Hard-fought victories can be the sweetest. Just ask Matt Vrahiotes.
In the early stages of his local winemaking business, Vrahiotes bought a rather large heap of peaches and set about pitting and peeling. He spent hours, realizing by day’s end that — due to the large quantity — he’d made little progress. The peaches started ripening quickly, and it became a race against time.
He called on the help of anybody who could wield a knife and pit a peach. As the group worked, Vrahiotes would frequently sample the batch.
But it tasted all wrong. Self-doubt crept in. He was terrified he’d wasted a whole lot of money on a whole lot of peaches and, even worse, made a career mistake — until he tasted it one last time.
“It was good,” Vrahiotes said, balancing a glass of the fruity wine in one hand as he led a tour last week through the business. “And, that became one of our most popular wines.”
The aptly named “Sweet Ass Peach” features a donkey on the label, painted by his mother-in-law Judy Crumley as is the art on all 12 beverage varieties produced at Sweet Acre Farms — Hall County’s first and only winery since, well, as far back as anyone can remember.
Vrahiotes said the legal process involved with creating a local winery spanned more than three years worth of back and forth with the county and state, “because this hadn’t ever been done here ... I wouldn’t call it red tape, because we didn’t have any tape. This was all new for everybody.”
After so many months and months of regulations and permitting, he and wife Lindsey are finally able to sell their product wholesale. Sweet Acre Farms wine is available in Gainesville at Green’s Grocery, Downtown Drafts and Tap It as well as in locations in Dahlonega and Blue Ridge.
The product has been flying off the shelves, according to Downtown Drafts Owner Nick Hoecker.
“We’ve been selling a whole lot of it,” Hoecker said. “I’ve sold more of this wine than any other wine I’ve carried here.”
When Sweet Acre Farms opens its tasting room, currently slated for early spring, the business owners hope to share all varieties of the beverage with guests. Located on Bill Wilson Road in Alto, the currently-under-construction tasting room is surrounded by 46 acres of farmland, rows of blackberry and blueberry plants and grazing cattle.
As far as the eye can see, it’s family land. Matt and Lindsey Vrahiotes live right across the road from the winery.
Continuing his tour of the property earlier this week, Vrahiotes pointed: “Lindsey’s aunt lives that way, her cousins live down the road and my brother works with us over here. Lindsey’s grandparents, they live ...”
As if on cue, a pickup truck sped down the road, and Lindsey’s grandparents waved out the window at the business owner. Vrahiotes said Lindsey’s grandfather used to hunt and play in the woods where the winery now sits.
While much of the surrounding property is or has been family owned for many years, winemaking is an entirely new venture.
The Vrahiotes family purchased the first plot of farmland in 2010 and a second parcel in 2012 from a fellow family member, and it took them until fairly recently to “get the ball rolling.”
He said it started when he and his wife started learning about value-added products. “We we were reading up on how to turn a raw product like a blackberry into jelly, how to make more money on that than on the raw product itself.”
Added Vrahiotes: “After that, I just saw a hole in the market (for fruit wines) and I thought maybe I could fill it.”
Varieties include strawberry, blackberry, peach, apple, muscadine and blueberry wine, as well as lemon wines with notes of the aforementioned fruit.
The blackberries and some of the blueberries are grown on-site in Alto, while all other fruit comes from local farms in Georgia, including apples from Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge and peaches from Jaemor Farms.
That’s where he got that initial, big batch of peaches during those first days of winemaking, which led to one of the most popular recipes still made to this day at Sweet Acre Farms. Vrahiotes hopes to keep expanding the winery’s offerings.
For more, visit the website at www.sweetacrefarms.com.