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Murray: Unique mix of grapes adds to winemaker's allure
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Blackstock Vineyards and Winery
Address: 5400 Town Creek Road, Dahlonega
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 12:30-6 p.m., Sunday
More info: 706-219-2789

    
This month’s local wine events

Wolf Mountain Vineyards
What: Eighth annual Awakening of the Vines & Bluegrass Brunch
When: Sunday and April 18 and 25; brunch seatings are at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m., music by The Packway Handle Band
How much: $30 plus tax and gratuity
More info: 706-867-9862 for reservations and directions

Tiger Mountain Vineyards
What: A celebration of the release of the 2008 vintage of malbec, a dry, full-bodied red wine
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; music at 1 p.m.
How much: $10, includes wine, roasted sausages and artisanal breads and cheeses
More info: 706-782-4777

Grapes & Hops Bar and Bistro
What: Murder mystery dinner featuring the production “end Scene”
When: April 25
How much: $45, includes three-course dinner and cost of the play
More info: 770-965-9145; reservations required

David Harris knows his way around a vineyard. He should; for many years the fruit from his Blackstock Vineyards was highly prized by winemakers throughout northeast Georgia, who bought Blackstock grapes to make wines that would bear their labels.

Then in 2004, David Harris strapped on his winemaker boots. He began making his own wines with the new label of Blackstock Vineyards and Winery. And yet another premium winery began to bolster northeast Georgia’s reputation for quality wines.

With a panoramic view of the bare vineyards in early March as a backdrop, Harris recently talked with me about his theories, his drive and his wines in the Blackstock tasting room, located between Cleveland and Dahlonega. Blackstock sits on rolling hills that nurture those 40 acres of grapevines and whose soils and microclimate make the fruit that makes the wine that makes the critics stand up and say, “Whoa!” (Or whatever wine critics say when they are really impressed.)

Blackstock grows only vinifera — classic European — grapes. The roster is large, impressive and eclectic, much like his wines. You’ll find touriga nacional growing side-by-side with mourvedre. The former is the primary grape for Porto; the latter, one of the Rhone Valley’s pre-eminent red grapes.

Harris calls this juxtaposition “The New World vs. the Old World.”

“Nowhere else in the world will you find those two grapes growing together,” he says. Northeast Georgia provides just the right conditions for that to happen.

The result is Blackstock’s premier wine, ACE Reserve. It’s an impressive blend of touriga, mourvedre and a splash of the Reserve Merlot. The name comes from his children, Austin, Chandler and Eliza. The wine is big, full-bodied and needs aging. His first release, the ’04 ACE, can be purchased at the winery for $100. Newer vintages will pluck less from your wallet.

“My hallmark is balance,” Harris told me. “No fruit bombs. I work to avoid too much acid, tannin or alcohol.”

That balance glimmered in the wines we tasted that blustery, gray day, warm and dry in a tasting room that offers basic comforts without an abundance of frills.

Viognier is a white grape that originated in the Rhone and does quite well in this area. For years Blackstock provided the fruit for Habersham Vineyards and Winery’s award-winning viognier. Today Harris makes two versions: A regular bottling and a reserve, with some oak finish. The first is a nice enough wine, with viognier’s typical peachy aroma floating above the glass. But the reserve has some muscle, which I preferred.

Another European grape that thrives here is sangiovese, the dominant red grape in Tuscany — think Chianti. Harris makes a lovely dry sangiovese rose that will be a welcome guest at summer picnics. There also is a spicy, dry red sangiovese that’s quite tasty.
What’s the best wine you’ve produced? I asked Harris. He didn’t hesitate.

“Our 2004 Reserve merlot,” he responded. “It has depth, structure and will be good for 20 years.”

Bargain hunters can look for Blackstock’s Rocking Chair Red, a light-bodied merlot that can be had for $9 — but you have to buy a case of it, or a mixed case. My verdict for the Rocking Chair? It’s a great hamburger wine.

Harris smiles. “I call it my recession wine.”

Blackstock also offers chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and a luscious dessert wine called Touriga Dulce.

One thing might startle wine snobs and send them fleeing like rabbits. Every bottle of Blackstock wine is topped with a screwcap.

Why?

“Better quality,” Harris shrugs. There’s no worry about failed corks, or the taint of the chemical TCA that sometimes occurs in natural cork and which spoils the wine. There’s also no necessity to scrounge around the kitchen to find the corkscrew. And it makes saving any leftover wine much simpler.

Harris employs a unique method for trellising his grapevines, which actually increases production. By stringing 13 wires on the trellises, he explains, he can quadruple the total leaf area of each vine … “And the leaves are the sugar factory of the grapevine.”
David Harris and Blackstock Vineyards and Winery are just one more reason to honor the exemplary wines of northeast Georgia.

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