by Lisa Poole
Ready for a weekend getaway but don’t want to drive too far? The grape growers in Georgia are harvesting what will be the 2009 vintage. The weather is cooling off, it is almost time for the fall colors and Clayton is only 2 hours away. What is there to do in Clayton? A bunch! (Note the “grape humor”) If you are looking for a romantic getaway or just a fun and enriching experience with friends, read on about the two vineyards we visited Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Tiger Mountain Vineyards and The Beechwood Inn.
Persimmon Creek Vineyards
As the iron gates opened, my husband and I felt like we were entering a botanical garden. Vines growing along the rippling Persimmon Creek as far as we could see flanked each side of the gravel drive leading toward the home of Dr. William “Sonny” Hardman, III and his wife, Mary Ann. As Mary Ann wheeled toward us in her golf cart in shorts, a t-shirt and crocs, she invited us into her home and poured herself a glass of water, thirsty from having come in from the vineyard harvesting her grapes. Boxes of wine lined the hallway leading to her bedroom and she showed us the bag of bentonite in her closet next to her Manolo Blahniks. “See,” she smiled, “I live this.” Following her to the basement of her home, we observed huge stainless steel tanks, oak barrels full of wine “not quite ready” and more boxes. This is where Sonny makes the wine. Each vintage bottled by hand, hand-corked and hand labeled.
Adjacent to the winery was a tasting room. We sampled the Seyval Blanc, a French-American hybrid, grown primarily on the East Coast from Canada to Georgia. This 2008 vintage showed a pale straw color, bright acidity and lively citrus flavors. This was my favorite and I pined for grilled scallops.
Mary Ann grabbed 4 other bottles and we followed her to the vineyard with our wine glasses in hand. After examining each varietal, she poured us a glass of the wine it had produced – Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
Mary Ann passionately described the effort involved in harnessing what the earth and sun provide and how that translates into the glass. “If there is something wrong in the glass, you can find the problem in the vineyard,” she explained.
The Persimmon on the Square Tasting Room opened in Downtown Clayton in April 2008. In addition to their wines, you will find an assortment of culinary items, glassware and ceramics. Vineyard tours are by appointment. We retired for the evening in one of the three newly built and well appointed cottages at the vineyard – the Fiddlehead. My husband and I shared a bottle of the Cabernet Franc on the porch swing while listening to the symphony of tree frogs and crickets punctuated by an occasional high note from a coyote in the distance. Our enjoyment of the wine was enhanced as we reflected on our day at this special place and we looked forward to the next day’s discoveries in Georgia WineCountry.Persimmon Creek Vineyards Clayton, Georgia 30525 706-212-7972 www.persimmoncreekwine.com
Sunday afternoon we arrived at Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Tiger, Georgia just 2 ½ miles outside of Clayton. We were greeted graciously by Martha and her husband, Dr. John Ezzard, who was born on this five-generation-old farm. Where Dr. Ezzard used to milk cows as a boy, he now crafts award-winning wines. We were invited to see how they measure the sugar, or Brix, in the grapes. Once the sugar is at the desired level, it is time to pick!
Tiger Mountain produces some unusual varietals but ones that are particularly suited to the terroir – Touriga National, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tannat, Viognier, and the rare, Petit Manseng do exceptionally well at Tiger.
The grapes are harvested by hand and the wine made by using traditional small winery techniques. During our visit, Malbec had just been harvested and Winery Manager, Jabe Hilson, was punching down the caps as fermentation was underway. You could feel the heat produced by the bubbling, fermenting must!
In the Tasting Room, we sampled every wine! Of particular note is the Petit Manseng. It is a lively and balanced white with notes of honey, citrus fruit and melon. So unusual and interesting! I was dreaming about crab cakes with a cream sauce. Sigh. I took home a bottle of the Tannat and it will be uncorked with my mesquite grilled filet mignon this weekend. Yum!
Exhausted from an afternoon of grape gazing and wine tasting, we were ready to find a place to prop our feet and have a glass of wine.Tiger Mountain Vineyards 2592 Old Highway 441 Tiger, Georgia 30576 706-782-4777 www.tigerwine.com So off we went to spend the night at The Beechwood Inn, described as “Georgia’s Premier Wine Country Inn” that caters to food and wine enthusiasts and those who want to be.
The Beechwood Inn
We arrived at the 8 guest room, eco-friendly Inn, built in 1916, just in time for “Wine Thirty.” Guests are invited to gather on the porch at 5:30 each day to enjoy a glass of a signature Beechwood Inn wine paired with gourmet bites prepared by Chef/Innkeepers, David & Gayle Darugh. There is something about a glass of wine that allows people to connect in a special way. We observed this happening on the porch where twelve guests joined David and Gayle to share their day’s experiences and enjoy new acquaintances. One couple got engaged in the Inn’s garden that morning!
Both David and Gayle were both raised among the vineyards of California. David remembers playing hide and seek among the wine barrels at the Sebastiani Vineyard in Sonoma. Gayle grew up in the Napa Valley. They brought their love of food, wine and the earth to Clayton. After retiring from his law practice, David, together with Gayle are totally committed to providing a unique, unpretentious, yet upscale experience that allows their guests to unwind and enjoy the beautiful surroundings while learning about wine and food.
Not to be missed is the Saturday night Prix Fixe Wine Dinner. “Most of our food is organically grown or bred by local farmers,” states David. After taking a long soak in a copper tub that is original to the house, we retired for the evening. Breakfast the next morning was a wonderful fruit and yogurt course followed by blueberry French toast casserole and sausage links. It was a delicious way to start yet another day in beautiful Georgia wine country.Beechwood Inn 220 Beachwood Dr Clayton, GA 30525 770-782-5485 www.beechwoodinn.ws
This is a special time of year in the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Clayton, Georgia. Ripened clusters of grapes, cooler temperatures, the impending fall colors and majestic mountains provide a wonderful backdrop for touring this part of the Georgia Wine Highway. Go meet these passionate people. Drink their wine, eat their food and enjoy their hospitality. Packed yet?
About the Author: Lisa Poole, Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators and Owner of The Vine Intervention, lives in Cartersville, Georgia. She conducts wine tasting seminars, both private and corporate, in the metro Atlanta and North Georgia areas. You can visit her website at www.thevineintervention.net or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-689-2549.