First off, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year 2008. I trust that everyone brought the New Year in with loads of fun and some great wine – sparkling or not. May smiles and prosperity find all in 2008!
Over the Christmas holidays I was back in Georgia visiting my mother, and one of the things on my agenda was to take my folks out and visit some of the small family-operated farm wineries in the area. Although Mother has lived in Georgia for over a decade, she and her hubby have never visited any of the local wineries; that is until I took everyone to Château Élan this past Thanksgiving. So could Dezel convince them to ‘go local’ and give up their daily Yellow Tail Shiraz and Cabernet Blends? You will have to read on to find the answer to that, friends.
Tasting Room overlooks BlackStock Vineyard
After doing some investigation I found a cluster of wineries in Lumpkin County, GA, in a small historic town named Dahlonega. As I mentioned before, there are a little more than 20 operational wineries in the state of Georgia, and Dahlonega contained 5 wineries that were in close proximity to each other. Additionally, Dahlonega is a wine producing area known more for classic European varieties, whereas further south, sweet wines made from muscadine and other alternative grapey-grape varieties rule the roost. After plugging one of the winery addresses into Map-quest I found that we were only an hour away – Mother lives in the suburbs, about 30 minutes from Atlanta, so this was similar to driving to Middleburg or Warrenton for me. Let’s go!
View from BlackStock wrap around deck
To get a picture of Dahlonega think of Middleburg – small town charm commingled with novelty shops, art stores, restaurants, and, of course, wineries, in a relaxing atmosphere. In the early to mid 1800’s this small historic town was known for its mountains of gold as it was the site of the very first gold-rush in our nation. Nearly two centuries later, Dahlonega is turning its attention to liquid gold, and planting the types of classic vinifera varieties they hope will produce such wines.
All 5 of the wineries in the area are young, from 1 to 7 years old. I got the impression that Dahlonega, although young and developing, will be the wine producing area to one day put GA on the map. The tasting fees at the Dahlonega area wineries are $10, and that seems uniform across the board and includes a souvenir Bordeaux styled glass. Our first stop, BlackStock Vineyards, is Dahlonega’s oldest vineyard, but youngest winery. Got that?
Frog Town Cellars: Elegant & Spacious Tasting Room
BlackStock recently opened doors to the public in April of 2006. Although young, their vineyard was planted in 1997 and they are the largest wine grape grower in the state of Georgia. Because of this, they supply other wineries in and out of Dahlonega with wine grapes, while producing 5000 cases annually themselves. The tasting room is a beauty with wall to wall windows that overlook a 40 acre vineyard back-dropped by captivating vista views. BlackStock offers classic European varieties vinified from estate grown grapes. Some of the wines we tasted through were a fruity Chardonnay 06, a toasty Reserve Chardonnay 05, two differing 2005 Viognier examples – one having more oak aging that the other, a good food pairing Sangiovese, a Merlot 2004, and a Cabernet Sauvignon 05. These wines are very drinkable, ranging from soft to medium in flavor intensity with varying degrees of complexity. Prior to leaving, I expressed how Virginia was excited about the overall success of the 2007 harvest and was curious about the GA 2007 harvest. No one said growing grapes on the east coast was easy, however, as they conveyed to me a disappointing story about the enemy, early spring frost, which has their 2007 production numbers down by 70%. Despite the lofty challenges, BlackStock aims to be one of the premier producers for quality wines in the state of Georgia.
Frogtown Cellars: View from the deck
Our next stop, less than 10 minutes away was to Frogtown Cellars. The tasting room sits atop a hill of vine plantings and is housed in a stunning tri-level classic structure. As we exited the vehicle we were greeted by two friendly winery dogs who escorted us to the door, but the truth is, they were eager to get inside the tasting room because it was a very chilly day. Once inside, and after a few head scratches we made our way to the attractive tasting bar to sample some of Frogtown’s offerings. Frogtown has several different tasting options that cater to both red and white wine drinkers, and a special tasting option for their reserve wines. Frogtown produces wines under two different labels. The 13th Colony label is your everyday drinking wines, while their signature Frogtown label is reserved for their estate bottled premium wines. Frogtown produces all the classic European varietals found at BlackStone and some nice Bordeaux styled blends. Frogtown also does a varietal Tannat, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Vidal Blanc. To my surprise, they also produce a Norton and shared a barrel sample with me since they knew I was from Virginia– oddly enough, the wine had an intense Port-like bouquet, but tasted like a true young Norton with bright ‘wake you up’ sort of acidity up front and slight grapey flavors. Certainly, I will be sure to follow up on this Norton on my next trip to Georgia. One wine that exemplifies the potential of Georgia wine in good vintage years is the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Nice color, an attractive nose with good fruit flavors and complexity, but a price tag of $48.99. If you are passing through Georgia, or already a resident and have not paid a visit to the Dahlonega wineries, you will certainly want to hop over to Frogtown Cellars! The folks behind the bar are great!
Raise a toast for a Happy New Year !!!
Well, Dezel admits to chatting a little too much at the aforementioned wineries, thus never making it to the remaining three. Hey, time flies when you are having fun, right? I guess I have something to look forward to the next time I visit.
From what I experienced, however, the Georgia wineries in Dahlonega offered warm southern hospitality and awesome views, all wrapped in a becalming atmosphere. The wine industry is still very young and maturing, but the potential is definitely there. These wineries have already won numerous awards in national wine competitions.
Lastly, to answer the question about my folks and their Yellow Tail obsession – let’s just say its simple economics. It is no secret that east coast wine prices are competitive on the east coast, but not so much in the global market. New World producers like Australia cannot be touched in my opinion in the $5 to $10 range, and we are not talking joke wines. These are highly drinkable wines, just not overly interesting, however, a lot of $20+ wines lack complexity also. My folks will definitely visit these places again as they had a wonderful time and loved the atmosphere, but until east coast prices are able to compete with what’s on the store shelves, I’m afraid they will be hopping with the $6 kangaroo, and enjoying the local Georgia wines for special occasions. With that said, they were sipping on a Georgia Sangiovese as I headed out for the airport.
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