“There’s wine in them thar hills!”
That tagline from Three Sisters Vineyards perfectly captures the excitement and surprise you might feel when discovering that the foothills of Blue Ridge are home to more than 15 wineries. That’s right. You can enjoy a weekend in wine country just 90 minutes north of Atlanta.
Frogtown Cellars and Wolf Mountain are two of the better-known wineries in the region. Frogtown, on 57 acres in Dahlonega, is Georgia’s most-awarded winery in national competitions. If you’ve sampled a bottle labeled “Frogtown” or “Thirteenth Colony,” you’ve tasted the fruits of its labors.
Wolf Mountain, also in Dahlonega, offers views of the southern Appalachians and a Sunday brunch of some renown every March-December. The spring-summer lineup: A white wine, sparkling wine & seafood festival this month; in June, a tribute to Tuscany; in July, a tribute to the barbecue of the South with live blues music; and in August, artisan cheese and Southern regional cuisine.
With so much to see and do, I spent two days on the winding back roads of North Georgia in search of good wine and good stories. You might want to start your own wine country tour with these stops.
THREE SISTERS VINEYARD
Noted as “Dahlonega’s first family-farm winery,” this was Lumpkin County’s first since Prohibition. Nearly 20 years after the first vines were planted, the 184-acre farm now features 11 grape varieties. Owners Doug and Sharon Paul remain committed to their “vine-to-wine” approach, meaning every drop is grown, fermented and bottled on the property.
The bright, laid-back tasting room and beautiful views make this an excellent stop for longtime wine lovers and beginners alike. Says Doug, “This ain’t France, this ain’t Italy — it’s Georgia. We’re trying to bring [wine] down to earth and demystify the experience.” The happy staffers are both knowledgeable and passionate about their wines and the area’s history.
Though craftsmanship is evident in every glass, my favorite pour was the Cynthiana. Made from the Native American varietal Cynthiana-Norton, not found west of the Mississippi River, its butterscotch notes pair decadently with dark chocolate. An absolute must if you’re looking for a true taste of Georgia.
493 Vineyard Way. Dahlonega. Tasting flights $10; family- and pet-friendly; tasting room hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org or 706.865.9463.
YONAH MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS
The drive here is breathtaking. As the sun sets, it washes the mountain miles with an amber haze. Owners Bob and Jane Miller have neatly integrated the area’s rustic elegance with a skylight and Brazilian marble bar to create a stunning tasting room. The new space, which opened in March, is on a 197-acre estate alongside 20 acres of vines; each vineyard is named for a daughter or granddaughter.
The tasting list this day features seven wines. My favorite: the Kistler-inspired 2012 chardonnay. This bottle packed a dry, tangy flavor that finished with tastes of tangerine and Georgia peach. Barreled in French oak, this white is complex but balanced, and favored by Jane. I was also lucky enough to taste the 2010 Totem — Bob’s favored reserve cabernet sauvignon that’s as velvety in taste as its black-purple hue. Scents of cocoa leap from the glass, while each sip spotlights first blackberry jam then sweet toasted oak. Arguably the best of the best.
Yonah has live music every Saturday and walking trails (mapped by early summer) to let guests explore the wooded grounds. Stop by on a Saturday for the Tour de la Cave & Barrel Sampling. For $25 per person, you get an overview of the winemaking process, a trip underground to Georgia’s first functional wine caves and the chance to taste three unreleased wines.
1717 Highway 255, Cleveland. Tasting flights are $11 for seven pours or $6 for four. Hours vary. Details at 706.878.5522..
MONTALUCE WINERY & ESTATES
From the covered patio of Le Vigne — the farm-to-table restaurant on-site — you’ll see 15 picturesque acres of vines running along dirt paths and the dock of a glinting lake.
Of the 10 wines on the list during my visit, my favorite was the La Stella, the menu’s boldest red and a blend of Georgia-grown merlot with French-grown Petit Verdot and cabernet sauvignon. Full of flavor and aroma, it’s balanced and earthy with a nose of old leather and plump cherries. My choice white: the 2011 Primaluce. Dry and medium-bodied, this pinot gris-chardonnay blend smells like freshly baked bread and bursts with citrus and melon flavors.
Be sure to stay for lunch. Executive chef Austin Rocconi features a sumptuous menu of “fresh, whole, modern” dishes. Many are enhanced with an umami flavor (our sixth, savory sense) that pairs deliciously with the earthiness of the wines. Curious? Try the arugula and mushroom agnolotti soup, complete with a quail egg poached tableside in mushroom broth.
946 Via Montaluce, Dahlonega. Tasting flights $16; tours held at 2 p.m.Tuesdays-Sundays. Open for brunch 11 a.m-3 p.m. Sundays. Details email@example.com or at 706.867.4060.