While Sonoma and the Napa Valley get most of the U.S. winery attention, there's a Southern spot known as North Georgia with its own grape-growing and winemaking tradition.
According to the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, the Peach State's growing conditions are close to ideal for wine grapes.
"Our mountains combine the perfect terrain, soil, drainage and elevation," read a statement on the WAG site "Our soil composition is very much like that of Italy's Piedmont region, which produces some of the most prestigious wines in the world."
Family-owned vineyards have worked that mountain soil and Georgia sunshine to produce award-winning vintages that have earned awards and gained recognition all over the country. Not that you have to be a wine snob to enjoy a North Georgia winery visit. Casual tipplers and oenophiles alike can savor the down-home friendliness, along with some porch-sitting, scenic views and vineyard-side restaurants (that have picked up a few awards themselves).
Another thing North Georgia's got over Napa: wine seekers can pair their visits with side trips to other romantic spots, like covered bridges and cascading falls. Some of the region's best vineyards are featured in wine tours of the area, while others are nice little mom-and-pops located far from their peers.
Here are six representative wineries in North Georgia, all of them ready to offer a taste and some tales of the wine business in the region:
700 Ridge Point Drive, Dahlonega, 706-865-0687, frogtown.us
Frogtown is one of the six wineries and eight tasting rooms that led Southern Living to dub Dahlonega "the Napa Valley of the South." Home to more than 20,000 grape vines on 44 acres, Frogtown has taken home more awards in U.S. competitions than any other winery in Georgia. It produces wines under the Frogtown and Thirteenth Colony labels, using only grapes grown on its estate. Its cypress and timber-frame wine-tasting room and event facilities are irresistible.
Montaluce Winery & Estates
501 Hightower Church Road, Dahlonega, 706-867-4060, montaluce.com
Another Dahlonega standout, Montaluce gives off a serious Tuscan vibe with its 25,000-square foot facility. The Appalachian mountain views from the terrace are breathtaking and it's luxury all the way, from the wines to the rental villas to the award-winning restaurant with its locally-sourced ingredients. Brunch, followed by Montaluce's soon-to-be famous Wine Hike is sheer perfection.
Fainting Goat Vineyards
201 Vineyard Way, Jasper, 706-692-9463, faintinggoatvineyardsandwinery.com
The name alone is enough to draw you to Fainting Goat Vineyards, but it's the full-bodied reds, crisp fruity whites and sweet blends from certified French vines that will inspire return visits. Handcrafted by family owners from conception to crush, Fainting Goat produces small batches from grapes gown with the ultimate in TLC. Nestled on the southeast side of Burnt Mountain, the owners invite folks to bring a picnic and their 50-foot veranda and indoor and outdoor fireplaces allow visits to unfold with real Southern hospitality. Plus, there's live music every weekend. As for the namesake fainting goats? They've got those too.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega, 706-867-9862, wolfmountainvineyards.com
A joy ride through the North Georgia mountains leads to Wolf Mountain Vineyards and it won't take long to see what all the fuss is about. Wolf Mountain has earned more than 150 medals in major U.S. competitions, including the state's first-ever gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition. Of special note are their sparkling wines, which are made using the age-old méthode Champenoise. Be sure to visit the Vineyard Café, which is nearly as famous as the wine.
Tiger Mountain Vineyards
2592 Old HWY 441, Tiger, 706-782-4777, tigerwine.com
This boutique North Georgia winery cultivates all of its grapes and produces handcrafted wines in the shadow of the Rabun County mountains. The results have earned it national renown and more than 225 national and regional awards since 2001. The mountain site is also home to the Red Barn Cafe, open for lunch and dinner on weekends from May through November and featuring monthly wine pairing dinners with visiting chefs.
Bear Claw Vineyards
2281 Tennis Court Road, Blue Ridge, 706-223-3750, bearclawvineyards.com
About as close to Atlanta as you can get and still be in "wine country," this Blue Ridge winery's offerings include wine, a natural spring and a scenic view from 1832 feet above sea level. Their oak-aged Treehouse Chardonnay pays homage to the Blue Ridge Treehouse, built on property by the Treehouse Guys from the DIY Network.
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