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FEATURE: Mountain Wine Production - Area Vineyards and Their Operations

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These activities are a vital new part of Georgia’s economy: agritourism. As city-bound folk pour into the state’s mountains and fields in search of new adventures, they are visiting farmers and experiencing their lifestyles. While it may be somewhat romantic and lack any sense of the “sweat” factor, urban dwellers visiting rural entrepreneurs is becoming a popular venture. And the state’s wineries are developing their own unique role in this emerging form of tourism.

More than grape growing and wine making, winery-centered agritourism assimilates a variety of elements. Habersham Vineyard & Winery, founded in 1983, also recognizes the integration of wine with dining and other ventures. It established a restaurant, Nacoochee Grill, adjacent to its operation just outside of Helen. Nora Mills, also owned by the winery, is across the road and sells stone-ground grits, jellies, jams and other mountain-inspired items. The complex includes cabins for overnight accommodations, outfitters specializing in fly-fishing and river trips, The Willows (a pottery/arts-and-crafts store), an antiques emporium and a home furnishings and gift store. A day spa is a couple of miles down the road. More than 100 jobs are generated at this complex alone.

Atlanta lawyer-turned-winemaker Craig Kritzer and his wife, Cydney, own North Georgia’s newest winery, producing European-style wines. Kritzer produces some of the state’s best wines. Open this summer, the Kritzers’ Frogtown Cellars, near Dahlonega, turns out both white and red wines from a variety of grapes.

Pointing out his preeminent spot on the hill, about 1,800 feet above sea level, Kritzer enjoys something of a unique position. “If you look at our situation,” he says, “we’re really the only vineyard and winery that’s this visible. Our vines and everything are visible from the road. When you look at Frogtown, it’s the epitome of agritourism.”

Also near Dahlonega is Wolf Mountain Vineyards, owned and operated by Karl and Linda Boegner and their family. Sitting on the top of a mountain, the winery occupies 25 sloping acres planted entirely in red varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Touriga Nacional. Boegner is clear about the nature of his product. “It’s agricultural because we’re growing grapes and making a product,” Boegner says. “But it’s a product that attracts visitation, because that’s what makes it exciting.” Corporate functions, gourmet dinners, weekends devoted to food- and wine-themed events, weddings and music all interact with winemaking to form the business.

With their eyes firmly on the North Carolina line, three of Georgia’s premium wineries— also family-owned and -operated—lie along the U.S. 76 corridor. Near Young Harris, Crane Creek Vineyard, owned by Atlanta native and retired Army officer Eric Seiferth and his wife, Deanne, a veterinarian, features a tasting room that offers ancillary products and a couple of bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Just west of Clayton, Persimmon Creek Vineyard, owned by Sonny and Mary Ann Hardman, does a great job with Riesling and Seyval (a hybrid grape). Their winery-cum-residence is specifically designed to encourage tastings and tours while providing weekend shelter for their young family.

Tiger Mountain Winery, south of Clayton, is owned by Bill and Leckie Stack and John and Martha Ezzard. The newly constructed winery facility, amplifying what was once the creamery on the Ezzard family farm, is the site of many well-attended events in the North Georgia mountains.

To encourage visitation, Georgia’s wineries formed Winery Associates of Georgia, and beseeched the state to install “Georgia Wine Highway” signs directing visitors to member wineries. The Web site for most of the better Georgia wineries and vineyards is www.georgiawine.com, but many non-members have their own Web sites.

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Source: Georgia Magazine


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