Georgia: Visiting Dahlonega and Georgia Wine Country


Visiting Dahlonega and Georgia Wine Country

Our ongoing quest to experience America’s wine producing regions recently led us to the beautiful north Georgia area, just over an hour north of Atlanta via Route 400. Gently ascending in elevation as we reached the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, time seemed to slow down as we reached our weekend destination — Dahlonega and the heart of Georgia Wine Country.

With plans to stay for two nights, we planned on visiting each of the wineries on the Dahlonega Wine Trail. More wine trails are expected to materialize, particularly since this part of the state is home to half of all Georgia wineries.

Upon driving into the immediate area, one can easily sense why wine grapes would thrive in this location. About an hour north of Atlanta marks the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, with elevations typically reaching 1,500 to 2,000 feet. Westward facing slopes mean abundant afternoon sunshine, and north Georgia’s terroir is well suited to vineyards and grape-growing. In fact, most wineries here rely almost exclusively on Georgia grown grapes, and why not? About a dozen different varieties are successfully grown here, offering ample opportunities for Georgia winemakers.

Golden Dahlonega

Upon arriving in Dahlonega, it’s readily evident why the town is so highly thought of by travel magazines and as a retirement destination. Dahlonega exudes charm, and while the pace is slower than that of a big city, there’s a palpable youthful energy here. Home to North Georgia College State University, Dahlonega offers the perfect mix of historic appeal, college town liveliness and scenic small town spirit.

Dahlonega’s early claim to fame was in the 1820s, when gold was discovered in nearby hills. It set off the first gold rush in America, some twenty years before the California gold rush of the 1840s. Reminders of Dahlonega’s link to gold are everywhere — from the Gold Museum in the historic town square, to some actual gold mines where visitors can try their luck at panning for gold.

Dahlonega is a fairly compact town with a population of just more than 5,000, and it’s quite easy and enjoyable to explore on foot. In Dahlonega’s town square there is an artisan vibe, with galleries and unique specialty shops beckoning visitors inside.

Two places located on the square are of particular interest to wine lovers — Bleu Gallery, an art gallery which shares space with the appealing Naturally Georgia, filled with Georgia-made products of all sorts. Naturally Georgia also doubles as the satellite tasting room for two local wineries that actually are not on the Dahlonega Wine Trail — Crane Creek Vineyards and Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

Another charming retailer is Simply Taste Buds and Georgia Wine Tasting Room, where — as the name implies — you can sample local wines. If you’re here on a day trip and don’t have time to venture to any of the area’s wineries, these two locations are a great way to get acclimated to Georgia wine. It’s also worth lingering in is the Dahlonega Tasting Room, which features wines from Habersham Winery. You can’t miss them as they’re right on the square at 16 N. Park Street.

A leisurely one-hour stroll allowed us to soak up the Dahlonega scenery and make plans for the evening. For movies, concerts and live local theater, there’s the historic Holly Theater, which first opened in 1948. For dinner, Caruso’s Restaurant is an excellent choice, as it’s home to the Dahlonega Brewing Company which offers a full line of tasty brews created on site.

Dahlonega Wine Trail: Day One

Whenever we explore wine trails, we’ve found it ideal to visit three wineries per day, or in this case in an afternoon. Anything less than three and it becomes near impossible to complete a wine trail. So with that in mind, we set our sights on three Dahlonega Wine Trail wineries for our first day: Three Sisters Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars and Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery. Since Three Sisters and Frogtown Cellars are in close proximity to one another, they were first on the agenda.

Three Sisters Vineyards owes its name not to three siblings, but to three mountain peaks visible from the winery’s vineyard. The winery and vineyard are located on a family farm which sprawls out to almost 200 acres. We learned a wide variety of grapes are grown on site, about a dozen actually. And, the wines are 100% created from their own vineyard’s grapes — thereby providing a true taste of the northern Georgia terroir.

We felt the stars of the show at Three Sisters were their Pinot Blanc and a deep red and highly satisfying Cythianna. The Cynthianna grape has a long history in America. Thomas Jefferson cultivated it in his Virginia vineyards, and it’s making a comeback in Georgia. If you get the chance to visit Three Sisters, be sure to enjoy a glass of wine on their beautiful rustic patio.

Just up the road from Three Sisters is Frogtown Cellars. Named after the area where it’s located, the setting is equally impressive. Enjoying wine on their deck was a wonderful way to relax in the afternoon sun, as the deck overlooks Frogtown’s vineyards and a small lake on their property.

The owners here grow two dozen grape varieties in their 40+ acre vineyards on site, along with a southern Georgia vineyard to grow Muscadines. The wine list is equally expansive, including a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc absolutely bursting with fresh citrus tones. Several excellent red varieties are also available, including an Italian-styled Sangiovese, which was awarded a 2011 Gold Medal at the prestigious Finger Lakes Wine Competition.

From Frogtown, we ventured over to Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery, known for their European-style wines that are aged in 100% French Oak barrels and made with grapes grown in their mountain top vineyard.

On Thursdays through Saturdays, you can enjoy lunch at Wolf Mountain’s Vineyard Cafe, which offers tasty fare from noon to 3 p.m. We enjoyed a light snack of Maytag Bleu Cheese and Fig spread with pita chips before sampling a few Wolf Mountain wines.

We enjoyed a unique white wine here at Wolf Mountain named Chanteloup, which is a French word that translates to “song of the wolf”. This dry white offering is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Viognier, resulting in a wonderfully balanced wine. Two reds we tried (and subsequently took home) were Claret, a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Howling Wolf Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Our first day in Georgia Wine Country complete, we headed back to Dahlonega, just a few short minutes away. We enjoyed a brisk walk around town, gazing at the many historic homes and buildings dating back to the 1800s and then later, dinner at Caruso’s Italian Grill, located just off the square. Enjoy a tasty thin crust pizza and one of their many house beers as a nightcap.

Dahlonega Wine Trail: Day Two

Daybreak of our two-day Georgia Wine Country excursion began with cool mountain breezes and a bright blue sky overhead, perfect for a drive to the nearby Amicalola State Park for a view of the tallest waterfall in the eastern U.S., Amicalola Falls. There’s an observation area that’s easy to reach, or if you’re in the hiking mood, a long series of steps with views along the way. The falls are truly spectacular, with water cascading down a series of limestone cliffs on its way to the bottom. If you go, get there early on Saturdays, as it tends to get busy at this popular natural attraction.

Afterwards, our agenda for the day led us to the remaining two wineries on the Dahlonega Trail: Monteluce Winery and Estates and Cavender Creek Vineyards and Winery. Our first stop late that morning was Cavender Creek.

Located a few miles northeast of Dahlonega, Cavender Creek Vineyards and Winery is the newest on the Dahlonega Wine Trail, opening its tasting room in March 2011. This family farm-winery produces several wines from Georgia grown grapes, most notably a Cabernet Sauvignon, Norton, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This is a really fun place to visit, especially if you’re an animal lover — you can see and visit with donkeys, sheep, and a great wine dog named Tinkerbell!

The winery is located in an almost 200-year-old barn that was disassembled and brought here from Tennessee. It overlooks the gently sloping vineyard, which you can view from a deck jutting out from the barn.

We sampled Cavender Creek’s available wines and particularly enjoyed the Norton (which tend to be really great in these parts). We also found the Merlot to be an excellent example of the style.

Our final winery on the trail was Monteluce, which is an interesting concept winery in a planned community located about six miles from the Dahlonega town square. The winery is the centerpiece of the Monteluce estate, which includes gourmet dining, lodging, and a community of homes.

The actual winery and tasting room are housed in a Tuscan style 25,000-square-foot facility that’s located on the highest point of the estate. Every day from noon to 5 p.m. you can order a wine flight which offers five Monteluce wines for $12. You can also buy wine by the glass, or purchase bottles to take home. We enjoyed them all, with our favorite being Primaluce, a blend of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

After finishing at Monteluce, we headed back to Dahlonega to relax for dinner. Locals we spoke to suggested Johnny B’s as a local favorite with easy-on-the-wallet prices. It’s a fun and casual spot located just off the town square and directly across from the North Georgia State University campus. You won’t go wrong with Johnny B’s italian beef sandwich, which rivals any served in Chicago, and also try their wings … they’re famous in these parts!

Summary

We thoroughly enjoyed our excursion to Dahlonega, the Dahlonega Wine Trail and Georgia Wine Country. We’d recommend a two or three-day visit. Dahlonega is well known as a day trip and weekend getaway from Atlanta, particularly in the muggy summer months when temperatures are a bit cooler here. But really, anytime is a great time to visit — autumn is blessed with warm sunny days and pleasantly cool nights.

The wineries on the Dahlonega Wine Trail are just a part of the north Georgia wine scene, as there are about fifteen wineries in the immediate area. Others whose wines we tasted and bought are Habersham Winery in Helen, Georgia who has a tasting room in Dahlonega, and Tiger Mountain Vineyards among several more. One can easily plan a few weekend trips here to go into more depth with Georgia wines.

Cheers!

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Comments

  1. Really enjoyable wine notes. I hope you get the opportunity to also visit in NW Georgia Tiger Mountain Vineyards next to Clayton, GA and Crane Creek Vineyard in Young Harris, GA. Both of these locations have really improved on what is available in Georgia, especially their understanding of producing Norton grape wines. Crane Creek’s Hellbender Norton ages very well for five or so years and will simply amaze you. Remember, ~ always let your Norton wines breathe for 40 minutes or so before enjoying.

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