Whoever said it’s more about the journey than the destination could easily have been exploring the backroads of North Georgia’s wine country. Ripe with heritage and tradition, the region resonates with terroir—a sense of place that can be tasted.
The people here nurture a time-honored passion for celebrating the fruits of the land. Each grower and vineyard contributes a unique story to the narrative. Curiosities and scenery emerge around every curve. The whole of the experience is something to be savored and it’s closer than you think.
A two-hour drive from Chattanooga will find you sipping award-winning wines and craft beers in a hobbit-like setting where plump vines tumble down a grassy knoll. Appearing to sprout from earth itself, an ivy-covered stone building in Andrews, North Carolina— just over the Georgia line—houses Calaboose Cellars, the smallest freestanding complete winery in America. A bottle of the Revinoors Red is a suitable souvenir of your visit to this cheeky winery.
Later at Crane Creek Vineyards in nearby Young Harris, a historic Georgia farmhouse that serves as a gourmet store and tasting room draws visitors in the late afternoon to make their selections for Tapas and Acoustics in the Vineyard, where a popular pour is the Hellbender Red, Gold Medal winner at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Out back, a local musician sits on a stool in a covered pavilion at dusk, sending lyrical notes of classic favorites into the crowd at this 12-acre vineyard.
A few miles away, settle into a guestroom or cabin at Brasstown Valley Resort and indulge in the Friday night seafood buffet—the beginning of a great weekend. Miles of forested land make for abundant recreation opportunities here, including golf, hiking and horseback riding. The spa occupies its own piece of land amid verdant fields and mountain slopes. Schedule my favorite—the Way of the Circle Ritual and immerse yourself in a morning soak on the terrace before embarking on the next day’s journey.
And what a journey it is—the drive through Blairsville and the Cataloochee National Forest—spilling into the gold-rush town of Dahlonega. These fertile lands that nourish grapes also produce grains, livestock, fruits and vegetables. The tasty varieties are dried, canned, pickled, preserved and packaged to sell at amusing shops and farmstands, like Sunrise Grocery and Pappy’s Trading Post.
At the historic Mountaintop Outfitter on the crest of Blood Mountain, Wine Trail participants can gaze up through hundreds of hiking boots that dangle from the branches of a massive oak tree, left by trekkers along the Appalachian Trail. The AT sees thousands of hikers each year.
From there, the road descends into Dahlonega, the heart of Georgia’s wine country and home to several stylish inns. Spend an afternoon roaming through the lively town square’s boutiques and galleries, and when it’s time for dinner, head into the foothills for an enchanting evening at area Vineyards.
The verdant estates of Montaluce transport you to a multi-storied Tuscan villa where terra-cotta floors and stucco arches lead from tasting room to winery to restaurant, and out onto terraces above lush vineyards. Flavors of the Georgia lands flourish in Montaluce’s awarded wines, and in Chef Sean Fritchle’s estate grown, carefully crafted foods at La Vigne Restaurant. Creating another dimension altogether, the skillful wine pairings provoke, awaken and deepen the sensory experience for the palate.
Just down the road from Montaluce, a statue of a howling wolf marks the entrance to Wolf Mountain Estates, where a magnificent contemporary lodge presides over a 30-acre vineyard. The winery’s restaurant serves a sell-out Sunday Brunch, while one floor below, guests gather around a stone-and-cedar tasting bar, swishing, swirling and jotting notes. Guests relax at fountain-side tables on the alfresco patio in the center of the hillside vineyard. A peek into Wolf Mountain’s Antique Wine Library reveals shelves of venerable vintages, the most awarded of which is a Chardonnay-Viognier blend aptly named Plentitude—French, for all the best.
Now on the outskirts of Dahlonega, a palpable sense of open space and fertile ground pervades at Frogtown Cellars, where 23,000 rows of vines roll down 44 sweeping acres to a lake. In a white wooden building along the hilltop, the winery produces globally acclaimed wines to exacting standards. Inside, staff members share their deep knowledge of viticulture while pouring tastes at a saloon-style bar. A sip of Frogtown’s sweet vinifera, Grandeur, presents an exquisite roundness.
Deeper into the Georgia backroads, in the heritage-rich village of Sautee Nacoochee, a bounty of hand-fashioned goods can be discovered in storied places like Jumping Goat Coffee Roasters, Nora Mill Granary and The Willows Pottery. At Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards, the pristine headwaters and pines of the Sautee Valley reemerge in a sip of the Sautee White 2010, a memorable Chardonnay–Viognier blend. What also stays with you is the view from the deck, where rows of vines transition to grassy fields, forested foothills and mountains, creating a dramatic and textural tapestry.
On the outskirts of Clayton, Georgia, Tiger Mountain Winery comes alive with music, tapas and festivities on weekends and holidays. Oak-barrel tables and vibrantly-labeled bottles decorate the garage-style tasting room, where awards from many wines including the Petit Manseng, hang. Introduced to Georgia by winemaker John Ezzard, this crisp white wine recently added a 2015 San Francisco International gold medal to its accolades. Up a grassy slope behind the tasting room, The Red Barn Café sits with barn-door walls wide open, providing expansive vineyard views for diners.
Trendy shops and restaurants are breathing new life into historic buildings in downtown Clayton, where the rustic-chic White Birch Inn is gaining attention for its sumptuous guestrooms and Laurel Bar eatery. Check into the Laurel suite and soak off your travels in a massive freestanding copper tub. Afterward, enjoy a craft cocktail downstairs as you prepare your culinary strategy for the evening. Chef Ben Findley expresses his delicious imagination with an extensive small-bites menu. Laurel Bar also offers larger portions, yet a slow graze is highly recommended here.
Days, weeks or months after your excursion through Georgia’s wine country, you’ll realize the experience is still with you. A cork pops from a bottle that you purchased along the way, revealing echoes of Georgia pine, Norton grape, a stringed melody or a fresh vineyard rain. Swirl, sip, savor…and the journey continues.
Learn more at georgiawine.com
Story by Amanda Sullivan
Photography courtesy of The Winegrowers Association of Georgia and Amanda Sullivan