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Venturing through vineyards along the Dahlonega Wine Trail
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Frogtown Cellars offers a bistro-style lunch menu at its venue in Dahlonega. It was one of six stops along the Dahlonega Wine Trail. - photo by J.K Devine

I was raised by teetotaler baby boomers.

Alcohol ranked right up there with Communism and boys on the scale of things that threatened my safety and, dare I say it, my soul.

Beer? Bad. Liquor? Bad. A skosh of Scotch? Bad, bad, bad. And wine? Well, wine was the worst. I don’t really remember why, other than that it could cause everything from pregnancy to plane crashes.

But long ago, I set out on a different path from my parents.

As a 32-year-old married woman, I’ve been sipping the good stuff for quite some time. It was introduced to me by a boyfriend-turned-husband who was raised by a connoisseur from the Virginia wine region.

One of the first things my husband did upon learning I didn’t drink was to take me on a wine tour in the Shenandoah Valley. There I discovered my love for the big reds wines, the one that fill your mouth, are spicy and peppery and leave you singing the praises of the deity that invented fermentation.

So, with absolute delight, I ventured forth to discover the greatness of the Dahlonega Wine Trail.

Part of the appeal of this particular assignment (aside from being paid to eat and drink my way through the sublime North Georgia mountains) was I’d never ventured to Dahlonega. A quick stop to pick up my tickets for the trail introduced me to the most delightful town square I’ve ever seen.

Antique stores, restaurants and cleverly named boutiques all called my name, but I had to sacrifice my shopping for the good of my work. And with a last longing look back at a fudge shop, I headed to my first stop.

CAVENDER CREEK VINEYARDS AND WINERY

Cavender Creek Vineyards and Winery was tucked away in the woods. The first thing I noticed when pulled into the drive was how cozy the property was.

Chickens roamed among the grapes, and one particularly cheeky rooster crowed at me as I walked past the vines. Three dogs meandered around customers, and few people could avoid petting Tinkerbell, Tucker and Juno as they tried to sneak a nibble of cheese off one couple’s cheese tray.

Musicians serenaded us on the deck, and vineyard employees were more than happy to walk me through the finer points of their selections.

Most intriguing was the Sancho Panza Red, a spicy drink I was assured I would love for its “new world style and round finish.”

They were correct. I adored it.

Reluctant to leave the place I wanted to make my second home, I pushed on. I was convinced I couldn’t be as happy at the next location as I was here.

I was wrong.

KAYA VINEYARDS AND WINERY

My next top was Kaya Vineyards and Winery, and the setting was so stunning I texted my husband and told him I wanted a wedding do-over. Our new ceremony/reception had to be here.

Mountains upon mountains served as the background to the vineyard, and the entire atmosphere oozed sophistication.

So, too, did the wines.

Perhaps most enjoyable about the tasting here was being served the winery’s 2015 Oaked Chardonnay immediately after sipping its 2015 Stainless Steel Chardonnay. The arrangement allowed me to acutely identify the differences between the same grapes aged in two drastically different manners: one in a stainless steel tank and the other in an oak cask.

Again, I had to give myself a pep talk to make myself move on, as I was absolutely convinced I wouldn’t find another location with this much elegance and refinement.

You know where this is going, right? Obviously, I was wrong again.

FROGTOWN CELLARS

As I drove on the highway, I noticed a massive home — no, strike that, let’s go with mansion — set atop a hill. I’ll shamefully admit my jealously for whoever owned this home got the better of me, and I muttered, “This is why we Proletariats are cranky.”

And then I saw the sign. This wasn’t some Rockerfeller XXXII’s summer castle. This was Frogtown Cellars, and I was in love.

I know I should be gushing about the wine at this point, and if newspaper space was unlimited, I would. Frogtown Cellars truly had fantastic beverages available. After all, they boast the reputation of being the most awarded winery east of California in United States competitions.

But it was the food that made me drool.

The winery doubles as a restaurant, and the overwhelming aroma of their specialty panini made my stomach rumble.

Alas, I had work to do, so, again, I tore myself away from my newest favorite place and headed just up the road to my next destination.

THREE SISTERS VINEYARDS
AND WINERY

As a born-and-bred Iowan woman, my heart did not-so-small somersaults when I saw the barn and the aged John Deere tractor adorning the sprawling acres of Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery.

The wine trail brochure told me this particular vineyard was Dahlonega’s first family winery, and I believed it. Everything about this place was laid back and comfortable, two things I want to be when with family.

And, obviously, it had access to wine. Again, exactly what I want when with family.

So, with reminders of home, I sipped on one of the quirkiest wines of the trip, the Hula Hala-Hahiki, a pineapple-infused Chardonnay. And the sweet wine brought a smile to my face.

TO BE CONTINUED

Although the Wine Trail had two more stops — Montaluce Winery and Estates and Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery — I knew I had reached my limit. Each vineyard had served at least four wines. With four wineries under my belt, I needed to reserve myself to the knowledge I would return many times to these four vineyards and their two missed counterparts.

And, in a plot twist you might not have seen coming, I plan to visit these wineries with my mom and dad.

Yes, the same guardians I mentioned at the beginning of this tale.

As it turns out, a few years ago, my prohibitionist parents moved to France, making their home in the land of libations. Within weeks of their arrival, their stance on adult grape juice experienced a seismic shift.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, my tukhus.

My folks now speak fluent pretentious, gabbing about soil conditions, body profiles, cooperage and vintages with the greatest of ease. They suddenly are versed in the alchemy that is knowing all of the rules of tasting this beverage of the gods. They know how to swirl it, smell it and pick up its notes of cherries or peppers. They know which ones should be served cold (usually whites), and which ones should be served at room temperature (usually reds).

And I think that, despite having access to arguably the best wine in the world in their European home, they’d be mightily pleased with what Dahlonega has to offer. I’m willing to stake a bottle of their favorite wine on it.

 

Bekah Porter is a guest columnist for The Times. She can be contacted at life@gainesvilletimes.com.

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