of the Cross of Burgundy, dedicated to the region’s food, wine, gastronomy, customs, and chivalry. Gayle served as national president of the American Wine Society; David, as its general counsel.
Their wanderings brought them to remote Clayton, where they have embraced another nascent wine culture. Their seven-room inn is located along the “Georgia Wine Highway,” which links many of the fifteen or so regional winemakers. Beechwood itself has a 3,000-bottle cellar, which has earned the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for the past eight years. Offerings stretch from Beechwood’s own Georgia wines and current favorites like a 2008 Peiza El Caidero from Spain ($22) to rare gems like the 1996 Château Margaux, one of the five First Growths from Bordeaux ($1,800).
Although the weathered inn—tucked into a wooded hillside with a deep wraparound porch that provides a prime view of nearby Black Rock Mountain—is a cozy retreat any day, the best time to visit is for one of the themed dinners.
At a recent farm-to-table event, the six-course meal was so fresh that David pointed to the tomato stakes, berry patch, and herb garden where many ingredients had been harvested. Food was served with clever pairings like a Spanish Vivanco Dinastia Rosé matched with a gazpacho drizzled in tequila cream. Homemade bread is something of a specialty, as the next morning’s bread-pudding-like blueberry French toast proved. (Wine is served daily at 5:30 p.m., even on days when dinner isn’t offered. The Darughs can also arrange personal wine tastings.)
Built in 1916, the inn was formerly a summer boarding house. It has expanded over the years into a quirky warren of rooms with slanted floors and odd little crooked doors. Accommodations vary from suite to suite, but amenities include luxuries like marble bathrooms, monogrammed robes, and gas fireplaces. The decor definitely leans to 1980s country, down to the stuffed teddy bears. But there are also Victorian-style antiques, stacks of vintage magazines, and boxes of board games to put you in a nostalgic mood.
Clayton offers a few interesting shops, including Main Street Gallery, one of the state’s top sources for contemporary folk art for nearly thirty years. Just this year, two trendy restaurants opened: Universal Joint (yes, an offshoot of the one in Oakhurst) and Fortify Kitchen & Bar, co-owned by Chef Jamie Allred, who attracted an Atlanta following during a recent stint at the Lake Rabun Hotel.
Of course, the Beechwood is also a convenient base for hiking or visiting nearby winemakers. Tiger Mountain Vineyard’s new Red Barn Cafe serves weekend lunch and dinner on a breezy covered patio overlooking the vines. Locally sourced dishes are matched with Tiger’s unique varietals. Savor fresh tapas like goat cheese, pickled watermelon, and olive tapenade with a tangy Petit Manseng. The pastoral setting is enough to make you believe that these Georgia farmers might pull off this wine-country thing.
Tip: Some rooms are quieter than others. Not all have TVs, but there is free Wi-Fi. There are two detached cabins available (from $200 per night).
This article originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.