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Wine Without Pretense: White County wine country is really jumping!

POSTED: September 3, 2014 1:10 a.m.

On a late July road trip sponsored by the White County Chamber of Commerce and hosted by genial Chamber President Cindy Bailey, a group of rowdy food, wine and travel scribes climbed the hills and wandered the valleys of a truly lovely part of North Georgia.

The transportation was in plush buses provided by VIP Southern Tours, which offers Georgia Wine Tours to folks who would like to trek from winery to winery without the worry of driving.

And this scribe is here to say the majority of wines from our part of the world are genuinely good and getting better every year. As more wineries put down roots in White, Lumpkin and Rabun counties and elsewhere in North Georgia, the friendly competition to make better wine grows. The results are there for the tasting.

We started at Habersham Winery on Ga. 75 just south of Helen. I immediately opted for a taste of the Creekstone Viognier, which was the first Georgia wine I tasted … about 10 years ago. Sadly, today’s version is not as good as the memory.

But the Traminette, a hybrid of Gewurztraminer and Seyval Blanc grapes, grown by Cartecay Vineyards and produced by Habersham, really glowed. It’s flowery and flavorful.

Argue if you wish, but I’m convinced the best wine in North Georgia is coming out of Yonah Mountain Winery.

Bob Miller and his family, who own Yonah Mountain, have put a ton of money into the place on Ga. 255 south of Cleveland. And it shows, in both the impressive scope of the facility, with its huge new tasting room and venue space and in the wines coming out of the state-of-the-art production area.

Combine Miller’s vast wherewithal with the low-key genius of winemaker Joe Smith, and you have a recipe for success.

We tasted Totem, an insanely expensive — to make and to buy — red wine. It’s crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes purchased on-site by Smith from the Howell Mountain Winery, a premium Napa Valley producer. It's packed in dry ice, shipped to Georgia and turned into world-class wine.

Eric Miller, Bob’s son, tells of the time they were told “you’ll never sell a $100 bottle of Georgia wine.” They made 92 cases and have sold 45 of them so far. Although it needs a few years of bottle aging, Totem raises the bar for Georgia wines. It is spectacular.

Also tasty is their Sauvignon Blanc, black label 2012 Chardonnay and the Meritage-style blended red, Genesis 4.

Down the road is Joe Smith’s winery, Serenity Cellars, done up in Italianate style and full of wines that shine with Smith's touch. I love what he does with the Traminette grape. This wine, made from grapes grown in the Ellijay area, brings a nose full of rose petals.

I enjoyed the blended red Smith calls Contentment. It’s Malbec, Syrah and Touriga Nacional, a grape normally used in the production of Porto. And everyone liked the 2013 Pinot Grigio made from Washington state grapes.

Earlier we stopped by The Cottage Vineyard and Winery north of Cleveland for lunch. Winemaker Nathan “Too Tall” Beasley hosted the visit and impressed a hungry audience with a sampling of wines.

I like the Seyval Blanc, a white French-American hybrid. It is crisp and clean with a nice acid bite and a burst of fruit flavor.

I also did a side-by-side tasting of a pair wines, the only 100 percent Pinot Noirs made in Georgia, said Too Tall — who really does stand about 7-feet tall. One’s a reserve with a hint of oak. The other is lighter with a tad more fruit flavors. Both are nice wines made from Oregon fruit.

The big hit of the visit was Ol’ Blue, a blend of red muscadine grape and blueberry juice. It comes from Currahee Vineyards in Toccoa and brings amazing sweet flavors and textures to the mouth. Coincidentally, Marvin Dunson, Currahee’s owner and winemaker, hosted a dinner that night at the lovely Sylvan Valley Lodge and showed off Ol’ Blue.

I’m getting a bottle, making a reduction of Ol’ Blue and pouring it over French vanilla ice cream. And I’m not sharing.

Sautee-Nacoochee Vineyards is another family run operation. It’s small but the tasting room is cozy and friendly. Hostess Pixie Gray made sure everybody got wine and knew its history.

I enjoyed Sautee White, a crisp, nearly dry white blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc. I see this as a hot, humid afternoon quaffer when you need something chilled and refreshing. 

The reds I tasted — Sangiovese and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon — were a bit on the thin side and need greater fruit expression. But I did hear compliments about the Nacoochee Red, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot.

This road show was a great experience for me. Although I had sampled wines from all these wineries previously, it was good to sip with others and trade impressions.

Lumpkin County wineries, you’ve got some pretty stiff competition out there in White County. Next time we’ll see how you are doing.

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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