In 1900, Georgia was the fifth largest producer of wine in the nation. When Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson's veto of the Volstead Act on October_29, 1919, followed by the ratification of the 18th Amendment, the Georgia wine industry dried up. After prohibition wine production centered on western states and did not return to Georgia until the 1980's. Today, business is booming for wineries and tasting rooms.
The Georgia Wine Highway is open four times a year, March, June, September and December and participating wineries/tasting rooms vary. You establish your own route based on participating Georgia Wine Association members and a map and directions that you receive when you buy your Wine Highway pass. Passes are available at each participant; pricing is moderate, but a very good deal when compared to the cost of visiting members one at a time. This article is based on our Wine Highway excursion in March, 2010.
At each stop on the Georgia Wine Highway you purchase a pass that allows you into a tasting at each stop on the current wine highway. Normally, it would not be possible to visit all the wineries on the Highway in a single day, so plan on at least 2 days.
There are 3 areas of wine-making in north Georgia, extreme northeast Georgia (Rabun County), the Nachoochee Valley (White County) and north of Dahlonega (Lumpkin County). The Wine Highway recommends stops along the way, many with special rates or other events like wine pairings with selected dishes for dinner.
We chose a designated driver who the Wine Highway allowed to participate at no cost. We recommend that you do the same since the state of Georgia does patrol these areas for DUI offenders
Each trip to Helen, Georgia we have seen the Habersham Winery, sitting up on a hill on the left side of the road just before Nora Mills. Now we had a reason to visit and were we ever happy. Clearly the wine is the centerpiece of the establishment, but when you walk in, Habersham Winery has the look of an old general store.
In the center of the store is a popular wine tasting bar. Since this was our third stop of the Wine Highway we were already seeing familiar faces and making new friends, however, not everybody at the bar were riding the highway. A number were visitors from nearby Helen.
Our visit to the Habersham Winery included a tour of a temperature-controlled room of oak wine casks, a sampling of cheese and a "free" three-glass taste of wine. Although the winery's tasting room is in White County the vineyards are in Habersham County north of Clarkesville. The original tasting room was in Baldwin, Georgia until 1998 when it moved during the widening of U. S. 441 to Helen.
Ariel Padawar (back to camera) takes us on a journey through wine
Our trip to Blackstock Winery brought us to an "Unforgettable Character" and one of our fondest memories of the Georgia Wine Highway. American-born Ariel Padawar moved to Israel and was managing an almond tree orchard when he decided to expand by adding grapes and other fruit. Soon Ariel became interested in learning about the process of making wine. He studied the chemistry of wine-making, blending wines to create new flavors and enhancing the flavor of wines.
In 2006 Blackstock advertised for a person to oversee day to day operations in the vineyard and the cellar. Ariel applied for the job and soon was running both the vineyards and creating wines. We entered Blackstock's tasting room with a small group and were led out to a pavilion behind the tasting room. We met Ariel standing behind a mounted cask and he began to talk about the wines created at Blackstock. It was the highlight of our trip.
This well-named winery does require an ascent to the top of Wolf Mountain north of Dahlonega, Georgia, but those who make the journey will not be disappointed. Clearly visible from the mountaintop are Gooch Mountain, Big Cedar Mountain, and Springer Mountain all familiar to Appalachian Trail hikers.
A large wolf sits howling as the centerpiece of the tasting room, which overlooks the Etowah River valley. Also on the ground level is the winery and cask room, dug into the mountainside to help maintain a lower temperature. Travelers on the Georgia Wine Highway in March, 2010 got to visit both with a select wine tasting before returning to the tasting room to try additional wines.