Story by Brooke Hutchins
When the state of Georgia comes up in conversation, you probably think about the iconic peach. Or maybe the good, old-fashioned peanut. But what about wine? Well, move over California — you’ve got competition. North Georgia is quickly gaining popularity around town as the new Napa Valley. The state actually has a long history of a booming viticulture industry: In 1908, before the Prohibition swept across the South and brought with it a set of hard-and-fast alcohol-banning laws, Georgia ranked as the sixth grape growing state in the nation. But even after enduring decades of a serious lull in wine production, Georgia is now home to some of the most recognized wineries on the East Coast. And with vineyards popping up faster than ever, it’s no surprise that a 2013 study by The University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development reported Georgia’s viticulture sector to have contributed about 81 million overall dollars to the state’s economy. The highest concentration of vineyards, though, is in the northern part of the state—and for a fascinating reason: North Georgia’s unique topography, elevation, long growing season, climate and Terra Rosa soil combine to make an ideal setting for the growth of high-quality grapes.
But there’s one little North Georgia mountain town in particular that keeps wine enthusiasts coming back, and with its annual production of 100 acres of grapes and over 23,000 bottled cases, Dahlonega truly lives up to its name as "the heart of Georgia wine country." Here’s a list of five must-try Dahlonega wineries that are only an hour north of Atlanta and perfect for your next day trip:
1. Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery 439 Vineyard Way Dahlonega, GA 30533
Dahlonega’s first family-owned farm winery, Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery is known for their deep-rooted history as Lumpkin County’s first functioning farm winery since the prohibition. Even after receiving the prestigious award of the "Best Winery in the South" by TurnerSouth, owners Sharon and Doug Paul make an effort to keep their winery experience laid back and fun, first and foremost. Sit back at the cherry wood tasting bar as you try wines from their three exclusive brands, Three Sisters Vineyards, Chestatee and Walasiyi Wine Company — all made from grapes grown directly on their 184-acre estate. But why stop with good wine? Get the full cultural experience with a look at their unique collection of southern folk art and pottery, or relax on the beautiful crush pad deck while listening to some acoustic folk, jazz and bluegrass — all with a glass of wine in hand. Three Sisters is also the site of the annual Georgia Wine Country Festival in June, attracting thousands to Dahlonega with a celebration of the region’s exceptional food, wine, art and music.
2. Frogtown Cellars 700 Ridge Point Dr Dahlonega, GA 30533
At Frogtown Cellars, it’s all about variety. Their 42 acres of rolling hills nestled at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains are not just great for scenery — the land is specifically designed to grow 25 varieties of red and white wine grapes with its division into separate elevation blocks boasting different soils, climates and terrains. Not to mention their South Georgia vineyards, which take advantage of the unique terrain to produce traditional muscadine grapes found in the South. And if you’re looking for a place to a enjoy a bite to eat along with your glass of wine, there’s plenty of variety offered in the bistro café as well: Reuben, Americano and Caprese are just a few of the panini options, along with their famous fruit and cheese plates. Indulge on their beautifully designed covered deck or inside the state-of-the-art tasting room. Frogtown is serious about the quality of their wine, and they must be doing something right because Craig Kritzer, the company’s wine grower and maker, was named one of the top 100 most influential US Winemakers by Michael Cervin of intowine.com in 2013. “With the exception of our dessert wines,” Kritzer explains, Frogtown wines are made under strict French rules and are completely dry wines. By adopting French winemaking rules, we do not add back any sugar to our dry wines” (adding sugar is commonly seen in US produced wine). Cheers to that!
3. Wolf Mountain Vineyards 180 Wolf Mountain Trail Dahlonega, GA 30533
If you’re on the look out for a high quality red wine, Wolf Mountain Vineyards is known for their unique award-winning blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat and Touriga Nacional — a divine combination of all the best red wine grapes. Referred to as the “European style Georgia winery,” Wolf Mountain lives up to its name with a craftsman-style cottage tasting room and restaurant that sits atop a fieldstone-encased wine cellar. And you just might feel like you’ve taken a little trip to Europe as you do tastings at the large stone and cedar bar that opens up onto a picturesque veranda overlooking the rolling hills of the vineyard. Take a tour of the winery, and see that they love showing off the “old world” ambiance of their cellar and cask room. It’s conducive to a less invasive method of wine making, which yields the highest quality possible. What’s really special about Wolf Mountain, though, is their commitment to pairing good food along with their award-winning wines. Along with an extensive lunch menu that’s available at the Vineyard Café when all that wine makes you hungry, they offer brunch every Sunday with a different theme—Low Country cuisine with live jazz and a tribute to the BBQ of the South with live blues, to name a few. And their special occasion Gourmet Winemaker Dinners are the ultimate foodie’s dream, as their executive chef creates a four course meal to be paired with one of the vineyard’s original wines.
4. Montaluce Winery and Estates 946 Via Montaluce Dahlonega, GA 30533
Ready to take your Tuscan vacation? A visit to Montaluce Winery and Estates will have you wondering how you ended up in a breathtaking Tuscan villa in the heart of North Georgia. Their variety of red, white and dessert wines carry all sorts of notes and flavors that are sure to bring your wine tasting experience to the next level —from earthy tones of dried mushrooms and black current, to bright pineapple and tropical citrus. If you’re wanting to step up your winery experience, make a reservation at Montaluce’s Le Vigne Restaurant and take in the sweeping views of the Italian-esque landscape while savoring a plate of their smoked salmon or New Zealand lamb rack, along with the perfect wine pairing. All dishes are regionally sourced, seasonally inspired, and designed to perfectly compliment Montaluce’s signature wines.
5.Cavender Creek Vineyards 3610 Cavender Creek Road Dahlonega, GA 30533
The Cavender Creek Vineyards experience doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. The smallest of Dahlonega’s vineyards at four acres of vines, its owners Donna and Raymond Castleberry pride themselves on keeping the “old family farm” and authentic North Georgia theme at their relaxed winery. Because they are a small, family-operated group with about a dozen different wines available at any given time, the attention is placed on pampering the grapes from planting to bottling—and that attention to detail is evident in the quality of their wines. The rolling foothills landscape features an authentic 200 year-old log cabin that is available for guests to stay in overnight for a true rural North Georgia experience. The tasting room is in the loft of an old-fashioned barn building, with a spacious deck extending out to offer views of the surrounding farm (think: donkeys and sheep nonchalantly pass by as you hold out your glass for another pour) with the winery situated below. Live music plays out on the deck every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. If you’re looking for a taste of the real North Georgia—no European frills—this is the winery for you.
3rd Annual Dahlonega Wine Trail Weekend: August 16-17
The Dahlonega Wine Trail celebrates the region’s rich wine country during a weekend-long event that offers a taste of all five of the aforementioned award-winning wineries. The Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber and Visitors Bureau sells event passports for $30 per person, allowing entrance to all the Dahlonega tasting rooms for the weekend and including a souvenir glass. For more information, visit: http://business.dahlonega.org/events/details/3rd-annual-dahlonega-wine-trail-5840