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Stomp your way up Wine Highway Weekend
Wineries and other merchants pull out welcome mat for wine lovers
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Steve Gibson, president of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, talks about the Wine Highway Weekend.

Northeast Georgia wineries

Looking for a good place to sip some wine during the Wine Highway Weekend? Here are some places to start.

Blackstock Vineyards
Address: 5400 Town Creek Road, Dahlonega
Contact: 770-983-1371

Chateau Elan
Address: 100 Tour de France, Braselton
Contact: 678-425-0900

Crane Creek Vineyards
Address: 916 Crane Creek Road, Young Harris
Contact: 706-379-1236

Frogtown Cellars
Address: 3300 Damascus Church Road, Dahlonega
Contact: 706-865-0687

Habersham Vineyards & Winery
Address: 7025 S. Main St., Helen
Contact: 706-878-9463

Montaluce Estates and Vineyard
Address: 501 Hightower Church Road, Dahlonega
Contact: 866-991-8466. 706-867-4060

Persimmon Creek Vineyards
Address: 81 Vineyard Lane, Clayton
Contact: 706-546-4884

Sharp Mountain Vineyards
Address: 110 Rathgeb Trail, Jasper
Contact: 770-735-1210

Three Sisters Vineyards
Address: 439 Vineyard Way, Dahlonega
Contact: 706-865-9463

Tiger Mountain Vineyards & Winery
Address: 2592 Old Highway 441, Tiger
Contact: 706-782-9256

Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
Address: 180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega
Contact: 706-867-9862

To wine connoisseurs, Brasstown Valley, Lake Rabun and Tiger Mountain may not be as familiar as Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley, which are part of the world-famous wine country of California.

But those places, among other countryside vistas and establishments in North Georgia, are home to a thriving enterprise of wine making and selling - one that has sparked a yearly Wine Highway Weekend.

"It was something we wanted to do to create an awareness of the wine industry in North Georgia," said Steve Gibson, general manager of Habersham Winery and president of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, both based in Helen.

The association is sponsoring the event, now in its fourth year, as a way to showcase wineries and other businesses, boosting tourism in an already visitor-rich region of the state.

For $20, participants get a souvenir glass that is their ticket to all wineries taking part in the event, which is set for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"You can show up at the winery closest to you, however you want to plan your trip," Gibson said.

"... We let (the wineries) determine their own (offerings), but we guarantee people that when they come to a winery, they'll be able to participate in something that is uniquely for them, for that day, that other people showing up (as regular customers) ... won't get."

Wineries may offer food and wine pairings, music, barrel and library wine tastings, and discounts and drawings.

Other businesses, such as hotels and inns, are offering deals on weekend stays and other discounts.

The Sautee Nacoochee Center for the Arts is featuring food and wine as part of "Hidden Treasures," an auction benefiting the center at the Cornelia Community House.

Designated drivers don't have to pay a fee for the event.

"We want people to be responsible," Gibson said. "We pour very small samples, so if people are careful, they are probably OK. ... We also have several members in our association who are transportation companies, and we try to send them some business for larger groups getting together."

The event began after several association members "had been in Wine Country visiting somewhere during the week that someone had been putting (on a similar event)," Gibson said.

One member in particular "said she thought this is something I think we could probably do ... and promote the industry."

"Each year, we've learned more and more and we've gotten bigger and bigger," Gibson said.

Last year's event drew some 600 people. Gibson said the association is expecting 800 to 1,000 this weekend, especially if the weather cooperates.

Beechwood Inn in Clayton, one of the event's original participants, makes four wines.

"We do gourmet wine dinners each Saturday evening," said Gayle Darugh, who owns the inn with husband David. "We feature wines from around the world, but we do at least four, sometimes six, times a year something that is specifically focused on the wines of Georgia.

"We have a lot of interest from people who, rather than just taste (the wine), want to experience it with food and learn where it's being grown and go and visit the wineries."

The Wine Highway Weekend "is a draw for us for that reason," Darugh said.

Coleen Rotunno, who runs Corkscrew Cafe in Dahlonega with husband Rob, said she enjoys the annual event.

"I think the wave of the future and the progress of (Lumpkin County) is with the wineries, and they are producing great wines," Rotunno said. "And tourists are coming this way because there's dining, entertainment, and it's eclectic and cultural."

Corn mash rather than grapevines may come to mind when some ponder alcohol making's past in North Georgia.

But Gibson said that's not the case.

"There was a wine-growing tradition here ... years ago, before Prohibition wiped it out," he said. "Back in the late 1800s, there was substantial grape growing. ... It didn't start coming back until the late 1970s when Habersham and Chateau Elan (in Braselton) started their (operations)."

Wineries then came and went for a couple of decades.

"Until eight or 10 years or ago, there wasn't a whole lot of activity, and then there was a resurgence of interest in it," Gibson said. "... And the industry continues to grow."