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Sweet Acre Farms lands a spot on popular Wine Highway
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Matthew Vrahiotes, owner of Sweet Acre Farms Winery, stands on the porch at his winery in Alto on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Sweet Acre Farms, Etowah Meadery and Mercier Orchards have found their way onto North Georgia’s popular Wine Highway.

The Wine Highway Week in March is one of the biggest events of the year for wineries in the region that belong to the North Georgia Winegrowers, formerly named the Winegrowers Association of Georgia.

You’ll notice something about the three new stops on the highway: None of them produce grape wine. Sweet Acre Farms makes fruit wine, while Etowah Meadery in Dahlonega makes honey wine, called mead, and Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge primarily grows apples and produces cider and fruit wine.

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Visitors browse the selection on Labor Day weekend at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge. - photo by Shannon Casas

That’s a new step for the association, which heretofore stuck to a policy of admitting only traditional grape growers and grape winemakers.

That bylaw sidelined business owners like Hall County’s Matt and Lindsey Vrahiotes, of Sweet Acre Farms, who have fought to get a spot on the highway since opening in 2016.

“He came on the scene and he would come visit me every so often when he opened up, and he was like, ‘I gotta get on the highway, I gotta get on the highway!’” said Emily DeFoor, general manager of Habersham Winery, one of the oldest in the state, and one of the leaders of North Georgia Winegrowers.

After a few years of rejection, Sweet Acre Farms and the other wineries got their foot in the door in November through a split vote of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia board. It wasn’t unanimous, Vrahiotes said, but the new generation of wineries made the cut effective 2019.

“To be accepted by anybody, the peers in your community, is awesome,” Matt Vrahiotes said in February.

Now, any true commercial farm winery can join the group, which is now defined by the region instead of type of product sold.

And it was about time, DeFoor noted, as the organization and the region continues to change.

“Those bylaws we had in place with the … North Georgia wine group that puts on this event, those were in place from long ago when it started out as a grape-growing association,” DeFoor said. “And then it turned into events, legislation — they used to do a lot more of what the statewide organization is doing now.”

The board of directors for the North Georgia group has decided to hand off legislative lobbying to the Georgia Wine Producers, according to DeFoor, and focus on marketing.

“With those conversations and that transition, it came down to: What’s the necessity of this being a grape-growing association? Or should it be more of a winery tourism association?” she said.

Wine Highway Week

When: March 22-31

Where: North Georgia wineries

How much: $50 payable at first winery visited

More info: www.georgiawine.com

And marketing is something the northern association, and its members, do well. The Wine Highway event draws thousands of people to North Georgia wineries from March 22-31, and it’s especially important for new wineries on the highway.

“We’re expecting a pretty large crowd, from what we were told,” Vrahiotes said. “All the new wineries that are on the highway get slammed, so we’re expecting several thousand people within those 10 days.”

The highway event costs $50, payable at the first winery visited, and includes a commemorative glass and a “passport,” which grants admission to all participating wineries. For the entire week, wineries are offering an open-house format with perks for visitors traveling the highway.

There are now 28 members of the North Georgia Winegrowers.
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A cask of mead at Etowah Meadery in Dahlonega.
Regional events