Awards keep growing for North Georgia’s picturesque wineries. Why not raise a glass or two in their honor?
IF YOUR BUCKET LIST includes filling yours with wine, North Georgia is a fine place to start. The state has some 50 wineries (impressive considering the challenges of grape-growing in the Deep South), with most in or near the mountains, tucked into bucolic niches and spread across rolling landscapes.
While other wine regions are undoubtedly more famous, don’t discount Peach State grapes as a secondhand rosé. North Georgia wine country delivers killer views and a rural charm that will relax you even before the sipping starts. The area also produces wines that win regional, national and international awards.
Admit it, wine is sexy. Oenophiles discuss the body profile, the legs and the finish in a provocative way, and it all means something. Body is how the wine feels in your mouth. The legs are judged by how much liquid clings to the glass. Thicker, slower legs mean a higher level of alcohol or sugar. The finish, or aftertaste, shows quality.
Whether you’re wine-confused or a wine connoisseur, Georgia’s vineyards welcome you. We quaffed at three grape-producing gems in Rabun County, where they craft thousands of bottles of red, white and dessert wines annually.
If you need a place to stay in Rabun (these wineries don’t offer lodging), try Lake Rabun Hotel, built in 1922 and the last of its kind. Think Old Europe meets rustic-but-genteel American South. Each room ($114 and up) is different, and named rather than numbered. (Details: lakerabunhotel.com or 706.782.4946.)
When plotting your own wine getaway, don’t discount vineyards near Dahlonega and at Château Élan in Braselton. All that wine isn’t going to drink itself.
12 Spies Vineyards
Founder/winemaker Mike Brown dismisses the idea that the everyday person is not a wine expert. “Do you know what you like? Then you’re an expert at what you like,” says the former financial services executive.
The whimsical tasting room (which Brown built, along with the winery) lends itself to easy conversation and new friends made over a glass or three (perhaps why 12 Spies received a TripAdvisor certificate of excellence). The vino veranda has country views defined by layers of green and a wood-burning oven for pizza parties. Tastings are $1 per pour. The Cabernet Franc alone is worth the trip. 12 Spies also makes an aptly named, for Southerners, Bless Your Heart muscadine (less sweet than others).
Brown says the winery’s name is from the Old Testament and came to him as he sat in church. The wines have playful names, too, like Holy Moses Red and Lordy Mercy, a Seyval blanc and Petit Manseng blend.
Brown doesn’t enter contests. Yet. But his business has grown from some 500 cases in 2012 to a probable 3,000 this year. For him, it’s about the wine and especially enjoying the people who enjoy the wine.
Details: 550 Black Branch Road, Rabun Gap. 706.490.0890. 12spiesvineyards.com.
Stonewall Creek Vineyards
Stonewall Creek’s valley view is striking, and its wines won multiple awards at the 2016 Georgia Trustees Wine Challenge.
Uncork and unwind in the homey tasting room or on the expansive covered patio, which overlooks 3,000 precisely planted vines and the rise of Glassy Mountain.
Co-founder/winemaker Carl Fackler, a retired orthopedic surgeon, now uses his tactile skills on the vines. Everything is done by hand, from planting and harvesting the grapes to labeling every bottle in the 900 cases produced each year.
Leftover wine goes into fine wine jellies, served with cheese and crackers in the tasting room. You’ll often find Fackler and wife Carla there, conversing with visitors. Max the dog will wag you inside.
Red wine lovers will love Stonewall Creek. Its Cabernet Franc is an award winner; the mild, tasty 2015 Malbec is aged 12 months in French and Bulgarian oak. The Malbec is named Three Eagles, for the couple’s sons, all Eagle Scouts. Tastings here are $10 for six samples or $6 for three samples.
Details: 323 Standing Deer Lane, Tiger. 706.212.0584. stonewallcreek.com.
Tiger Mountain Vineyards
In 1995, a fifth-generation family farm became Tiger Mountain Vineyards, the first in the area and the first vinifera (white Mediterranean grape) vineyard in Georgia. At 100 acres, it’s still one of the largest.
John Ezzard, who made his living as a urologist, was born on the farm in 1936, and founded the winery with wife Martha, a onetime columnist and author (The Second Bud, Deserting the City for a Farm Winery). He died in November, but you might meet Miss Martha, who at 77, still is a force of nature.
Tiger Mountain focuses on fine, dry, white European wines and has a list of awards as long as the mountain views from the property’s 75-year-old Red Barn Café. That list includes prestigious international honors.
Your many choices here include whites (a one-of-a-kind, late-harvest Petit Manseng) and reds (go for the Malbec). The challenge is deciding which of the eight wines to taste for the $10 it costs.
Each May, Atlanta’s Seed & Feed Marching Abominables visit to perform and “wake the vines” for growing season. This year, that happens May 12.
Details: 2592 Old 441 South, Tiger. 706.782.4777. tigerwine.com.
ELSEWHERE IN GEORGIA
Cavender Creek Vineyards
Five acres of vines produce Norton, Petit Manseng and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Two of Cavender’s 2016 reds are award winners. Tastings are $12 for four samples, with the option of adding a shot of “wine shine” (apple or peach) for $3. Also tempting: the sangria and wine slushies. Stay on-site in the 1820s log cabin ($225 nightly), and relax on the porch with Tinkerbell and Tucker, two Great Pyrenees who look after the place. Donkeys and free-range chickens will keep you company, too. 3610 Cavender Creek Road, Dahlonega. 706.867.7700 or cavendercreekvineyards.com.
Château Élan Winery and Resort
The granddaddy of Georgia wineries was founded in 1984 and recently changed ownership. There’s much to do on its 3,500 acres: You can go gourmet at mealtime, stay a few days, swim, play golf, get married, take cooking classes, disappear into the spa and, of course, drink wine. Should you tire of wine (???), grab a pint at the Irish pub. Tastings are $25 for seven samples; $63 buys eight samples, a guided tour, and a sampling of chef-selected cheeses and seasonal goodies. 100 Rue Charlemagne Drive, Braselton. 678.425.0900 or chateauelan.com.
Kaya Vineyard and Winery
Numbers tell the tale here. You’re at an elevation of 1,600 feet and can take in views from a 2,000-sq. ft. front porch. Fill your glass with the reserve chardonnay, a 2017 award winner, or any of 19 other estate-grown varietals. Tastings start at $14 for five samples. On-site cottages open to guests this summer. Kaya holds its annual “Jeeps in the Vines” party on April 25 (live music, dozens of Jeeps and, of course, wine). 5400 Town Creek Road, Dahlonega. 706.219.3514 or kayavineyards.com.
Montaluce Winery & Restaurant
Italian-style la dolce vita (the sweet life) is served daily. Montaluce’s wine and food are 2017 North Georgia Top Chef and Wine Tasting winners. Tastings are $18-$23 for five samples (white only, red only or mixed). Montaluce also makes mead. Weekend wine hikes are $45. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily, with a Sunday brunch that includes chef-made cinnamon rolls. 501 Hightower Church Road, Dahlonega. 706.867.4060 or montaluce.com.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
The first Georgia winery to win best in class and double gold medals at both the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles International competitions offers Napa Valley-style opulence. Tastings are $20 for six samples. Lunch and dinner (reservations required) are served in the Vineyard Café. Ask about the gourmet winemaker’s dinner. Check out the library and 19th-century wine artifacts. 180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega. 706.867.9862 or wolfmountainvineyards.com.