By Kate Parham Kordsmeier
Crane Creek Vineyard. Photo courtesy of georgiawine.com.
When most people think of American wine, the valleys of Napa and Willamette likely come to mind. But down here in Georgia, we’re not exactly slumming it when it comes to delicious vino. Not only was the state the sixth largest grape producer in the country before Prohibition, but today Georgia is home to more than 40 vineyards, many of which have won prestigious international awards. Today, we sit down with Eric Seifarth, president of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia and owner-winemaker at Crane Creek Vineyards, to talk Georgia wine:
KPK: What grapes grow best in Georgia, Eric?
ES: That’s a difficult question to answer because in many ways Georgia is still a little in search of its grape. But, a lot of established wineries are growing [European-style vinefera] like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay that are predictable and understood by most people. And a lot of new wineries are coming on board and planting varieties never grown here, like Rhone varietals like Viognier, and Austrian grapes of Gruner Veltliner, and finding success. South Georgia does a wonderful job with Muscadine, as well.
KPK: Why do you think these grapes grow so well in Georgia?
ES: Grapes like abundant sunshine, well-drained soil, a nice, long growing season and warm days and cool nights. In many ways, that sums up the climate of the Northeast Georgia Mountains.
KPK: You mentioned wines that are understood by most people. Tell us about Georgia wine drinkers.
ES: Overall, Georgia wine drinkers lean to more off-dry, semi-sweet wines than they do the drier varietals, though that’s shifting a bit. It’s been gratifying to see people embracing the more classic French and Italian drier style wines.
KPK: What do you wish people knew about Georgia wines?
ES: That it isn’t the Georgia wine of 20 years ago, when it was all very sweet fruit wines. Today we’re making amazing dry wines that are grown and vintified from world-class areas. See for yourself—pour a glass of Norton, [a native East Coast grape discovered in Virginia in the 1700s], and you’ll be very surprised by how wonderful it is. Our Nortons can compete with any Bordeaux or Burgundy. For whites, I’m partial to my Gruner at Crane Creek, but also impressed with Petit Manseng, which I’ve been tasting fantastic examples of here in Georgia.
KPK: What are some of Georgia’s most revered labels today?
ES: Quite a few wineries have won national accolades with their Nortons, including Crane Creek, Tiger Mountain and Frogtown. Wolf Mountain also does very well, and there’s a new guy on board at Engleheim Vineyards who’s only a few years in but earned a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the Super Bowl of wine competitions) for their Sweet Molly, [a Traminette]. Our Villard Noir Rosé, a French-American hybrid, also won Best of Class.
KPK: So we have lots of incredible options to choose from. Can we visit these vineyards?
ES: Pretty much every vineyard has a tasting room—some are large, beautiful structures with restaurants on-site, and some maybe don’t even look open, but you can wind up having the best experience at these teeny little wineries. People really need to go out and visit them all because every single one is unique in that it captures the essence of the owner and winemaker.
Kate is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and a freelance food and travel writer for more than 100 publications. Click here to read more culinary content from Kate.