Raise a glass to Georgia's booming (and surprisingly diverse) wine industry at one of dozens of vineyards.
Call it "Nappalachia." From Atlanta, steer your car north on US-19 and in a couple of hours, you'll find yourself in the thick of Georgia wine country, with six wineries located in and around Dahlonega. Hop east a few miles and you'll hit Helen, home to another half-dozen wineries. The industry has come a long way since Georgia's first wineries began opening in the early 1980s. According to Georgia Wine Producers, the state is now home to 57 licensed wineries, nearly double the number from 10 years ago. That number is expected to double again over the next decade.
“When Habersham Winery began 35 years ago, we were one of the only ones around,” says Emily DeFoor, general manager at Habersham Vineyards & Winery and president of Georgia Wine Producers. “As Georgia has grown culturally and population-wise, the wine culture has really developed and grown at the same time.”
Though Georgia is perhaps best known for sweet wines made from muscadines — the muscadine industry here is the largest in the world — the state’s wine industry is more diverse than you might imagine, thanks to its varied climate and soil (terroir, in wine speak). Many of the state’s northern wineries grow hybrid grape cultivars specially matched to Georgia’s unique environment, producing wines like Traminette (a white similar to Riesling), Chambourcin (an acidic red that’s often used in blends), and Blanc du Bois (an aromatic white, like Sauvignon blanc).
“To try to produce the same wines that California does is nearly impossible because of the differences in climate,” says Cain Hickey, Ph.D., who was hired last year as the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s first full-time wine grape specialist. “These grapes grow well here, and better quality grapes means better quality wines. Instead of drinking a Merlot or Chardonnay that you could find anywhere, why not try something that you can only get in our region?”
A (Brief) Trip Through Georgia Wine Country
You’ll find dozens of wineries in Georgia, including these five notable spots.
Chateau Elan, Braselton
Since hiring noted Italian winemaker Simone Bergese in 2013, Chateau Elan Winery & Resort has revamped both its tasting room and its winemaking process. The most awarded winery on the East Coast for past three years, Chateau Elan sits on a golf and spa resort and hosts daily vineyard tours and wine tastings.
Habersham Vineyards & Winery, Helen
One of the state’s oldest wineries, Habersham Vineyards & Winery has been producing wines for more than 35 years. The tasting room, which is open daily, carries 15 to 20 wines, and you can make a picnic with gourmet foods available for sale at the gift shop. During warm months, the outdoor pavilion hosts live music.
Sweet Acre Farms Winery, Alto
In 2014, Matt Vrahiotes and his wife, Lindsey, began manufacturing fruit and muscadine wine on their Gainesville-area farm, making Sweet Acre Farms Winery the first winery in Hall County since 1935. In their tasting room, which is open Thursday through Monday, try a glass of “Bramblin’ Sam,” their most popular variety, made from blackberries and apples.
Still Pond Vineyard & Winery, Arlington
Located in southwest Georgia, Still Pond Vineyard, Winery & Distillery specializes in muscadine wines — of which they produce nearly a dozen different types — as well as meads and moonshine made from muscadines. Open Monday through Saturday, the winery offers complimentary tastings and self-guided vineyard tours.
Georgia Winery, Ringgold
The state’s oldest farm winery, The Georgia Winery opened in Ringgold, near the Tennessee border, in 1982. The winery welcomes visitors daily, and on Saturdays you can take a behind-the-scenes tour ($15) that includes a flight of three signature wines paired with cheese.