The “Drink Local” wine challenge becomes easier
as the quality of Georgia wines continues to improve
|"The state has a wine for every taste and we are fortunate to have dedicated farmers from all walks of life working to craft award-winning wines." (Photo gy Wayne Crawford)|
Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford
The “Eat Local” movement encourages consumers and restaurants to integrate local farm produce into diet and menus. According to http://eatlocal.net, farmers markets have the potential to return 90 cents on the dollar to the farmer. The “Drink Local” wine movement, nurtured in part by Jeff Siegel and Dave McIntyre, focuses on regional wines. Siegel, in his daily blog, http://winecurmudgeon.com, showcases, in clear language, quality wines with great prices—$10 or less.
Georgia has 31 bonded wineries (licensed to bottle and sell wine) and a dozen or more vineyard farmers who grow and sell grapes. Georgia is not new to vineyard farming. Savannah, Georgia’s first city, boasted a Trustee’s Garden, 1733 to 1748. Grapes were tested here to determine if crops grown elsewhere in the British Empire might grow in Georgia (A History of Georgia Agriculture by James C Bonner). Bonner also chronicled the Creek Indians in North Georgia were cultivating melons, grapes and strawberries after 1800.
For Georgia, as in other wine-growing regions, grape varieties are determined largely by local growing conditions—what the French call “terroir”—a combination of climate, topography and soil. Georgia, with its subtropical climate characterized by mild winters and hot moist summers, exhibits a wide range of geology and soil.
Four Georgia vineyards, approximating the four points of a compass, help illustrate the state’s wine-growing diversity and its dependence on elevation, soil, and climate for grape cultivation. These wineries also serve to benchmark the cross-section of dedicated farmers—our neighbors—who are growing and crafting wines.
Still Pond Vineyards and Winery
In Georgia’s southwest, outside Arlington, Still Pond Vineyards and Winery (http://stillpond.com) is owned and operated by Charles Cowart and his son Charlie Cowart, winemaker. Opened in 2003, Still Pond grows 180 acres of Muscadine grapes on the largest grape vineyard in Georgia. The strong and hardy Carlos Muscadine grape accounts for 60 acres; several other Muscadine varieties, including Magnolia, Noble and Higgins, make up the balance.
The land here is flat at 320 feet above sea level. Twenty percent of the wine produced is bottled by Charles in red and white wines, some infused with blackberry, blueberry, peach and watermelon flavoring. The other 80 percent supports Muscadine needs at Chateau Elan and Habersham Vineyards in north Georgia. The Tifton sandy loam, the official soil of Georgia, is sandy hard clay that retains some moisture. Long dry periods require drip irrigation to sustain the vines. The super-sweet Still Pond Gold Limited Reserve is a delicious dessert wine and one of my favorites - well worth the visit where the wine-tasting is free!
Tiger Mountain Vineyards
In the northeast, Tiger Mountain Vineyards outside Clayton is owned and operated by John and Martha Ezzard and John and Marilyn McMullen. John Ezzard was born on this 100-acre farm and, with his wife, returned to Georgia from his medical practice in Colorado in 1995 to begin planting grapes while still practicing medicine.
Located at 2,000 feet above sea level with average annual rainfall at above 73 inches, there is little need for irrigation. A wide cross section of grapes thrives on the approximately 10 acres under vine. Primary holdings are in Red Cabernet Franc, Touriga Nacional, Tannat, Malbec, Mourvedre and the American grape Norton. The white wine grapes include Viognier and Petit Manseng, both proven to be successful on the East Coast. Collectively, the vineyard produces about 35 tons of grapes annually.
Like many productive bonded vineyards, Tiger Mountain brings in juice from local farmers that complement production needs. High altitude vineyard farming presents challenges including plant mildew, Japanese beetles and the occasional bear that can devour considerable grapes in a one-night outing. It also provides climate conditions which allow the European Vitas Vinifera grapes to flourish. Check http://tigerwine.com/where to buy.html for a host of restaurants and merchants carrying Tiger Mountain wines. Try the Cabernet Franc Reserve and the Petit Manseng.
Crane Creek Vineyards
Northwest from Tiger Mountain Vineyards, in the high country of Young Harris almost at the North Carolina border, is Crane Creek Vineyards http://cranecreekvineyards.com), owned and operated by Eric and DeAnne Seifarth. Eric, a West Point graduate and retired Army officer, and DeAnne, a veterinarian, have family ties to Fanning, Georgia. The vineyard location, selected partially for its position in the USDA plant hardiness map (zone 6), offers an altitude between 1,900 and 2,100 feet above sea level, lots of water and well-draining soil. Eric is his own winemaker.
On about half of his 40 acres, he maintains vines which include a diverse cross section: Vitas Vinifera grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; French-American hybrid varieties of Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Traminette and Villard Noir; the modern hybrid Chardonel; and the Native American varieties Norton and Catawba.
Eric is producing in excess of 40 tons of grapes annually. A unique microclimate with dry summer days and cool mountain nights helps produce wines with firm aromas and concentrated flavors. The enemy of the vineyard is birds and Eric makes good use of netting to keep his red grapes on the vine until they have reached full maturity. My wife, Kathy, is a big fan of Crane Creek’s first vines Seyval Blanc.
Cartecay Vineyards (http://cartecayvineyards.com), westernmost on this tour, is south and east of Ellijay and was established in 2007. Of its 89 acres, approximately 13 are under vine. Altitude is 1,650 to 1,750 feet above sea level. The owners are Larry Lykins, a University of Georgia agricultural graduate, and his wife Shay, a dentist. Cartecay is not yet a bonded winery. However, with the assistance of Habersham Winery in Helen, they produced their first wines in 2010.
The vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Norton, Catawba, Merlot, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Traminette. Nature’s challenges include bears, deer and birds along with the glassy-winged sharpshooter. This last carries the deadly Pierce’s bacterial disease which can kill a vine in two years. This disease is less likely to occur where winter temperatures are cold and at higher altitudes but is a factor to consider for vineyards planting the susceptible Vitis Vinifera grapes.
Muscadine grapes, it should be noted, are resistant to this disease which generally is more prevalent south of the fall line, a geological boundary about twenty miles wide that runs across Georgia from Columbus to Augusta. The Vidal Blanc 2010 is a light crisp white wine that is an easy drinker.
Drink what you like!
The “Drink Local” wine challenge becomes easier as the quality of Georgia wines continues to improve. The state has a wine for every taste and we are fortunate to have dedicated farmers from all walks of life working to craft award-winning wines.
The Big Canoe Wine Group and the HOA fundraiser will showcase some the of the best down-under wines. Read about them next month along with summer wines ready to drink now.
Wayne is a Certified Specialist of Wine CSW, member Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.
Photo: 1 by Wayne Crawford