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North Georgia Wine Country

North Georgia Wine Country

Creative Loafing Atlanta recently published an article I wrote on “the past, present and future of Georgia wine country.” The idea for the article actually started when I volunteered to help harvest grapes at Montaluce Vineyards, about an hour outside Atlanta in the hills near Dahlonega. Suffice it to say, even just a few hours of picking grapes in the late summer heat was plenty enough to help me appreciate the tremendous amount of work (and planning, knowledge, dedication) that goes into making wine here.

Arriving in the early morning, I headed into the neat rows of vines lining the hillside, ready to carefully clip bunches of grapes from the vines. The ground was wet with dew. OK, soaking with dew. My shoes and socks were quickly drenched. Bugs of all shapes and sizes were plentiful, providing a musical accompaniment to the grape picking and occasionally snacking on my exposed skin. Thankfully, retiring from the vines into the cool interior of the winery, I was able to taste some of the (very) early results of the current harvest with winemaker Maria Peterson. A blend of pinot grigio and chardonnay was fermenting in the tank, and a quick sip revealed what was basically at this stage of its development a very good grape juice, bright and tart. We discussed the merits and challenges of making wine here in Georgia, a place that certainly can produce great wine, but not without a skilled vineyard manager and winemaker. The minerality and clay in the land actually have their benefits when it comes to the grapes, as Maria said, “they didn’t mine gold here for nothing!” But it also takes a great amount of knowledge, “working smarter in the vineyards… rootstock selection… the right soil preparation…the timing of when you plant…In Georgia the vigor of the vines is UNBELIEVABLE! So you need to have very good knowledge of canopy and vine management. It is not a romantic thing where you brag about having a vineyard to your friends. It is damn hard work, but extremely fulfilling.”

I headed upstairs to Montaluce’s tasting room and tasted through their most recent releases. Without fail, these were solid, enjoyable wines that just about any wine drinker could appreciate. Among the whites, the viognier in particular has a lovely nose with hints of wildflowers and vanilla. This is a grape that, based on Montaluce’s efforts and those of several other Dahlonega-area wineries, clearly does well in the Georgia soil and climate. Montaluce’s “Dolce” delivers a slightly sweeter experience, but the sweetness is balanced nicely by spicy notes akin to what is typically found in gewürztraminers. The Montaluce “Centurio” merlot blend has knockout aromas of leather and dark fruit, a touch of oak, and a complexity that calls to mind Chateauneuf de Pape (at least for a few seconds). And, again, merlot is clearly a star for Georgia wineries – after wrapping up my harvest day at Montaluce, I later tasted some superb 2006 (the current release) reserve merlots at both BlackStock Vineyards and Frogtown Cellars.

David Harris at BlackStock, who brings a grower’s mentality to the table, opined on what can distinguish Georgia wines, especially those from the Dahlonega area. When it comes to varietals “merlot is the star here, chardonnay and viognier too. These are ‘granitic’ soils, just like Condrieu (in France) where the world’s best viognier is grown. Our whites in general have nice minerality, and our reds have a warm, earthy, round style. We’re not going to make big fruit bombs. Our wines are balanced and harmonize beautifully with a meal, and Georgia wine customers are really digging on that.”

The Dahlonega area is unique in its terroir in Georgia, and I highly recommend visiting the cluster of wineries in the scenic hills outside the lovely town square of Dahlonega. There have been (thus far unfruitful) efforts to designate an official appellation for this area – the Dahlonega Plateau for example – which would help differentiate the area within Georgia. BlackStock, Frogtown, Three Sisters, Wolf Mountain, Montaluce – you’ll have a great experience at each and every one of them, not only with the wine but with the views, events, music, or food that they round out the experience with as well. Wolf Mountain has my favorite tasting room with fabulous views, Montaluce has my favorite restaurant with a very talented young chef, BlackStock has my favorite Georgia red wines with their range of Merlots and their fascinating Touriga, and Frogtown has my favorite unique blend with their “Shotgun” from two vintages (a gold medal winner in San Diego’s wine competition this year). A day trip is certainly in order to experience these places for yourself. They are all run by folks who are passionate about their wines and what can be achieved here, and they are pushing to do better and better each and every year.

I also want to emphasize that focusing here on the Dahlonega area is not a knock against the wineries further afield in Georgia at all; just like Napa and Sonoma, there are distinctions in the wines based on the differences in geography and climate. Further north, Tiger Mountain, Persimmon Creek, Crane Creek, and Habersham have also received critical acclaim that would surprise most Southerners who haven’t really tasted today’s Georgia wine, and are also worth a visit.

Check out the Winegrowers Association of Georgia and Georgia Wine Country for more information, and get up and visit Georgia wine country. You’ll be happy you did.

Here are a few more photos to give you a hint of the what awaits in Georgia wine country:

Drinking Locally, Cheers to Cypress St. Pint & Plate

Drinking Locally, Cheers to Cypress St. Pint & Plate

Right on the heels of our post In Praise of Drinking Locally, the fine folks at Cypress Street Pint & Plate in midtown Atlanta hosted a “local tap takeover” Beer Geek Tuesday, that brought together some great Georgia brewers – Jailhouse Brewing, Sweetwater, Terrapin, Red Brick, and the most recent newcomers to the local beer scene, Wild Heaven and O’Dempseys. This was probably the first ever event to feature all of these Georgia beers in one place (not to mention having the actual brewers or brewery reps on hand to participate), and Wes and the Cypress crew did a great job pushing forward the cause of drinking local beer. Here’s to more events in the future that celebrate our great local products and the people behind them.

At Cypress, we had the pleasure of meeting a few of the gentlemen behind HotoberfestDO NOT MISS this big event on October 2, which will feature a number of great Georgia beers (including special casks – Sweetwater Cask IPA with black pepper, anyone?) among the hundreds of stellar beers “on tap.” Oh, and the one and only Ale Sharpton was in the house that night, too – please check out his new blog for unbridled beer enthusiasm.

Georgia Beer

In Praise of Drinking Locally

In Praise of Drinking Locally

Eat Drink Local

When we travel to distant cities, foreign countries, faraway places, the compulsion to “do what the locals do” is strong. When we see Anthony Bourdain on TV sipping the local drink of choice while digging into the culinary history of a certain place, we understand that to truly experience that place, one must take some small part in the local eating and drinking scene. If I’m in Portland, you better believe I’m drinking Stumptown coffee, trying local microbrews, and scanning the wine list for Oregon pinot noir and pinot gris. It’s all about experiencing what is unique to that place, what is shaped by and in turn shapes that place.

Back home in the South, here in Atlanta, Georgia, we have a burgeoning “eat local” movement fueled by weekly farmers markets, by Whole Foods trumpeting which produce is grown in the region, by so many restaurants who are now subscribing to a Southern “farm to table” philosophy. Eat local. Support local growers and food artisans. Keep Southern food traditions alive (and evolving). For the good of the local economy and environment, for the good of the food itself. Amen.

And, now, trailing in the wake of the “eat local” movement, the “drink local” notion is also taking hold. Not that it hasn’t existed in some form for many years – we love our locally brewed beer, our Sweetwater, our Terrapin. Octane in Atlanta even offers a discount on the Georgia-brewed beers on its small but excellent beer list on Saturday nights. The number of coffee houses that feature locally roasted beans has blossomed. It feels good to know your cup was crafted in the hands of Southern roasters rather than in some far-off mega-corporate warehouse. This, of course, assumes that the local product is good and worthy of our choice, worthy of spending our local dollars on. Does it deliver the joy and satisfaction that an “imported” alternative could? That’s the cost of entry – if our local brewers/ roasters/ growers don’t produce a great beer, roast a mean bean, or grow a great tomato for that matter, they are not going to win a lot of support from the “eat/drink local” crowd.

Georgia and the South in general is definitely there on the beer front, definitely there on the coffee front. Georgia wine is well on its way, and craft distilleries are starting to pop up around the state as well, making vodka, gin and other spirits. So after you’re done picking out some local okra at the farmstand or choosing a selection of Southern cheeses, stop and think about picking up a six pack of good Georgia beer, a bottle of good Georgia wine, or some coffee beans that are at least roasted here in the South that will make for a great cup of coffee. It won’t always be the best choice, but now, often enough, it’s at least a very good choice, a choice worth making.

Georgia Peaches
Photo: Georgia Peaches
Top Photo, clockwise from top left: Piedmont Park Green Market. Terrapin Rye Pale Ale from Athens, GA. Westside Creamery Truck at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Montaluce Viognier from North Georgia. Sweet Auburn Curb Market in Atlanta, GA.