North Georgia Wine Trail
At elevation there is a calm in the air that makes even the cold mornings inviting. Waking up just before dawn and grabbing a seat on the porch to watch a slow sunrise over the horizon of the mountains. Reclined in a high back rocking chair that elicits a low creak from the old wooden floor boards. The sounds are echoed by something shuffling in the not far off woods; the dog raising its head from a natural slumber to see what’s there. And everything else just seems to slow down.
This is a scene, a peaceful start to the day, that can be drawn as the backdrop of many regions from the east coast to the west. This particular visage is of the lower Blue Ridge area just north of Dahlonega. We stayed in a setting just like this recently. A quick reset to take advantage of a holiday weekend. Just over an hour’s drive from Atlanta and relatively inexpensive. Our expectations were not high and we had not been back to the area in nearly a decade.
Time when added to a distinct vision and craft can produce some of the most surprising outcomes. The city of Dahlonega and the surrounding nascent wine industry has achieved just that. The old square has always had a simple charm about it. Arts and crafts stores intermingled with a local diner, and a classic ice cream vendor on the corner. It was always a symbol of small town living of years past. But the area has seen a population influx driven by the growth at North Georgia College, agriculture, and wine making. In Atlanta, we have seen how such growth tears down the old and replaces it with towering glass, steel, and stone. In the Dahlonega area, for whatever reason, they have taken a more measured approach. The result is a clever balance that reminded me why I loved wine country in Northern California.
To be fair, the wine itself has a ways to go before knocking off the masters of California. Those old estates have had decades of practice at the art and had to overcome the judgment of the European labels before them. But what we have developing in North Georgia now, is a real commitment to producing quality and moreover, the experience that has made wine trails all over, so sought after. The living embodiment of how the right formula of time, skill, earth, setting, and simple living, can melt the modern world away. Put you into a state of mind where you tell yourself, “yeah, I can do this, sell everything and just own a vineyard.” You would be lying to yourself; this is not a whimsical endeavor.
I have been to enough Vineyard’s to know there are really just three types; the small family owned operation, the large commercial outfit, and those somewhere in between. You will find options to see all of these varieties on your winding drive around the Dahlonega area. In fact I recommend that you make sure your day includes on of each, evenly spaced out between each visit. You will come away better informed about the business of wine making and also the experience of chasing that great bottle.
Accent Cellars is a small converted house near the town square. If not for the GPS and small sign just off the main road you could miss it. Turning down the gravel driveway you see an inviting, grassy, semi covered outdoor area. Perfect for lounging on a warm weather day and sipping slowly. The main building is a small tasting room, usually staffed by no more than one or two people; often the cofounders. There are a handful of board games, blankets for cold days, and tables to spread out away from the tasting bar. The simplicity of the space serves as a clean canvass for highlighting the custom art spread across the walls; made by the siblings of one of the two cofounders. Even more, it is a decomposed backdrop to just learn the intricacies of wine; the knowledge of which is a great source of pride for the Accent operators. This visit is your small family owned and operated winery.
About a 30-minute scenic drive up the main highway you start to see smaller mountains (or large hills depending on your experience) and a symbol of a black bear pointing towards rolling vine covered fields. The road leads to a central building that is a temple to Yonah’s grand vision. A solar array is off in the distance and electric charging stations line the parking lot. Every thing is big here. The tastings, the round central tasting bar, the prices. This place is the professional operation. Built to win commercially and be the estate everyone envisions when they think wine country. The owners even live on the sprawling property. For all of the grandeur, it is not off putting. The expanse of the landscape invites you into the outdoor patio space to relax and enjoy a little luxury for once. Reflect on the big plans you have in life.
Driving back down towards Dahlonega from Yonah, near the small dammed lake there is a literal dirt road pull off that leads down a tree lined path to the Cavender Creek Vineyards. Tiny houses, operating barns, fields populated with Lammas and goats and cows, surround a newly untreated wood cladding central tasting room. It is almost intentionally unfinished but comfortably appointed. Deep leather armchairs and sofas arranged in multiple sitting areas, literary classics are lined up on the many bookshelves placed in the corners, all flowing out to the outdoor patio area full of Adirondack rocking chairs placed around a stone fire pit. Cavender is that wonderful balance in between Accent and Yonah. The owner can be seen riding an ATV from building to building as her blonde hair waves from under a work hat, checking in on every detail. It’s not trying to be Yonah but it’s got more hands than Accent. You almost want to move in and join the crew. It’s my favorite type of place.
At least once a quarter we would set out from San Jose to Napa and Sonoma. Just over an hour’s drive from start to finish on a mild Saturday morning. This wine stock up trip was the most convenient escape from hectic schedules and responsibilities. It was common for one or two couples to join. Food, wine, shopping, and most of all relaxation at vineyards from Sonoma to Healdsburg a short drive away. I have missed that respite since moving back. I feel reassured knowing that the same experience, even if smaller, is being nursed in our extended backyard.
Some final tips:
– Make sure to check out The Crimson Moon for good food and live music.
– My Foursquare List of Wineries to visit while in North Georgia.
– The best times of year to go are early Spring and Fall.