Women + Wine: Explore the Heart of Georgia’s Wine Country

Three Wine Lovers Visit Yonah Mountain Vineyards in Part 1 of a Series

From left to right, Billie Harris, Sarah Pierre and Katie Rice at Yonah Mountain Vineyards.

The Dahlonega / Lumpkin County region of Georgia is known as the ‘Heart of Georgia’s Wine Country’ and in 2018 became the AVA Dahlonega Plateau (an AVA, or American Viticultural Area, is a label awarded by the Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau to a specific area of ​​land designated by a unique climate and geographic area).

Georgia’s wine history dates back to colonial times and by 1880 the state was the sixth largest producer of wine with nearly 1 million gallons per year. The original winemakers took native grape varieties like muscadine and scuppernong and made sweet wines, while newcomers experimented with traditional grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, riesling, chardonnay and unique grape varieties like seyval. white and tannat.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that some of the first commercial wineries were established in North Georgia, such as Habersham Winery in Helen and Chateau Elan in Braselton. Three Sisters Vineyards was the first within the AVA Dahlonaga. Today, there are 101 winemaking permits in Georgia.

We joined Billie Harris of The Vino Van on a recent Friday to travel north and visit three unique wineries that help tell the story of Georgia wine. Our adventure started in front of VinoTeca where we met Billie, the JT driver and his Mercedes Sprinter. The Vino Van was created in 2017 to allow Billie to bring her “wine friends” safely to the North Georgia wine country and to share her love for wine. Growing up in Mississippi, Billie’s grandmother owned a small grocery store, which in May 2016 her family worked to add it to the National Historic Register. It was her family values ​​that allowed her to create a business immersed in something she loved. Billie studied wine at Vino Venue in Atlanta, Emory University, and Subvino in Nashville. She currently holds a WSET (Wine Spirit and Education Trust) level 2 certification. Creating unforgettable memories with friends and family around wine is the heart of The Vino Van.

The first stop was Yonah Mountain Vineyards (yonahmountainvineyards.com) in Cleveland, the 12th established vineyard in the region. We arrived and were greeted by a huge covered veranda perfect for enjoying their wine flights while taking in exceptional views of the mountain landscape. Yonah, the Cherokee word for bear, also has a recently added 500-seat event space for weddings and private events. The roof is covered with Tesla solar panels, which cover half of the electricity in the vines. They also have an 11,000 square foot underground production area – including the region’s only aging cellar – as well as a private tasting room. Founder Bob Miller and his wife Jane moved to Florida after raising their children in Smyrna, but Jane wanted a farm, so they bought 200 acres in Cleveland in 2005. It was a friend who suggested planting grapes. on the ground. They went to Napa and worked with growers and wine growers as well as a consultant who told them what to plant and how. Their first vines, planted in 2008, arrived on a UPS truck. Today, they produce 20 different wines in six vineyards, named after their daughter and their five granddaughters.

A highlight of the visit was our opportunity to sit down with Bob, who explained that his “job is to walk around and talk to people”. He’s an accomplished storyteller. After playing the piano for us, he gave us a tour of the facilities, including the caves, tasting room, and event space, while pouring us samples from their wine catalog – each with a different story.

Yonah Mountain employs an Australian winemaker named Tristin, and Bob gives him carte blanche to try and make the best wine in the South East. They use French oak for aging and experiment with Hungarian oak and different yeasts for fermentation with bottles aged for at least a year.

As for their fruit, 60% of the grapes come from their property and 40% come from California, but they never mix the grapes. Many wineries have found that it is cheaper to stock up on grapes than to grow it on site because in Dahlonega there is a significant amount of rain (average 62 inches per year) which creates mold and makes size a constant battle. They employ a “small army” to permanently control the vines. Hard work and attention to detail, while sparing no expense, is reflected in the quality of their traditional wines.

Insider tip
Grab a sandwich at the nearby Sheilah Village Market (sheilaahsvillagemarket.com) to enjoy with your tasting at Yonah. His shop occupies Yonah Mountain’s very first tasting room!

Wine highlights

The first wine produced at Yonah was Genesis, named after the first book of the Bible. It is the best-selling wine in Yonah and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. The wine is rich and opulent with notes of plum, black raspberry and toasted caramel.

The second part of this trip to the vineyards of North Georgia will be released in November.

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About Michael Brafford

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