With his two hands, Sean Wilborn of Buford grew Cloudland Vineyards and Winery from the vine up.
Located on 3796 North Bogan Road in South Hall, the 6-acre winery sits awaiting its grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 16.
Wilborn planted his vineyard’s first grapevines in 2015, digging each hole and installing the structures to support the plants. He said Cloudland came to fruition after working every morning for the past six years.
“If you don’t have money, you better have time,” Wilborn said. “If you don’t have time, you better have money. I didn’t have money, so I took time, and piece by piece built it out.”
When Wilborn first dove into the wine industry, he said building his own wine-making business was always at the forefront. He started at Chateau Elan in Braselton from 2012-2015, gaining experience by working in both its vineyard and cellar. Wilborn said he spent the next three years serving as Biltmore Estate’s winery manager and director of winery operations in Asheville, North Carolina.
“My dream has been so big, and I worked so hard to get there,” he said. “I’ve had a full-time job the whole time, two boys and a loving, patient wife.”
While living in Buford, Wilborn said he would drive up to Asheville for his Biltmore job on Mondays, then return home to be with his family on Friday nights. During the week he would sleep in his Land Cruiser, which he converted into a camper.
“All that money I saved without renting a place, I saved to do this,” he said.
Wilborn said after working at Biltmore, he returned to Chateau Elan to take on the role of winery manager. He left the job on Aug. 8, finally prepared to launch Cloudland.
The name of the winery takes inspiration from its setting, which Wilborn calls “sky country.”
He said the property is located on top of the Eastern Continental Divide. Also called “Gainesville Ridge” by locals, Wilborn said the divide separates the Atlantic Ocean’s watershed from the Gulf of Mexico’s watershed.
At Cloudland, Wilborn now only grows one grape variety — lomanto. He said the specific type was chosen because of how it thrives in Georgia’s humid climate. Unlike the state’s native muscadine grapes, which typically produce sweet wine, Wilborn said the lomanto grapes make for a “brooding, beautiful and purple dry” wine.
When Cloudland opens in October, he plans to offer two vintages of his lomanto wine from 2018 and 2019.
“It’s an amazing grape,” Wilborn said. “If you ask me, I feel like it’s the future of southeastern grape growing.”
In addition to the lomanto, he plans to release sparkling muscadine, port, rose and chardonnay wines. Wilborn said the varietals used that aren’t lomanto will come from other grape-growers.
Before people visit Cloudland, Wilborn asks that they make a reservation through the winery’s website, which will be available in the coming weeks.
“What that allows us to do is one control volume and control experience,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re giving you a great experience.”
At any given time, the winery will limit its capacity to 80 people. However, if people show up without making a reservation, Wilborn said he won’t turn them away, and will instead direct them to purchase wine by the glass or bottle.
The other offerings from Cloudland, like winery tours and staff-guided tastings, must be booked in advance. Wilborn said the bottle prices will range from $20-$27, and the tastings will go from $20-$25. For winery tours and seasonal workshops — including food and wine pairings — the cost will be around $40.
With the vineyard backdropping the tasting room and outdoor seating, Wilborn said he wants people to feel connected to where their wine comes from. He encourages guests to soak up the setting and “get your feet in the grass.”
“I want this to be a neighborhood winery where you feel comfortable and you have your favorite spot under the tree, and you feel safe,” he said. “It’s a getaway right here in town.”
When Cloudland opens, its hours will be from 1-7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; and noon to 8 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
For more information, visit Cloudland’s Facebook page.