Thursday, March 20, 2014

2012 Wine Highway review

As prep for this weekend's Georgia Wine Highway, I dug through my files and found my first review. So for this Throw Back Thursday, here is my review from 2012.

So, Charles and I decided to take a couple of our friends up on the invite for the Winegrowers Association of Georgia Wine Highway weekend. First of all it was mind blowing that Georgia had wineries. When I think of a winery I honestly think Falconcrest California type winery. This weekend became a great education on the wine making process.
We make the road trip up to Kennesaw, GA on Thursday and stay overnight with B&R. B&R had broken the 10 wineries on the tour up into three groups, plus they added two that were not on the “official” list.
Friday we were doing the outlying wineries; Cartecay Vineyards, Crane Creek Vineyards and one not on the list Sharp Mountain Vineyards.
Saturday we were going to do the “Helen Cluster”; Habersham Winery, Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Yonah Mountain Vineyards, and Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards.
Sunday we finish up with the “Dahlonega cluster”; Cavender Creek Winery, Frogtown Cellars, Blackstock Vineyards, possibly Wolf Mountain Vineyards, and a winery not on the highway the Three Sisters Vineyards.
Friday morning our first stop was Sharp Mountain Vineyards. Sharp Mountain’s wine tasting room is on the same property as the vineyard in Jasper, Ga. The drive up the mountain was an interesting blend of Atlanta bourgeoisie and north Georgia redneck with cottages side-by-side with house trailers and no trespassing signs on the driveways.
The rain was just barely holding off when we got to Sharp Mountain. The four of us rushed into the tasting room and met the owner’s wife and the sommelier. Sharp Mountain set the bar very high for the rest of the wineries on the tour. Even though it is a small winery, the hospitality and courtesy they showed went above and beyond. And to top it off the wines were excellent.
After Sharp Mountain, we made the 30-mile trek to Ellijay, Ga. to visit Cartecay Vineyards. They are small, very new winery. The tasting room has only been open since 2011. They have 3 of their own bottles but also have tastings from Habersham and Crane Creek. This was our first exposure to what I am going to call Event Wineries. Sadly Cartecay seemed more as a venue for events than actually making good wine. The set up was very lovely and picturesque. In fact, the view was better than their wines.
Wrapping up day one of the tour, we went to Young Harris, Ga. to Crane Creek Vineyards. I have to say that Crane Creek was B&R’s first disappointment of the weekend. When we got there, it was fairly crowded being late in the day. The sommelier was no nonsense just gave us our tasting as efficiently as possible. It seemed as though he wanted us to be on our way. Even though the Wine Highway passport said that they would have a soup and sandwich buffet for the event, when we asked the sommelier about it he brusquely replied that it would be on Saturday. So instead of the advertised soup and sandwich buffet, we broke out our own picnic fair and had a picnic on the grounds.
Crane Creek seemed to me to be a hybrid event winery. It has the picturesque setting but it also has some very good wines. Unfortunately the setting and the wines didn’t make up for the feeling that because we were “wine highway folk” we didn’t matter.
With Crane Creek being our last vineyard for the day, and the last outlying vineyard, we made our way to Cleveland, Ga. to grab a cheap motel and to be set up for the “Helen Cluster” on Saturday.
On Saturday, we all got up pretty early and hit the Huddle House in Cleveland. For my first ever Huddle House experience, this one was awesome! The staff was friendly, the food good, and portions were huge.
After Huddle House, we made our way to Helen, Ga. and the first winery for the day. Habersham winery.  Habersham is one of north Georgia’s oldest wineries and the tasting room we visited is located at the winery in Nacoochee Village. The winery is in a small cluster of shops just outside Helen. Within walking distance of the winery are Nora Mill, Nacoochee Antiques, and Jumping Goat Coffee Roasters. Since we were a little early for tasting, we wandered through the antique store and then the mill before heading over to tasting.
I understand that there are people who come up just for a tasting. I also understand that you have to cater to those customers as well. At Habersham, it seemed as though they were not able to handle both. When we walked in there was a large contingent of men in white button down shirts and ties getting a tasting. Every one in the tasting room was kowtowing to these guys. Although we were greeted by a sommelier when we walked in, we were immediately shunted aside to wait for our turn to go back to the tasting area. There was a group of ladies before us who were starting to get very aggravated at the length of time they had to wait. I have the feeling that one of the ladies in that group has marked Habersham off her list entirely. The wines at Habersham are very good, but it is sad that on the wine tour I had more fun at the antique shop and the gristmill than inside the tasting room at the winery.
After Habersham, we headed to Tiger, Ga. to visit the Tiger Mountain Vineyard. B&R at this point have decided not to tell us anything positive about the places we are going because when they bragged about something the wineries epically failed. No soup and sammies at Crane Creek, poor service at Habersham. Habershameful more like it, but I digress. So, we make our way to Tiger and hope for the best.
My first impression of Tiger is that this place is zombie proof. The building the tasting room is in looks like a bunker. A bunker with cute bistro tables with umbrellas outside. We step inside and it is controlled chaos, but just barely. We are greeted by a sommelier and our tasting is started. Then another sommelier that is familiar to B&R steps up and B lets him know that he is joining the Tigerwine Tasters club. We work  through the tasting with the sommeliers (there were 3 or 4 for the event) switching out with pourings and Charles, R. and I head up to the barn to chill for a bit.  Once B. gets his purchases out of the way, we head back down and Charles decides to grab a couple of bottles. The wine here is very, very good.  Combine the good wine with the friendly helpful staff and this winery is the best of the tour so far, and second best over all.
After Tiger Mountain, we head back toward Sautee and the Yonah Mountain Vineyard. Yonah Mountain’s tasting room is separate from the vineyard. My first impression of their tasting room was that a yuppie exploded. It seemed very much to be one of THOSE kinds of places. And they wines they had for the highway to sample just tasted like crap. It was also very tiny for the volume of people in the room, so we didn’t stay very long at all.
Luckily though the next tasting room for Sautee Nacoochee vineyards was literally within walking distance of Yonah. B&R had bragged about the “lushies” wine slushies at Sautee Nacoochee so we were looking forward to trying those.
After the short walk to Sautee Nacoochee, we got to their tasting room, which was just a bit overwhelmed by the volume of people. The staff was friendly and efficient though and we were able to get our tasting without too much fuss. The Red Headed Stepchild was knock-your-socks off good. After the tasting, we went to the porch to listen to the jazz trio they had entertaining us.  Unfortunately, the Lushie machine had run out so we were waiting for the new batch to re-freeze. It didn’t re-freeze by the time we were ready to go so we missed out on those. Even with that disappointment, Sautee Nacoochee was a very nice place to end Friday’s tour.
From Sautee, we headed to Dahlonega to grab another cheap motel and crash to prepare for Sunday.
We start off Sunday by being fairly lazy. We didn’t want to get too early a start because Georgia state law prohibits sales of adult libations before 12:30.  We head from the motel to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast then we went to downtown Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a very neat tourist-ish town center.
We misjudged our timing by just a bit as we had to wait for about 20 minutes at Frogtown Cellars before our tasting could begin. Frogtown is very much what you would expect of a winery. Or at least it looked that way. Driving up I could hear the Falconcrest Theme Song in my head. It is definitely an event-oriented place. Unfortunately that didn’t translate through to the wines they had chosen. All of the literature said that they were award winning and gave the impression of awesomeness. Unfortunately the wines they had for us to taste fell flat compared to the venue itself. One of them smelled so strongly like rubbing alcohol that Charles and I both dumped it. In fact this winery had the most dumps of all the others we visited. B&R had heard that the actual tasting you pay for at the bar was better so they took some time to try that, and they raved about the tasting there. But to Charles and me, an event like the wine highway should have the best foot forward, and this winery with its kitschy frog theme didn’t get that memo.
From Frogtown, we made our way to Three Sisters. Out of all the wineries we went to this weekend, Three Sisters was the best, hands down. One of the owners was our sommelier and in geek terms she was awesomesauce. Precise no nonsense when it comes to the wine, she made our morning. If we could have justified it we would have purchased the Georgia Jug. 3 liters of the best off-dry red I have ever tried. In fact, the Three Sisters was what the rest of the wineries on the tour should have been.
From Three Sisters, we made our way to Blackstock Vineyards.  Blackstock is a very good blend of event winery and quality wines. Their wines were very good. The barrel tasting from the wine maker was the highlight.
After Blackstock we made our way to Cavender Creek Winery. This one had my favorite venue and the Donkey Hotie Red was very very good. The folks at Cavender Creek definitely put their best foot forward with this showing.
The last winery on the list was Wolf Mountain Vineyards. We all agreed to skip that one on B&R’s recommendation. There is a point when it gets to be not about the wine, and apparently Wolf Mountain had crossed that line.
While some of the bigger names seemed like they had to put up with us, the other wineries more than made up for their lack of customer service. Of the wineries we visited, I would suggest visiting these. First, Three Sisters. Second, Tiger Mountain. Third, Sharp Mountain. Fourth, Cavender Creek and Fifth Sautee Nacoochee. The others really don’t deserve mention, unless you are looking for a place to have a wedding.