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Wine Without Pretense: Transforming from city girl to wine grower’s wife

POSTED: April 2, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Martha Ezzard wears many hats. She’s been a lawyer, journalist, state legislator and most likely a few other things.

The hat she’s worn for the past several years in Rabun County belongs to a farm/winery owner, which she is, with her physician husband John.

John and Martha Ezzard are part of the trend of urban professionals leaving the rat race (mostly) and taking up the often-trying art of growing grapes and making wine. And they do it extremely well at Tiger Mountain Vineyards in suburban Tiger, population 339.

For many years I have been a big fan of Martha and John and the sterling wines they produce. The list of awards gathered by Tiger Mountain wines is impressive, including a double gold award (best of class and best of show) recently given its 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve at a prestigious East Coast wine competition. Tiger’s 2010 Mourvedre won a silver.

Now Martha has painted a portrait in words, warts and all, of how she became a farm wife and learned to dig in the dirt. Hand her another hat with “author” on it.

Her book is “The Second Bud: Deserting the City for a Farm Winery.” The title refers to the second budding of the grape vine, around which this well-written narrative flows. It is published by Mercer University Press in Macon.

If you grow the grapes from which you make the wine, you are a farmer. Martha makes it very clear how tough it was to convert from city girl to farm wife. But her story is not just about growing grapes and making wine. It’s filled with the emotional determination to save the five-generations-old Ezzard farm of 100 acres, in the shadow of the crooked-back Tiger Mountain.

That land is sacred ground to John Ezzard. When his father died, no one was immediately at hand to pick up the farm tools, fire up the cranky tractor and save the land. So John and Martha ended one chapter of their life together in Colorado and came back to the farm.

She is now wedded to the rolling hills that make the vineyards so wonderful to view. That marriage is literal and figurative: She lost the diamond of her wedding ring while working the vines.

One of the many things I enjoy about “The Second Bud” is Martha’s unwillingness to sugarcoat the overall transformation. She writes passionately about losing the battle with a late frost and seeing a marauding bear create a snack bar in one of the young vineyards. They named the bear, who was humanely trapped and hauled away to a new home, “Cabernet.”

Marital stresses and strains also seep through.

She writes fondly about the only helper they had in the very early days, a legendary football coach named Arvel Holmes. “Coach” often took a jaundiced view of a woman so deeply involved in farm labors. He often broadly hinted “Mah-tha” should go back to the big city. Characters such as Coach populate the pages of “The Second Bud” and pour life into them.

Martha’s zest and John’s dogged determination glow throughout the book. Their success is summarized by the list of awards Tiger Mountain wines have garnered, and by the fact that they still are married and speaking to each other.

Want some idea of the joy, tears and toil that go into your bottle of wine? Grab a copy of “The Second Bud.” It’s a treat.

And if you have not visited Tiger Mountain Vineyards, you are in for another treat. It’s in a lovely setting, and the wines are terrific. Make sure you look for the energetic woman in the bright yellow Ford Ranger and say “howdy” to Martha.

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


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