As difficult as this may be for those of you who spend thousands to travel to Napa, it’s time to accept that North Georgia is a premier wine growing region. We have around 20 wineries/vineyards in North Georgia, many of which grow the grapes with international cachet: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc. The first winery in Georgia was in the Helen area, Habersham Winery.
Slow acceptance from the outside world probably has a lot to do with the innocent muscadine and its very sweet wine one of your cousins has been making for years. Georgia leads the nation in production of these sweet, thick-skinned table grapes. First of all, muscadine wine can be refreshing; but it has overshadowed the distinct characteristics of the Blue Ridge region for growing other varieties. Many of the wine varieties mentioned above thrive in more arid climates of Europe. Even though we get much more rainfall during the growing season, our soil effectively mimics those climates: red clay is slow to absorb water, and steep slopes drain well. The other ingredients are sunshine, elevation, and evening temperature drops. Fortunately, the world is getting the message. You can book a table at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead or Bacchanalia in downtown Atlanta and find local wine paired with elevated cuisine.
Helen is centrally located to wineries to the Northeast, Northwest, and Southwest. What’s more, you’ll have the feeling of a European vacation to go with your wine tasting. Below is a list of easy day-tripping wineries within 30 miles of Helen. Oh, and just because we have the fine wine doesn’t mean our wine-growers are puttin’ on airs. You can find more than a few wine slushies and sweet blends along your way. Even if you aren’t wine-educated, you’ll have a great time at these stops:
10a.m.-6p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Habersham has been here since 1983. The winery produces 15,000 cases of wine per year.
They have up to twenty wines at any given time: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscadine, Riesling, Seyval/Chardonnay, Vignette, Viognier. Their Cab Sav and white wines are most lauded.
Yonah Mountain Vineyards (10 mi)
12p.m.-5p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11a.m.-6p.m. Friday; 11:30a.m.-7:30p.m. Saturday; 12:30p.m.-6p.m. Sunday
Yonah Mountain Vineyards is a 200-acre family winery located on the southeastern base of 3,000-foot Yonah Mountain. Twenty acres of wine grapes are planted on the property you’ll overlook from an elegant octagon tasting room. Upgrade your visit to a cave tour by reservation: Learn more about the craft of making wine from start to finish in what may be the only traditionally built wine caves in Georgia.
Walk-in tastings every day of the week, but be sure to make reservations for groups of 8 or more.
Varieties: Malbec, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Meritage
11:30a.m.-6p.m. 7 days a week
CeNita,, named after its founding couple, sits on a family farm of four generations. The Vineyard was founded in 2008 and the tasting room opened in 2015. Rolling hills, oak trees and frequent live music will surround you during a relaxed tasting of Vinifera and fascinating hybrid vine wines.
Located midway between Cleveland and Dahlonega to Helen’s southwest, Frogtown is all about being local, respecting the earth, and the process of making their wines. From their website: “The significance of French and Italian winemaking rules adopted by Frogtown that require strict adherence to certain rules and regulations which protect and greatly assist the ability of wine drinkers in the identification of terroir-based wines.” Serious. Since 2010 Frogtown has been awarded two Platinum, 36 Gold, 82 Silver and 92 Bronze Medals in U.S. competitions (usually held in California).
The 57-acre vineyard includes multiple vistas and porches and an architectural building for tastings. An on-site Italian Bistro makes homemade food that pairs with the wines.
Frogtown grows 15 different grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, and Viognier.
1p.m.-5p.m. daily, 11a.m.-6p.m. Saturdays
To the northeast, the Ezzard family has been producing red and white wines from 100% Rabun County gown grapes since 1995. You can tour the vineyards and learn about the hand-picked, grapes-to-wine process. Tiger Mountain Vineyards has won more than 195 awards including a silver in the 2019 Los Angeles International for White Tiger.
Varieties: Malbec, White Tiger (dry white blend), Touriga, Viognier, Cabernet Franc
Enjoy yourself tasting at the source, but make sure someone is available to drive. It may also be wise to use a spitoon (not a joke) if you want to get in a lot of tasting in one day. If you find that you just want to taste some of the same wines without leaving downtown, visit the Helen Wine Company for a wide selection.