Posted by Lindsay Taylor
Nothing says summer charm in the Blue Ridge Mountains like an afternoon or evening at one of the many local wineries. The music and scenery of Appalachia blends with the cool, crisp nights of the Great Smoky Mountains to provide an unforgettable visit. Europe and the West Coast may be known for their vineyards and wineries, but winemakers of the Western Carolina and North Georgia wineries are working to bring the same excellence to Appalachia. Rich soil, family traditions and a strong work ethic have paved the way for local vineyards and wineries to begin making a name for themselves. This part of the Western Carolina and North Georgia Mountains is home to several vineyards, each offering distinctive experiences and a large selection of local wines.
North Georgia and Western Carolina Vineyards
Wine production has been part of North Georgia and Western Carolina culture for hundreds of years, but in more recent years, these family-owned vineyards have started to gain popularity due to their award-winning wines and unique practices. Many of the local vineyards offer tours to showcase their grape-growing techniques, and the wineries offer wine tastings as well as wines available to sample and purchase by the glass or bottle.
Consistent with the Southern hospitality this area is known for, it’s not uncommon to find the owner of the vineyard or the winemaker/vintner milling about and socializing with their guests. They take their winemaking and their service seriously, and are usually more than willing to talk about the work that goes into growing their beloved grapes, even if you choose not to take a vineyard tour. It is precisely this charisma that will make your visit to the local wineries enchanting, enjoyable and unforgettable.
Vineyards, Vintners and the Art of Winemaking
The vineyard itself is where the true work of winemaking begins. Although a winery does not need to have an on-site vineyard to function, the allure of wineries in this region comes partly from the fact that most wineries here utilize grapes grown in their own vineyards to develop their wines. There is a lot of work that goes into cultivating a successful vineyard, though, and as Appalachian vintners know, great wine comes from great grapes and hard work.
The process of growing grapes is formally known as viticulture, and those who grow grapes for a living are known as viticulturists – persons trained in the art of grape growing. This terminology comes from the Latin word for vine, and the process is a honed art form. Viticulturists not only tend grape vines; they also use their understanding of the agricultural process to develop a sustainable vineyard. Winemakers, or vintners, work underneath the instruction of the viticulturist to care for and harvest the grapes that will then be pressed, fermented, bottled and sold to consumers. This collaboration, when done well, makes for excellent wines.
You simply can’t beat the taste of vineyard-to-bottled wines, but tasting them in their natural environment during a visit to the vineyard only adds to the appeal of Appalachian wineries. Blooming grape vines against a Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop will create an unforgettable experience.
If surroundings weren’t enough, feel free to capitalize on the host’s hospitality and ask questions about the different wine options they offer. The staff will be well-versed in the processes used in their vineyards as well as the notes that make each bottle of wine special. You are sure to find that the vineyards are uniquely run, and the wine tastings at each venue are distinctly their own.
Why Go Local?
Rich soil and mild climates unique to this part of Appalachia create the perfect atmosphere for growing lush, prospering vineyards. Grapes in the Western Carolina and North Georgia Mountains are fortunate enough to have relatively mild winters and warm afternoon sunshine, tempered by misty mornings and cool evenings. This pleasant climate creates an ideal atmosphere for grape growing. Local vineyards and wineries include Crane Creek Vineyards, Eagle Fork Vineyards, Hightower Creek Vineyards, Nottely River Valley Vineyards, and Valley River Vineyards.
Local Vineyards and What Makes Each One Special
Crane Creek Vineyards is a true gem of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. Located a mere three miles from Young Harris College, and just minutes over the North Carolina state line, this local favorite holds a certain charm that visitors and residents alike return to year after year. Just two hours away from Atlanta, GA and Chattanooga, TN, this beautiful vineyard rests under the famous Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak, and offers a peaceful respite from city life.
Erick Seifarth, Crane Creek owner and winemaker, believes that enjoying wine should mean embracing the casual pleasure of Northern Italy, where he himself learned the art of wine while stationed there as an Army officer. This casual enjoyment means enjoying a glass of wine among good food, family and friends. Crane Creek seeks to do just that by providing endless options for socializing while enjoying fine local wines.
Eagle Fork Vineyards is tucked off the beaten path in Hayesville, NC, a quaint town in the heart of the Nantahala National Forest. Dr. Jerry Smith, founder and winecrafter at Eagle Fork Vineyards, first began his love of grapes as a child. He had the unique experience of living and working among the grape growing companies that produced and harvested grapes for Welch’s grape juice. After earning a PhD in environmental chemistry, Dr. Smith founded an environmental engineering company that he ran until his retirement to Hayesville, where he started Eagle Fork Vineyards in 2004.
Dr. Smith’s background, coupled with a trip to Italy to hone his winemaking skills, led to a unique routine that characterizes Smith’s growing practices. He plays classical music over his grapes every morning if an effort to stimulate growth and drive away insects. This is great news for both the vineyard and the consumer because this practice eliminates the need for pesticide use. The use of classical music allows Eagle Fork Vineyards to operate as a pesticide-free vineyard that seeks to protect both its customers and the environment.
Eagle Fork Vineyards offers a horseback riding tour and a foot tour upon request and for an additional fee. The tasting room, however, is free and welcomes visitors to taste the wines and visit with the winemaker. Eagle Fork also hosts Seasonal events and personal events such as weddings. Visit the Eagle Fork Vineyards Tasting Room page and Calendar of Events page for more specific information.
Family owned and operated in the North Georgia town of Hiawassee, GA, this local vineyard and winery seeks to bring the lure of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the taste of their wines. With names such as Red Clay Rosé, Chatuga White and Epiphany, you are sure to discover a bottle that captures your interest.
Hightower Creek Vineyards is located in the Hiwassee Highlands American Viticultural Area, an area whose valley climate lends to great-tasting grapes. The owners, Liz and Sanford Green, along with the winemaker, Travis Green, seek to bring a minimal intervention tactic in their wine cellar. This allows the grapes to speak for themselves and invites visitors to taste the natural mountain allure that brings people back to this area year after year.
Hightower Creek Vineyards welcomes visitors to their tasting room and events throughout the year, ensuring something for every season. Be sure to check them out while you’re in town!
Planted on family farmlands that date back to the early 1800s, Nottely River Valley Vineyards is a family owned and operated vineyard located in Murphy, NC. Because the family strives to match the excellence of the “Old World Style, Hand-Crafted Wines” for which European wineries are famous, Nottely River Valley Vineyards viticulture (grape growing) practices operate under a minimal intervention standard that includes observations such as high density plantings, below ground gravity flow and geo-thermal cooling of the cellar.
Originally planted by William and Brenda Reece in 1997, Valley River Vineyards continues to operate under family members who maintain the Reece’s dedication to small batch wines made “the old fashion way”. This means that the wines are no infusions or chemicals added to the wines. Each batch of wine is truly a grape-to-bottle experience you are sure to enjoy.
The vineyard is located in Murphy, NC and is frequently involved in local events. They welcome visitors, private parties, and are also available as a large event venue. For more information on what Valley River Vineyards offers, visit their webpage. You may also enjoy looking through their photo gallery, which gives a visual representation of all the vineyard has to offer.