Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Apocalyptic Thoughts on the Human Tail, and Getting Sloppy on the Sabbath

November 10, 2011
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(photo courtesy: bachelorfrog.com)

Georgians no longer need to attend an Episcopal Mass to get a nip of alcohol before 12:30 on Sundays.

One of the few remaining stalwarts upholding “Blue Laws”– or religiously-fueled mandates to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath- the State of Georgia recently put to ballot the ability for counties to decide on repealing or upholding these laws. From the overwhelmingly Christian perspective, the sale and consumption of alcohol had been deemed disrespectful to the observance of a holy day. No outcry, however, against Sunday travesties like that dancing FOX NFL Sunday robot, or- most perverse- the continued airing of American Dad.

As of this Tuesday, the voters spoke with a nearly unanimous voice to tear down these teetotaling walls. Being a non-Presidential/Senatorial/Congressional voting year, literally tens of patriotic pollsters made it clear that their bloated, groaning livers would not remain silent.

Previously, alcohol sales of any kind in any retail establishments were illegal. Restaurants, bars, and other on-premise establishments could not serve until at 12:30 PM, leaving only 30 minutes of tour de force guzzling to prime one’s pump for an afternoon of yelling at the TV.  Damn Cleveland Browns.

So, what does this all mean?  Well, people in qualifying counties and municipalities (not all have held the vote yet) can buy booze on Sunday.  At least, after 12:30 PM.  Compromise is a bitch.

But what does it really mean?  So much more than religion.  Something that may bring down civilization.

I’ve seen Georgians on Facebook celebrating like we got Osama Bin Laden or American Dad got canceled.  To me, I see just another convenience advancing the laziness of humans.  And that, my friends, is why we’re never gonna see it coming.  The robots will become self-aware.  We’ll all be too drunk, throwing empty cans of swill at the TV, because the remote is out of reach, and damned if American Dad doesn’t come on right after those NFL games.

Georgia’s new law is an evolution of convenience, and one that will make our instincts dull.

Take the appendix, for example.  Or, even better, the tail.  At some point, humanoids had tails.  I mean, we have tailbones now, so it’s reasonable to say we had tails (and it’s far too late for me to go researching the missing link.  Plus, have you ever Googled “homo erectus”?  Not the savory, scientific results you’d expect).  A tail is used as a counter-balance for a tree-dwelling creature or one that walks hunched-over.  At some point, the humanoids began to walk more upright.  Having nothing to counterbalance, the tail- once essential- became obsolete.

Native Georgians have always had a sixth sense.  An instinctual advantage, if you will.  The “Sunday beer” impulse is one that drives a Georgian- without the bottleneck of reasoning- to buy extra beer/wine/liquor on Saturday night.  I’ve personally lost count of the number of times I’d had no plans to drink anything on a Sunday.  Yet, there it would always be: a squirreled-away 6-pack of Coors Light tall boys in the crisper.  Don’t even recall buying ’em.  Indeed, an acorn for hard times.

Now, having no need to rely on survival instinct, Georgians will do like the rest of the nation and become soft.  And drunk.  Vulnerable.  To terrorism.  To robots.  Even zombies.

Think I’m crazy?  Watch the show The Walking Dead.  Zombie apocalypse.  And as the drama unfolds, the writers have yet to tell me how it all started.  But I know one thing:  the show is set in Atlanta, a place where alcohol sales have recently been approved on Sunday.  How’s that for a theory?  This, my friends, is ground zero.

So take your new “freedoms”, Georgia.  I’ll stick to my instincts.  And I’ll be enjoying a six-pack of “Sunday beer” while you all are getting eaten by zombies on a Sunday afternoon at the liquor store.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Meat me in Southwest Georgia

April 23, 2010
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Mosey into many of the small towns in the Southeast (or nationwide, I’m sure), and the obligatory speed traps along state and local highways will force you to stop and look around. Beyond the Hardee’s, McDonald’s, and Subway (at EVERY exit and in EVERY small town), one will notice local- and often very odd- eateries and fooderies (new word, yo) along the way.
Sorry I said “yo”. It won’t happen again.
With all due respect to two of my favorites: Bate’s House of Turkey in Greenville, AL (a full-on, Thanskgiving-style turkey dinner right off the exit on I-65) and Gresham Bar & Grill, Disco, and Auto Sales in Athens, GA (no explanation necessary), there’s a Chevron gas station in Warwick, GA that offers just a little more than a full tank:

I get goosebumps every time I read that slogan. Genius is not flattering enough of a word. But Stripling’s is much more than a convenience store…

And when have you ever walked into a gas station and seen this?
Full service butcher shop? Okay, not good enough for you? How ’bout this?
Homemade pickles of endless providence (watermelon rind being a particularly regional delicacy)? You got it, sport. But, perhaps you’re looking to step up your road trip noshing to Bourdain-esque levels…
A patchwork of salty pig parts! Just throw it on the radiator, and in no time, you’ve hit flavor country, my friend. Nothing gets that gas pedal moving like a belly full of Souse.

In all seriousness, Stripling’s has a 40 year+ tradition of sausage making and butchery. This location opened in 1991, and if you do find yourself in Southwest Georgia (in particular, on GA 300 between Cordele and Albany), and you’ve got a powerful hunger for something to snack upon, it really is hard to beat an RC Cola and a bag of their homemade beef jerky. Salty, chewy (but not tooth-loss chewy), without a hint of overdone liquid smoke or artificial flavors you can find in commercial beef jerky. Maybe if I were in the passenger seat, I’d have to crack a bottle of smoky Argentine Malbec or Spanish Rioja to go with a pound of this magic. Kudos to Hudson from Two Friends Imports for turning me onto Stripling’s jerky.
Indeed, walking around in here, the folks were giving me weird looks for taking photos of meat. I get it a lot. Perhaps they don’t think too much of a chubby guy snapping shots of food…
…or maybe they realize that I simply never sausage a place.

Sense of Place (part 2 of 2)

April 1, 2010
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Goût de Terroir (French): a taste of the earth

Usually, a wine tasting evolves (or devolves) into a flourish of descriptors …colors, aromas, flavors. It’s an exercise in subjectivity; a bizarre ritual of flaunting knowledge and one-upmanship. I’m wired to transform into this often-pretentious mold when tasting, especially when trying to match wits with a proprietor or winemaker. Yet, as we sip on Persimmon Creek’s five offerings- a dry Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Franc (a grape that always seems to show up where grapes “shouldn’t” be grown), Merlot, and an Ice Wine made from the Riesling- there is very little discussion of exotic fruits and flavors. Rather, we quaff over empassioned exchanges on politics, the struggles of running a successful small business, the high cost of distribution, wine writing and respect/disrespect for the subject matter, and the hallowed French concept of terroir. To say that Hardman is passionate on these topics is like saying Jimi Hendrix was a “pretty decent guitar player.” I don’t know if “chip on the shoulder” is the right way to describe it, but there’s an overwhelming sense that this woman has taken a lot of heat as a Georgia winemaker, and she has fought tooth-and-nail to defend her place among the snobs and fortunate sons of an industry built on the haughty shoulders of legacy and pedigree.

As for the wines themselves: they are all pleasant enough. The Seyval Blanc (a French-American hybrid) is unique. The Cabernet Franc brings an interesting nose. The Merlot is easy-drinking. And then, there’s the Riesling: dry, crisp, and aromatic. I’m pretty stunned that they have the cajones to grow Riesling in Georgia. Generally regarded as a cold weather grape, the pride of Germany seems clearly out-of-place (hell, even the German-kitsch town of Helen is more than an hour away). However, it’s worth noting that Persimmon Creek sits at 2200′ above sea level, and there’s a bite in the gusts of wind this morning. According to Mary Ann, bud break occurs a much later than the nearby Dahlonega Plateau, and she definitely considers this a “cold climate” growing region. Furthermore, those vines are used to produce a rich, concentrated Ice Wine. There’s enough sweetness, enough acidity, and a very interesting nose that I feel I’m about to decipher before Shadow the sheepdog knocks my glass out of my hand.
Unlike the Ice Wine, where the rest of the wines lack to me are on the palate. Like many Georgia wines I’ve tasted, I feel the flavors tend to be a little hollow. That being said, I imagine this will only get better. Most of the vines are Persimmon Creek are only about 5 years old, so they’ve yet to even reach maturity. As the vine ages, its roots go deeper and work harder, soaking up nutrients in the soil. The result is more complex fruit, creating more complex wines. Furthermore, these wines have a soul all their own. They don’t taste like California wines. They don’t taste like Australian wines. They are subtle, likely food-friendly, and have a smell and a taste that can only be described as…Georgia. And isn’t that what “sense of place” is all about. If the locals try to produce bottles in the California style, they are destined to fail miserably. But if they work to express the unique terroir of these vineyards, then there’s a much better chance of success.

And it’s out among these vineyards where I see Mary Ann come alive, more so than in the tasting room. We grab a bottle of the Ice Wine and head into the trellised rows. “People often think these bottles grow right off the vine,” says Hardman, a little tongue-in-cheek. “If they knew what went into crafting the product that ends up in the glass…well, they certainly don’t have to like it, but they owe all that effort the respect to at least try it.” The soil, a sandy, loamy alluvial (I would’ve guessed red clay), the training of the vines, the spacing, the pruning…well, it’s all pretty impressive, and clearly a laborious and meticulous process. But no doubt a labor of love, and my host bounds with child-like energy from row to row, excitedly relishing in the symmetry of a perfect vine. “Wine is topiary, and we are gardeners,” she pontificates.

Biodiversity is another source of excitement. While the practical application of organic and/or biodynamic processes is anything but in Georgia (too much humidity, proliferation of downy and powdery mildews, Pierce’s disease, etc.), a push towards polyculture is cultivated here. Sunflowers have just been planted; a proper host for many critters that are needed in the vineyard. Bees buzz around a couple hive boxes outside Mary Ann’s house. Then, of course, there are the sheep. 30 plus of them…East Friesians, bred for their milk, not their meat (though seeing them made me feel guilty about this and especially this). They’re also here to keep the grass nice and trimmed, eliminating the fumes of a gas-powered mower.
It’s this dedication to the land, the stewardship of the terroir that is Georgia’s hope for wine success. When the earth and the vine is treated with this much care and respect, the product that results is sure to be good. Or, at the very least, knowing the arduous processes involved, the uphill battle for notoriety and respect, and the passion of the people behind the wine, Persimmon Creek- and Georgia viticulture and viniculture in general- needs to be appreciated for what it is, not what it isn’t. That’s what “sense of place” is all about. Almost sounds like something they’d say in Burgundy…

Sense of Place (part 1 of 2)

March 30, 2010
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Goût de Terroir (French): a taste of the earth


The only taste I have in my mouth now is that of stale gas station pizza and a $0.99 16 oz. can of Pepsi. It’s 8:15 AM on a Saturday. Breakfast of champions, right? Perhaps my only option; waking up early on a weekend to hit the road leaves little time for the pleasantly lethargic ritual of a leisurely cup of coffee and a slow-simmered, comforting bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Nope; an empty tank of gas means an obligatory stop at the BP, and after several moments of internal struggle, out the door with a cold can of corn syrup and a pizza that would make even Chef Boyardee blush with shame.
As Jerry’s haunting guitar melodies mingle with Phil Lesh’s effortless bass riffs in a ethereal rendition of “Dark Star“, I fall into the trance one only knows if on the road often. As city fades into countryside, my vehicle and myself have become one…anticipating the destination would only delay arrival, as a watched toaster never pops when one is hungry. The destination is Clayton, GA; practically an annex of North Carolina, as it’s tucked into the furthest northeast reaches of the state, over 2 hours ride from metro Atlanta. Clayton, besides being one of the outposts of the Peach state, also happens to be home to one of its most cloistered vineyards: Persimmon Creek. I crest over a hill to face the imposing wall of the Appalachian mountains. Not far now.
Through winding mountain roads and country lanes, I meander closer to my destination. You know you’re in another world when trout streams outnumber traffic lights and road names like “Slop Bucket Lane” manifest themselves. As I pull up on the gateway to the Persimmon Creek vineyards, I relish in the seclusion. It’s very liberating to get away from the 4-lanes and soak in the crisp air and natural beauty of the North Georgia mountains.

Past the gate and beyond a row of Riesling vines (more on that later), I pull up to the house of Mary Ann Hardman, proprietor of Persimmon Creek. Hardman, an attractive yet understated woman in her early forties, greets me warmly in the kitchen of her on-property home, sporting a mild yet distiguishable accent- I’m not the only Georgia native here.
After a brief glance over the grounds from the upstairs porch, we head downstairs, through a barrel room full of French, American, and Hungarian oak barriques, and into a private tasting room, also redolent of the vanilla-and-toast aromas of wood-aging wine. In my mind, this is a detour. Usually, the vineyards and property are put on display first, and the wine tasting- always the climactic moment of any vineyard visit- ties up the experience. In the end, it’s all about the wine, right? Alas, this was not shaping up to be a typical winery, nor a typical host…
To be continued


Light-Headed at 1800′

February 2, 2010
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1800 feet meaning the elevation of the Dahlonega Plateau, just north of Atlanta, where a rag-tag group of intrepid winemakers (perhaps gluttons for punishment in this climate) are making surprisingly good wine.

The ringleader in the Social Media scene is definitely Montaluce Winery & Estates. Myself, along with an equally rag-tag group of intrepid (due to the weather) food & wine bloggers trekked up the road a piece for a day of feasting and tasting (DISCLAIMER: those lovable rascals at Montaluce footed the bill).
You can- as usual- find better recaps of the event at Atlanta Wine Guy, Savory Exposure, Random Oenophile, Maison Marcel, and biskuit’s photostream. However, I decided to take a crack at a video, since I used up about a week’s worth of words on yesterday’s post.
In this video, yes, the pictures do not do justice to the food. Easily worth the drive.


Fall in North Georgia

October 22, 2009
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The weather was cold…really cold for mid October. But the campfire was warm, as were the bbq, beans, and cornbread. Of course, wine was plentiful, and the conversation and behind-the-scenes access from the owners and winemakers completed the day. Drinking room-temp, yeasty wine-to-be straight out of the fermenter has never been so fun!

Big thanks to Brent, Rob, Brad, Oliver, and all the folks at Montaluce who made us feel so welcome at the annual Fall Festival. Can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in October (with all due respect, ‘Dawgs…)


Posted in food, georgia, montaluce, wine

It’s "Drink Local Wine" Week! Get your butt to the mountains!

October 15, 2009
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I’ve heard it all before:

“California’s too far away!”

“Ugh, I can’t afford a plane ticket to Oregon!”

“The ‘Finger Lakes’? That’s too cold!”

“I don’t even drink. How did my quote end up on a wine blog. Am I getting paid for this?”

All fair quotes, all completely unsolicited, and more importantly- unpaid. Actually, I promised folks that I pay them the exact same that I get paid from the suburbanwino.com coffers. Suckers.

So, what was the question? I asked folks why they’re not visiting wine country this weekend. Yeah, folks in Atlanta. They squabbled and squawked; made excuses and reminded me that we’re “in the southeast. No wine around here, unless you like blackberry moonshine and don’t mind ‘squealing like a pig'” to get your trotters, er, hands on it. Ah, Deliverance. Thanks for honoring and portraying my beloved state in the same way The Sopranos represented New Jersey (or From Dusk ‘Til Dawn painted Mexico, for that matter).

But I digress. What these fine folks didn’t realize is that wine country- real wine country- is right in their backyards! As I’ve written several times in the past, Georgia is making some pretty serious wine. The Dahlonega Plateau offers cooling elevation (1800′ above sea level), the slopes and clay soils provide good drainage and rain barrier, and the dedicated vineyard managers and winemakers give every ounce of themselves to turn a difficult climate on its head- providing wines that I’m generally proud to drink outside of a paper bag. And we’re not talking muscadine, scuppernong, and any other vitis rotundifolia grapes that make better names for Hollywood infants than they do wine. They’re making real wine; vitis vinifera (basically, Latin for “wine grapes”), aka Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Touriga Nacional, and some interesting hybrids like Vidal/Seyval Blanc. Yet, while many of these wines express some interesting flavors (some would perhaps say “grassiness”) that you may not find in the true varietal character of “traditional” wine regions, I say what makes them atypical is what makes them unique. Ask a Frenchman, and he’d insist that’s what the hallowed “expression of terroir” is all about. Then, he might celebrate your astuteness with some goose fat and cigarettes.

So go try something unique. Go try something local. It’s good for your state’s economy. It helps some hardworking folks- simply (or insanely) following their passion- succeed. And, doggone it, a lot of times, the wine just tastes good. That’s been my experience with many Georgia wines. They’ve come a long way.

I really appreciate what DrinkLocalWine.com has done, putting together this week to celebrate regional vino. In Georgia, here are a few wineries that you should check out. Go this weekend. When you taste these wines, you may just squeal…with delight:

Montaluce Winery and Estates
Three Sisters Vineyards
Blackstock Vineyards and Winery
Frogtown Cellars
Wolf Mountain Vineyards
Tiger Mountain Vineyards
Persimmon Creek
…and many more HERE



To the locals: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!


Taking Flight at Montaluce (at last, Georgia Wines part 4 of 4)

September 20, 2009
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Dedication can be a tricky thing. Last thing I’ve wanted to do today is sit down and write a post. Football season can really wear one out, but a fan feels compelled to watch every minute of his favorite teams, even if the games run late into the night, sap all his emotional energy, and occupy his every waking minute from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. Call it, uh…dedication to the team. Unfortunately, the blog needs it’s attention too, so dedication need be mustered again (somewhere, an English teacher is cursing me for using the same word three times in a paragraph).

Furthermore, I feel compelled to write about the wines being produced on the Dahlonega Plateau. These guys put in a lot of hard work and- do I even need to say it?- into what they’re doing, especially at Montaluce. The folks there dropped everything to speak to some inquisitive boob from Woodstock, GA, so the least I can do is write about it. If you want to read my article about Montaluce, click here. For the purposes of this post, I’m sticking strictly to the wine:

2008 Risata: Three cheers for good winemaking. This Sangiovese-based effort was originally intended to be a red wine. When the grapes didn’t come in the way the winemaker wanted, he turned it into an intriguing Rosé. Nice move. I was met with a very pleasant nose of roses, orange peel, herbs, that Georgia “grassiness”, and rainbow sherbet. Yeah, the red, green, and orange stuff. It was dry and crisp in the mouth, with good acidity. A really nice wine.
2008 Chardonnay: A nice, buttery, earthy nose (maybe “grassy” again?) with some telltale Chardonnay aromas of green apple and citrus. In the mouth, there was once again good acidity (which you’d expect in a cool-climate, but not in the Deep South…nice). This wine also had a nice, long finish. It was not my favorite of the bunch, but that could be a personal problem. Why am I saddling you with my problems? You’ve got enough on your plate, and I respect that, valued reader.

2008 Viognier: A variety of grape that I’m seeing a ton of in Georgia, for which I am very happy (Viognier is SOOO good when done well). Montaluce’s- yet again- had a very interesting nose…extra virgin olive oil (or “EVOO” if you’re into terrible Rachael Ray references) was the first thing that jumped out at me. I also got apricots, peaches, and honey in my snout. Nice tangerine and spice in the mouth. Bought a bottle; what else can I say?
2008 Merlot: Another good nose. Herbs, green pepper, and berries dancing around in the glass. As I swished it around in my cheeks, this light-to-medium bodied red had a huge kick of strawberries, which never sucks. Really, what’s impressive about the Montaluce wines is the depth of flavor that I haven’t really seen in the other Georgia wines I’ve had. They’re more complex, and this Merlot is no exception.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: I think by this point, I was jaw-jacking with Rob Beecham, and I didn’t write down any notes. Nice one, Joe. Anyway, what I do remember is that it was pretty good: medium-bodied, good fruit, that signature Georgia “grassiness” (which may sound bad, but it’s not. It’s the “Georgia” in the wine). Sorry, Cab. I meant well, but failed to give you the respect you deserve.
So, there it is. This edition of my Georgia wine oddyssey is closed- for now. There’s a lot more going on up in the hills, so I’m sure I’ll be back…
…just like I’m sure I’ll be sitting on the couch again on a Sunday night, trying to avoid writing a post. But if they keep busting their butts to make the best wine possible, I’ll get off mine and write about it.
To dedication, even when it’s not the easy thing to do: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!


A Wine in Wolf’s Clothing (Georgia Wine, part 2 of 3)

September 14, 2009
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How many of your most enjoyable wine experiences start this way?

Wake up in strange bed in strange house (fortunately, not with strange woman), hazy-headed, blurred-vision. Dry mouth, pounding headache, regret. Oh, the regret. And yet, it’s unclear what I’m regretting.

Oh yeah. Beloved alma mater lost football game. Stupid other games didn’t cover. Drowned sorrow in what may-have-been root beer-flavored vodka.

Wake wife. Get dressed. Stop by Wendy’s, hoping that they’re serving a chicken sandwich at 10 AM. Chicken sandwich and large Sprite perhaps saves life. “Why did I set up a meeting with a winery today,” I continually question myself. “The last thing I want to see is anything remotely alcoholic, let alone an entire operation dedicated to it.”

Not familiar? Perhaps you’re not an Irish-blooded, football-crazy wine lover. It happens.

But upon reaching the beautiful grounds of Wolf Mountain Vineyards in nearby Dahlonega, GA (about an hour north of Atlanta), things start to turn around. Up a very steep driveway off a non-descript backroad in an unknown (to most) part of the world, one is greeted by Cabernet Sauvignon vines, picturesque grounds, and- on this day- a packed parking lot. Apparently, the secret’s out. My wife and I amble into the inviting tasting room and we’re quickly greeted by winemaker and owner, Karl Boegner. The friendly, Hawaiian-shirt clad Boegner, looking about in his mid-fifties, is the patriarch of the family-run operation, and has spent most of his life in the wine industry, including tours in Epernay and Reims, two strongholds of Champagne, France.

As we walk through the rows of ripe Cabernet vines- only a couple weeks away from harvest- Boegner regales me of the great challenges and opportunities of growing vitis vinifera in North Georgia. He tells me that the 1800′ above-sea-level elevation of the Dahlonega Plateau is the critical factor allowing traditional wine grapes to grow in such an unforgiving climate (in fact, Boegner has been a relentless voice in pushing to make this region Georgia’s first AVA, or American Viticultural Area, giving real creedence to the local terroir). We discuss the experimental nature of the industry. Besides Cabernet, Wolf Mountain is also growing Syrah, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Tannat (a brutally-tannic variety indiginous to Southwest France), and Touriga Nacional (one of Portugal’s signature red grapes) on its southwest-facing slopes. We move on to viticulture, the advantages of rain-repellant clay soils in a rainy climate, and how vine fungal diseases are a constant threat where notorious high-humidity is the norm, rather than the exception. When not fighting downy and powdery mildew- spraying every 7 days until June- Pierce’s disease is a constant threat to the vines. Trust me: when you talk to a Georgia winemaker, you gain a great deal of respect for amount of, well, crap, that he endures in pursuit of a passion.

One thing is for certain: if the wines are half as lovely as the surroundings in where they’re poured, then Wolf Mountain has a very good chance of putting local wine on the national map. What comes next is state support, and both Karl Boegner and his son Brannon seem hopeful that future administrations will loosen their historically-strict regulations on the industry. Distribution laws have recently opened up a bit, but there’s more work to do. Indeed, the positive economic impact of a burgeoning wine region- both for product sales and tourism- cannot be ignored. What will come out of full support can only be a good thing.

The final piece of the puzzle is local backing. Visit Wolf Mountain, as well as its neighbors. No, I’m not being compensated to say this, and I was not asked to do so. But I have a great deal of pride in where I’m from, and every place in the world has something unique about it. One of the greatest things about wine is that it can express that uniqueness unlike anything else.

On Wednesday, I’ll focus on the wine, touching on the highlights of Wolf Mountain’s many offerings. I hope to find something in the glass that cannot be found anywhere else, much like what I’ve found in the foothills just north of my beloved city.

Oh, I’ll also be staying away from root beer vodka, as I raise my glass of Pepto Bismol: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!



Don’t Hassle Me, I’m Local (Georgia Wine, part 1 of 3)

September 9, 2009
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“We’re not trying to make California wine. If you want California wine, go to California. What we are doing is making Georgia wine…and Georgia wine is good wine.”


-Rob Beecham, Montaluce Vineyards

An obvious statement on the surface, but one profoundly rooted in the European concept of terroir– the concept that a wine is so much more than the fruit itself. The soil, the climate, the orientation of the slopes, the training of the vine, the care of the grower and the mastery of the winemaker; all culminating in the glass as so much more: a truly unique expression that can only be found in certain parts of the world.

I’d expect this talk from a Frenchman or Italian vintner. Yet Beecham is certainly neither. The hip, forty-something, boundless ball of energy and enthusiasm, builder, developer, family man, and obvious wine-fanatic hails from Decatur, GA – just east of downtown Atlanta, attended Roswell High School in the suburbs, and now resides in the hills an hour north of the city.

Yep, I found my kindred spirit: the other Atlanta native. Seriously, it seems NO ONE living here is from here originally.

But what’s happening in those hills- namely, Dahlonega, GA- is incredibly exciting. When faced with a burning desire to move west and settle down in wine country, grow old with his friends and family with a cigar in one hand and a glass of wine in another, Beecham, along with brother Brent, decided to build something close to home. The result: Montaluce, a community of homes, vineyards, a beautiful winery, restaurant, and event facilities. And it’s all a stone’s throw from the 8th largest metropolitan area in the States. And, as their vines hit the magic 3-4 year birthday, they’re making wine with their own grapes. “Why can’t we have wine country in our home state?” questions Rob. “Georgia used to be the sixth largest producer of wine in the union, but we’re having to learn the process again.”

Another dubious feather-in-the-cap of Prohibition. But the notorious 18th amendment is only part of the story. A growing temperance movement (that just sounds lame) that manifested in the early 1800’s reached a head in 1908, and the Georgia legislature ratified a statewide ban on alcohol that even outlasted the national Prohibition that ended in 1933. Georgia wised up in 1935, but the damage had been done…most vineyards were abandoned and neglected.

But enough with the history lesson. More on that can be found at http://www.georgiawinecountry.com/

And now, where America’s first gold rush began, another treasure trove- first reemerging in the 70’s- is firmly establishing itself: quality wine produced from vitis vinifera (traditional European wine grapes), all in an area naysayers would criticize as too humid and rainy to produce great vino. Are there challenges? Huge ones. Peronospera and oidium, among other fungal diseases to the vine, are combatted weekly. Pierce’s disease runs rampant. Furthermore, economies of scale, global reputation, and awareness are a constant threat: how will a consumer choose a $20+ wine from a fledgling growing region over internationally-renowned regions’ products at half the price?

I think the “locavore” movement will play a critical part. As forward-thinking restauranteurs and consumers look to support local farmers, ranches, and fisheries, providing local wineries seems the next logical step to me. And if there’s not a golden goose sitting on the locavore nest (what does that even mean?), then tourism can play its role. Anyone as wine -nerdy as me daydreams about trips to the west coast, France, Italy. What we all need to understand is that there’s a pretty damn good time only an hour away.

But even more promising to the success of Montaluce and wineries like it is the incredible passion of the folks backing it. Rarely have I known tireless visionaries to fail in their endeavors, and if I can say one thing about Rob Beecham in the short time I spoke with him, it’s crystal-clear that he’s putting everything he’s got into his dream, and it resonates in the product; whether that be the homes, the tasting room decor, or the surprising wine.

I’ll be talking about some of the wines in greater detail next Wednesday for “Wine Blogging Wednesday #61” (a brainchild of Lenn Thompson, head honcho at lenndevours.com, a read definitely worth your glance). In the meantime, take a look at montalucewinery.com, or even better, hop in your car, leave your preconceptions cellared with your Mondavi and Opus One, and prepare yourself for a great time. You’ll not just be helping the local economy, you be participating in a wine culture that can literally be called home-grown.

As I proudly raise a glass of unique, Georgia wine, I say to you Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!