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Wine Without Pretense: Georgia wineries have come a long way

POSTED: November 6, 2013 1:30 a.m.

In last month’s column, I answered a question from a reader about a Northeast Georgia winery that recently passed away. In writing that response, I was reminded of the degree to which I have come to be a fan and supporter of Georgia wines.

Georgia, my friends, makes some pretty good juice.

The 13th colony began its life as a wine-friendly state. Georgia founder James Oglethorpe required all residents to grow grapes and mulberry trees. The former was for the production of wine; the latter to help in the production of silk. Neither one was a raving success.

Since then, for much of Georgia’s life, it has been a tough row to hoe for wine growers and makers and wine aficionados. That has a lot to do with the conservative religious makeup of the Peach State.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Americans took to the barricades regarding what some called "the demon rum." Prohibitionists, those who declared war on alcohol in America, did so largely using religious arguments. Alcohol corrupts individuals and destroys families was the cry among those who argued in favor of a national booze ban.

There is a grain of truth in some of these battle cries, but they conveniently overlooked or outshouted the fact that most drinkers were sensible. The image the "drys" conveyed was one of drunkard fathers passed out in the gutter, while their families were forced out of their homes and into the cold. It played well in Peoria, but the diamond of truth was buried in a septic tank of, well, you know.

In 1908, 11 years before the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act kicking off Prohibition, Georgia voters approved a similar measure statewide. And wineries as well as breweries and distilleries began to blink out. Wine in the minds of the drys was Moonshine Light.

In addition to getting an early start on a dry state, Georgia clung to its law for four years after the Volstead Act was repealed.

So there we were in the middle 1930s, in the grip of the Great Depression. Alcohol production, with the exception of folks who cleverly hid their stills in the hills and valleys, was pretty much shot. The physical facilities had rusted or rotted away, the people needed to revive such facilities that were not around. And society, harried by simply finding enough to eat, put wine consumption way down on the list of priorities.

As a result, Georgia’s small wine industry suffered greatly.

Then comes 1939. The Depression was lifting its smothering influence from the country. But a great war erupted in Europe and soon would spread around the globe. Young people took to arms, and the wine industry suffered again.

But many GIs coming home from the war brought with them new attitudes about wine — having partaken of good-quality European wines and enjoyed more liberal attitudes toward it. They wanted more than muscadine wines.

So, in the late 1950s and early ’60’s, Georgia slowly began to flex its oenological muscles. In the 1980s, Georgia enacted laws enabling family wineries to produce and sell their wines on premise. The state, recognizing the financial benefit of a thriving wine industry, began to support and encourage farmers who produced grapes and winemakers who turned them into wine.

Today, Northeast Georgia is home to nearly a dozen successful wineries, producing top-quality wines that will satisfy the most demanding of palates. Georgia winemakers have brought home numerous national awards, including gold and silver medals and best in show.

Take a tour around Northeast Georgia’s wine country. Sample the wines. Chat with the owners and winemakers, who generally can be found on their land with dirt on their shoes. You will find many of Georgia’s wines that have a lot to say to you.

Following is a list of most of the more accessible and better-quality wineries in our area. For more information, contact the winery.

Enjoy the trip!

Cavender Creek Vineyards &Winery, 3610 Cavender Creek Road, Dahlonega, GA, 30533; 770-823-9255; ccvw@ymail.com; cavendercreekvineyards.com.

Frogtown Cellars, 700 Ridge Point Drive, Dahlonega, GA, 30533; 706-865-0687; cydney@frogtownwine.com; frogtownwine.com.

Habersham Vineyards & Winery, 7025 S. Main St. (Highway 75) Helen, GA, 30545; 706-878-9463; info@HabershamWinery.com; habershamwinery.com.

Montaluce Estates, 501 Hightower Church Road, Dahlonega, GA, 30533; 866-991-8466; info@montaluce.com; Montaluce.com.

Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards, 98 Old Nacoochee Way, Sautee Nacoochee, GA 30571; 706-878-1056; info@sauteenacoocheevineyards.com; sauteenachoocheevineyards.com.

Three Sisters, 439 Vineyard Way, P.O. Box 3, Dahlonega, GA, 30533; 706-865-9463; info@threesistersvineyards.com; threesistersvineyards.com.

Tiger Mountain Vineyards, 2592 Old Highway 441 South, Tiger, GA, 30576; 706-782-4777; tigerwine@windstream.net; tigerwine.com.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards, 180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega, GA, 30533; 706-867-9862; wolfmountainvineyards@yahoo.com; wolfmountainvineyards.com.

Yonah Mountain Vineyards tasting room, 2454-B Highway 17, Sautee Nacoochee, GA, 30571; 706-878-5522; yonahmountainvineyards@gmail.com; yonahmountainvineyards.com.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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