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Murray: Family farm grows love of fine wine

POSTED: June 3, 2009 1:00 a.m.
/For The Times

Tiger Mountain Vineyards south of Clayton produces wines from uncommon European grapes like Tannat, from southwestern France, and Touriga Nacional, the primary red wine grape used in making Porto in Portugal.

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This is the first in a series of profiles of Georgia wineries. Subsequent profiles will appear when the writer feels sufficiently motivated to do them ... or when his editor yells at him.

Up in the mountains of Rabun County, near the resort areas of Lake Burton and Lake Rabun, is one of Georgia's fine wineries - Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

Running the show at the purple and yellow-signed winery on Old Highway 441 in Tiger are Martha and John Ezzard. Fans may recognize Martha's name and, yes, she is the same one who served on the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and wrote there for many years.

What brought the Ezzards to the soft green mountains of Northeast Georgia is a precious parcel of 100 acres that had been in John's family for five generations. Much of that land, farmed through the decades by members of the Arrendale and Ezzard families, is at the heart of Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

Just a couple of miles down the old highway from the funky town of Clayton, Tiger Mountain Vineyards (look behind the winery and you'll see the namesake peak) produces high-quality, European-style red and white wines. John, who still practices urology part-time, researched well the soils and microclimates of the land he worked so hard to embrace.

Martha explains the process: "One of our early decisions was to plant grape varieties that seemed the most compatible with a southeastern terroir ... We didn't want to compete with Napa Valley-style wines, rather to be unique."

That led to consultations with noted Virginia winemaker Dennis Horton, who had tinkered with out-of-the-ordinary European grapes - and a strong American wine grape, Norton. Norton was the star of mid-19th century winemaking in Missouri and is making a comeback. Also known as Cynthiana, Norton produces differing styles of red wines.

Tiger Mountain produces a Horton-labeled Mountain Cyn, and blends the grape with others to make its Rabun Red, a medium-bodied red.

If you are thirsting for merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, move along. They don't do well in the Tiger Mountain microclimate and the Ezzards are not about to waste their time and energy trying to fight nature. Instead, they have planted a flurry of respected, but little-known vinifera (European) grapes that flourish in their care.

Among these are Tannat, from southwestern France, and Touriga Nacional, the primary red wine grape used in making Porto in Portugal. Tiger Mountain produces wines bearing each name on the label, then blends the two into a full-blown, cries-for-a-steak red called TNT (see if you can figure out that name).

The best-known wine to come out of Tiger Mountain's small vineyard plantings is Petit Manseng. I had to look it up. It also comes from southwest France and is grown only at Tiger Mountain and in Virginia in this country. Tiger Mountain gets this unique white wine right - really right!

I told Martha the wine just explodes in the mouth; full of honey-fruit, big acid components and flavors I could not describe. She just smiled. The Petit Manseng has won a boatload of awards, and for good reason. It's a bit pricey at $35, but is a gorgeous wine. For a lower tariff try the Rabun Blanc; there's Petit Manseng in it.

Other wines produced at Tiger Mountain include Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Malbec and Tinta Cao, all reds, and the Rhone Valley white, Viognier.

As stewards of the land Martha and John Ezzard love to show off their agricultural work in progress. Tours can be arranged year-round. Just give them a call.

Wine cruise to Germany

Looking for a pleasant way to spend a few days in October?

Grapes and Hops, that fine-dining establishment in Flowery Branch, offers what looks to be an outstanding cruise on the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Germany.

Michelle and Bernd, who run Grapes and Hops, will host this eight-day adventure Oct. 11-18. There are a few slots remaining.

There will be six guided tours into German wine country, with tastings at a number of wineries. You'll see castles and monuments and old cities - there's even a beer tasting.

For more information contact Grapes and Hops, 770-965-9145, or by e-mail at grapesandhops@att.net. Or you can contact travel agent Susan Rogers at susanrogerstravels@hotmail.com.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column runs on the first Wednesday of the month.



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