• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Pleasant, yeasty, citrusy aromas with a hint of raspberry. Forward fruit flavors of tangerine, lime and grapefruit supported by delicate notes of toast, mace spice and toffee.
This is a story of two wineries.
One winery’s story ends badly, even though it seemed it had everything going for it. Situated high in the North Georgia Mountains, this winery’s vineyards had excellent exposures on well-drained, rocky soil, cool nights to ensure brightly acidic wines and dynamic owners committed to quality at all costs.
Energetic and enthusiastic, one of the owners traveled tens of thousands of miles to promote her wines and regularly engaged local and national media to draw attention to her winery and the burgeoning Georgia wine industry. Was she successful? By all measures, she seemed to be. Wine lists in Atlanta and several posh restaurants across the country carried her wines.
Where did she and her husband go wrong?
Rights and wrongs are easy for Monday morning quarterbacks. But before Mary Ann and Sonny Hardman planted the first vine of Persimmon Creek Vineyards near Clayton, Ga., they knew the deck was stacked against them, as they are for any regional winemaker.
Regional winemakers who shun the idea of operating a roadside attraction geared to sell as much wine as possible using grapes from just about anywhere in the country face certain economic realities. If they were anything, the Hardmans were principled and only used the riesling, seyval blanc, merlot and cabernet franc grapes they grew. They politely bristled when discussing Georgia-based companies that import grapes from California to sell ostensibly Georgia wine.
On October 4, Mary Ann announced that Persimmon Creek Vineyards would sadly cease operations after 11 years.
A winding 90-minute drive southwest of Persimmon Creek lays another winery and a happier story.
With a long and gilded career in hotel and resort management under his belt, Karl Boegner began a new phase of his life in 1999. He planted a variety of grapes on Wolf Mountain just north of Dahlonega, Ga. A dramatic, 8,000-square-foot winery made from stacked fieldstone followed in 2001.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards produces about 5,000 cases of wine made mostly from European varieties. They scored some minor hits early on with their red and white blends, but about five years ago Boegner had the idea to make a sparkling wine.
Operating a winery within a winery is no small feat, even for larger, established operations in better know wine regions. Grape harvesting, fermenting, blending and creating bubbles inside a bottle are either different or foreign to still winemakers. After returning from an impactful trip to Champagne, Boegner told his family/staff that they were now in the sparkling wine business. (His patient wife, Linda, his son, Brannon, and his daughter, Lindsey, oversee winery operations.)
Most people, including one Atlanta-based wine critic, told Boegner he was mad to produce sparkling wine using labor-intensive Champagne methods. Nevertheless, the critic had some nice things to say about Boegner’s first batch of bubbly and that same critic continues to do so (see accompanying review). At the time, the critic was skeptical that anyone would spend $30 for a sparkling wine made in Georgia.
As critics often are, this one was wrong. Demand for Wolf Mountain sparkling wines far outstrips supply.
In another more recent fit of inspiration, Boegner thought it would be a good idea to make a white sparkling wine out of red syrah grapes.
While he knows this plan is just plain crazy, this critic has given up challenging Boegner’s sanity. Dutifully, he tried the wine, called Blanc de Syrah. It was astoundingly good.
Successful wine regions have a natural and often unexpected pushes and pulls. It’s a sign of vitality. Successes come, as Wolf Mountain regularly demonstrates. And ground turned up by operations like Persimmon Creek will perhaps someday sustain new growth.
For more stories on what regional winemakers around the country are doing, check out www.drinklocalwine.com.