• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Complex aromas of minerals, apricot, white peach, honey comb, dry pineapple with a spicy fruitcake quality. It has tightly woven flavors tart orange, pineapple, grapefruit, a mint-like eucalyptus, white pepper with a touch of jalapeño on the finish. Quite refreshing.
When you live in a state that has more than 3,300 wineries, many of which are icons to wine lovers around the world, it takes a lot for an East Coast winery to get noticed. I could imagine this conversation at a California wine bar:
Moon Child: Hey, Summer, did you see that a winery from Georgia won a lot of awards at the San Diego International Wine Competition?
Summer: Moon Child, you are like so kidding me, right?! I didn’t think they could, like, make wine over there.
Make wine we do here in Georgia. And as hard as it may be for folks to believe—even many Georgians are quite unaware—there are a handful of wineries that strive for quality and more frequently are getting noticed for their efforts.
Dahlonega’s Frogtown Cellars recently stunned attendees at the prestigious San Diego wine competition, including the competition’s organizer, Robert Whitley, who wrote in his column: “When I consider the wine regions of the world, Georgia—too hot, too humid—is never on my mind.”
Frogtown owners Craig and Cydney Kritzer submitted seven wines to the competition, which is predominately a California contest, despite its International moniker. Five were awarded gold medals and two silver, beating out many well-regarded West Coast winemakers.
“Wow!” was Craig Kritzer’s reaction to the news from San Diego. “Frogtown has finally achieved a game-changing competition result. I was, needless to say, very proud of this accomplishment. I also thought that Frogtown has been building for this result.”
The winery, located in the Frogtown district of Lumpkin County, sits high in what Craig Kritzer calls the Dahlonega Plateau, more than 1,600 feet above sea level. Such elevations mitigate much of Georgia’s malevolent summer weather, referred to earlier by Whitley. Excessive heat does pose challenges to makers of fine wine.
The Kritzer’s 44 acres of vineyards are planted on steep, well-drained hillsides, but steep slopes and high altitudes do not eliminate stifling humidity, also referred to by Whitley. Enlightened grape-growing practices, developed on this side of the country by committed winemakers like the Kritzers, prevent most of the damage caused by mold and other bugs, which unfortunately love our sticky summer weather.
Long-time lovers of wine, especially Bordeaux, the Kritzers wanted to explore the art and science of winemaking, which led to the founding of Frogtown in 1998. Craig, who left his law practice in 2005, has always been the de-facto winemaker, but for a period of time he was ably assisted by his daughter Jordan, a graduate of the renowned winemaking program at University of California at Davis. Star struck by the bright lights of Northern California winemaking (and a future husband in the wine trade), Jordan left the family business in 2006 to make wine for Chalk Hill Estate Winery and now is the head winemaker for Epoch Estate Winery in Paso Robles, Calif.
While she learned a lot at that fancy California winemaking school, she wouldn’t trade in her experience in North Georgia for anything. As she said in a 2009 interview: “If you can make quality wine in Georgia, you can make it anywhere.”
To say the Kritzers are committed to quality Georgia wine, even though it can be a Herculean task some years, is an understatement. The Kritzers are none too pleased to see other Georgia wineries supplement their wines with as much 25 percent of grapes from outside the state and still call them Georgia wines. Such practices, by the way, are completely legal.
Here’s a snippet of their statement on this issue:
“Many East Coast wineries, including wineries in Georgia, systematically blend California wine, juice, or concentrate into their state-labeled wines without any attention to the ethical issues such winemaking practices create in wine labeling. Under specific and detailed wine labeling laws, the Federal Government, by proscribing this winemaking practice, simply encourages, in our opinion, fradulent and deceptive labeling practices thoughout the East Coast.“
“… Frogtown has proven proper ethical labeling can be accomplished so the wine tasting public is aware of what is in their purchased wines. ”
Frogtown does uses out-of-state grapes for some of its wines, but this is clearly stated on the label. Most of the winery’s grapes come from the Kritzer’s 44 acres of vineyards.
Ethical wine labeling and gold medals, that’s a tough combo to deny even for California-centric wine observers. Whitley, who is now particularly smitten by Frogtown’s marsanne wine, went on to say in his account of Frogtown’s San Diego successes:
“I wondered how a winery from Georgia (that I had barely heard of) could mingle with the big boys in a major international wine competition and skate off with five gold medals.” After learning a about the Kritzers and their three-level, gravity flow winery in the Georgia mountains, he wonders no more.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro-Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.