By Anne Braly
Breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and rolling hills that come alive with vines heavy with grapes ready for picking signal that Dahlonega is primed for one of the most-special times of year. The weather becomes crisp with autumn breezes and the leaves treat us to their dance of many colors, making it the best time of year to travel the Dahlonega Wine Trail to sample the fruits of the harvest.
The trail traverses the Dahlonega Plateau and into the city itself and is dotted with eight wineries and a dozen tasting rooms. It’s something about which Southerners have known for a couple of decades — the altitude and climate perfect for producing European grapes. But it wasn’t until four years ago that the region was recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau as an American Viticultural Area, a designation that was a game changer for wineries in Lumpkin County.
“It helped put Dahlonega on the map and solidify our wine region as an important one in the country,” says Sam McDuffie, Director of Tourism for Dahlonega-Lumpkin County CVB.
Here’s a sample of what you can sip, taste and do at some of the wineries. They’re all different, but the same in one way: wonderful wines with a depth of taste that mirrors and in some cases exceeds American wines in areas that, before, took the spotlight. But now, Dahlonega wines have gained respect among winemakers and made a place for themselves among the best.
Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery
As her six-seater utility vehicle climbs slowly between rows of wines dripping with clusters of green and red, Sharon Paul stops to pick a bundle of Chardonnay grapes.
“Here. Try some,” she says, before climbing back in her 4X4 and continuing our path to the top of the hill. Reaching the pinnacle, this is what we’ve come to see.
Pointing past a gleaming white gazebo where weddings happen, there are three matching peaks in the distance. “That’s where our name comes from. The Three Sisters,” Paul says.
Paul and her husband, the late Doug Paul, opened Three Sisters Vineyards in 1995, becoming the first family farm winery and first legal winery in the county since Prohibition.
“We moved up here from Atlanta to raise our daughter in a better place, and Doug said, ‘I think we should plant a few grapes.’”
Those few grapes now number nine different varieties that grow on the 187-acre farm and produce 16 different wines, ranging from dry rose, pinot blanc and cabernet to off-dry blends such as the Fat Boy line that comes in red, pink and white. All of the wines here are 100% estate grown.
The tasting room, where wines are sold by the bottle as well, is open Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Sit on the covered veranda and enjoy a tasting of four wines and a beautiful view of the vineyard. For more information, visit threesistersvineyards.com.
Montaluce Winery and Restaurant
If you’ve been to Tuscany, you may get a feeling of déjà vu as you wind your way up the hill to Montaluce, driving past rows of grapevines and villas of Italian architecture, leading to a magnificent structure with handsome Old World elements that houses a tasting room, wine shop, restaurant and the wine cellar where the magic happens.
“Wine and wine culture are built around passion, right?” asks General Manager Matthew Garner as he looks out over the vineyard, its rows of vines and magnificent backdrop of the Southern Appalachians. And this winery puts a lot of passion into its product, producing about 10 wines from its grapes, all of which can be purchased onsite or online if you have an address in Georgia or Florida.
Montaluce is one of several wineries on the Dahlonega Wine Trail that offer a full-service restaurant. In fact, Montaluce has two eateries.
Trattoria di Montaluce is more casual and is open for lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and dinner Tuesday-Saturday starting at 4:30. Brunch is served on Sunday 11 a.m-4:30 p.m. Montaluce Winery and Restaurant is upstairs on the main level offering a more-elegant menu with artistic cheese boards, pastas, Tuscan flatbread, filet Bolognese and outstanding wines for pairing, such as a nice Vognier to sip with a bowl of cucumber-melon gazpacho or Montaluce cabernet with a hoisin pork chop. It opens at 11 a.m. daily and closes at 9 p.m. weeknights and Sunday; 10 p.m. on weekends.
The winery offers a typical wine-tasting experience, but adds wine hikes and fly fishing along Etowah River to its lineup of activities. A visit to Montaluce takes in the beauty of Tuscany, the experience you might find in Napa and mixes it with the grace of Southern hospitality.
Go online to montaluce.com for reservations and more information.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery
Wolf Mountain is the first Georgia winery to win Best-in-Class and double Gold Medals at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles International wine competitions for its cabernet and its Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine. What does that say for a family-owned winery in the North Georgia Mountains? A lot, says Karl Boegner, who planted the first vine at Wolf Mountain in 2000.
“Going up against all the cabernet found in California is probably one of the things that I’m most proud of,” Boegner says.
The vineyard grows six varieties of red grapes on its property at Wolf Mountain and gets grapes for its white wines from neighboring farms. The winery produces 17 wines — whites, reds and sparklings.
“I keep saying enough is enough, but it’s fun,” says Karl’s son Brannon Boegner, who’s followed in his dad’s footsteps and is now winemaker and general manager. “When people come up the mountain, we want them to understand that they’re gonna get the same caliber of wines as if they were in Napa or any of the big wine-producing regions out West.”
Wolf Mountain’s Sunday brunches are a thing of legend and are in high demand. There are two seatings –12:30 and 2:30 p.m. — featuring a jaw-dropping menu that changes with the season. September’s menu features French cuisine; October’s is a celebration of the harvest.
Lunch is served Thursday-Saturday from noon to 3 p.m., with a menu of salads, sandwiches, pizzas and if you’ve never had grits fries, you’re in for a treat. Ever seen them on a menu before? They’re a specialty of the house, and for good reason. The fries come steaming hot — grits covered with panko and served with pimento cheese remoulade. A different menu of appetizers and pizzas is offered in the tasting room.
Reservations for lunch and brunch at Wolf Mountain may be made on opentable.com. For more information about the winery, visit wolfmountainvineyards.com.
Accent is the only winery located within the Dahlonega city limits, a stone’s throw from the town square, and does not grow its own grapes, but is really picky about the grapes it sources from Georgia, California, Washington, Texas and North Carolina, really anywhere owners Tyler Barnes and Tristen Vanhoff can find what they’re looking for.
“It’s quality we’re interested in,” Barnes says.
Sourcing grapes from other vineyards is something many wineries do. In fact, Barnes says he can only think of five in Georgia that do not, Three Sisters being one of them, he adds.
But all wines are made onsite, such as a really good Riesling that is drawing acclaim from those who don’t like the sweetness of many Rieslings. Accent produces a dry Riesling with grapes from the Yakima Valley in Washington State and has become a house favorite, along with Underdog, a red made with Chambourcin grapes, a popular new grape with a deep cherry finish. Very nice.
The tasting room is open seven days a week and stays open later than other wineries, till 8 o’clock most evenings. Bring a picnic or order a cheese tray, let Accent provide the wine and you’ll have a memorable day in Dahlonega. This place is new and vibrant — an urban winery with live music on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, art classes on the deck and the occasional comedy show. For a complete list of all that happens at Accent, log onto accentcellars.com.
Kaya is the largest vineyard on the Dahlonega Plateau and offers extensive views of the surrounding mountains, along with a nice selection of wines and a restaurant with a casual menu — salads, sandwiches and a few other nibbles. But a visit to Kaya isn’t complete without a wine tasting. Kaya and its sister winery, Twisted, come together to offer 20 different wines, ranging from a dark dry pinot noir to Grace, a sweeter white blend, to a very sweet rose. There’s a taste for every palate.
But traveling up the mountain isn’t the only way to sample Kaya and Twisted. The tasting room at Dahlonega Square Hotel and Villas is open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and on Sunday from 1-6 p.m. for a glass or bottle of Kaya.
Learn more about Kaya Vineyards at kayavineyards.com.
Interested in discovering Dahlonega? Log onto dahlonega.org to learn more about its restaurants, hotels — 804 hotel rooms in all — and its wineries. And please don’t drink and drive, instead, make reservations for a wine tour from Dahlonega Wine Tours or DahloneGO while you’re visiting dahlonega.org and let someone else do the driving.