Follow the Wine Highway for a late summer-early fall mountain wine getaway
ELLIJAY, GEORGIA–MARCH 2021–The North Georgia mountains are the perfect destination for a grape escape, and there’s no better time to head to North Georgia’s wine country than August and September, when the bounty of the harvest is being prepared for the crush. One of the best places for a wine weekend is Ellijay, Georgia, where eight wineries, three rivers, one lake and endless scenic mountain and vineyard views set the stage for a relaxing getaway. Just 80 miles north of Atlanta and 65 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ellijay and Gilmer County offer a mix of old-fashioned charm and contemporary attractions. Mountain biking, the food trucks of your fantasies and hipster boutiques blissfully exist alongside the old-timey delights of general stores, Southern cooking, apple farms and produce stands.
Known as “Georgia’s Apple Capital” and the state’s “Mountain Biking Capital,” Ellijay is also wine country, thanks to the perfect soil and climate conditions of the Southern Appalachians. The budding and pruning of the vines starts in mid-to-late March, when visitors begin to arrive. By late summer the vines are heavy with fruit; fall brings the harvest and crush season when the grapes begin the next phase of their journey to the glass.
For a pre-harvest grand tour of the wineries, the 2021 Georgia Wine Highway is scheduled from 1-5 p.m. August 1-31, 2021. Sponsored by the Wine Growers Association of Georgia, the month-long event showcases the wineries and wines of Northeast Georgia. Visitors will receive a collectors’ glass and Passport; an admission fee covers all participating wineries. Member wineries and affiliate members will be offering food and wine pairings, music, barrel and library wine tastings, bottle and case discounts and more. Check the website for updates on the event, pricing and Covid protocols.
Gilmer County’s wineries each have their own personality and passionate fans. Here are “cliff notes” on each. Each winery’s picturesque setting and variety of offerings makes it impossible to just visit one.
Cartecay Vineyards Enjoy tastings in a refurbished circa 1890s barn. Outdoors, a live music stage and outdoor tasting bar are centered around an iconic chimney from the original 1890s farmhouse. Founded in 2007, Cartecay’s Western slopes nurture Vidal Blanc, Traminette, Norton (Cynthiana), Catawba, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Chardonel varieties. In late September/early October the annual grape harvest, or crush, festival invites guests to take off their shoes for a grape stomp. 5704 Clear Creek Road; Ellijay, GA 30536; (706) 698-9463
Chateau Meichtry This three-generation winemaking tradition began when Swiss immigrant Stephan Meichtry grew grapes on his roof in Queens, New York, during the Great Depression. The chateau-style tasting room and winery is open seven days a week with panoramic views and tastings Monday-Thursday. A luxurious villa accommodates overnight guests. 1862 Orchard Lane, Talking Rock, GA 30175; (706) 502-1608
Ellijay River Vineyards Established in 2010, the vineyard is sited on a gently sloping hill facing South, inside a bend in the Ellijay River where mostly sandy soils are perfect for Seyval Blanc, Viognier Albarino and Merlot. Cheese platters and snacks are available in the open-air tasting room and at seating by the peaceful river. 111 River Birch Ln, Ellijay, GA 30540; (770) 315-9121
Engelheim Vineyards A dog- and kid-friendly, prestigious medals winner and Georgia Winery of the Year winner, Engelheim produces high-quality wines such as Trillium, a Bordeaux blend, Roundtop Red, a Muscadine and Cabernet Franc blend and a 100% estate grown Petit Manseng. The owners bring a German tradition to the Southern Appalachians, down to the Bavarian-style tasting room. The tasting menu currently has 15 selections along with meat and cheese plates.127 Lakeview Rd. Ellijay, GA 30540; (770) 714-5277
Fainting Goat Vineyards On the southeast side of Burnt Mountain, Fainting Goat coaxes certified French vines to perfection for full-bodied reds, fruity white and sweet blends. Bring a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or the 50-foot veranda. Inside, soaring floor-to-ceiling windows allow unimpeded, panoramic views. Supervised children and leashed dogs are welcome on the lawn and in the tasting room. 201 Vineyard Way, Jasper, GA 30143; (706) 692-9463
Grapes and Ladders Winery With a contemporary-industrial style and a patio overlooking the vineyard, the tasting room opened in October 2020. More than 1,000 vines of Chambourcin, Merlot and Zinfandel grapes were harvested last year. Pet- and kid-friendly; check the schedule for music and food trucks. 2317 Highway 382 West, Ellijay, GA 30540; (678) 492-9861
Ott Farms and Vineyard After serving as horticulturalist/viticulturalist to several area vineyards, owner Mike Ott started his own with his wife Lee. By spring of 2021, French-American hybrid grapes will be producing Seyval Blac, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Lenoire and Cabernet Franc. Open seven days a week from April through fall, enjoy farm-produced wines, a few from others in the region, appetizers and 180-degree views. 230 Henry Evans Road, Ellijay, GA; (706) 502-8700
Sharp Mountain Vineyards Established in 1995 on a 26-acre estate, the five-acre vineyard grows 12 varieties of wines from European Vinifera vines. Bring your own picnic fare and relax at the shaded pavilion overlooking the vineyard and Sharp Mountain. 110 Rathgeb Trail Jasper, Ga 30143; (770) 735-1210
In addition to tours (most with reservations to enable distancing) and live music on the weekends, several wineries host special dinners and classes, either scheduled or on request. While some offer snacks, small plates and entrees, others have paired with culinarily creative food trucks to provide heavenly, mouth-watering smoked meats, sausages, seafood, burgers, grilled vegetables and plenty of sides. Domin8 Mobile Food Service, AngelFire 7 BBQ, Sweet Cheeks BBQ and Der Wurst Meister are some of the favorites. Visit each winery’s websites for more details, including calendars of musicians, food offerings and events.
Pressed for time? Sit and sip at two In-town Ellijay tasting rooms, Mountain Treasures, a delightful gift, home and fashion boutique at 14 North Main Street and at Cartecay Wine & Craft, a new tasting room with live music, Cartecay and other Georgia wines, local beers and appetizers in a modern indoor and outdoor setting. Beer lovers can find more of their favorite beverage at Cartecay River Brewing, a 16-tap craft brewery that’s pet- and family-friendly at 26 River Terrace Drive.
If you go
As an added bonus, August through November is also apple season in Gilmer County. Stop by the Downtown Welcome Center at 10 Broad Street to get inspiration, ideas for itineraries and more. Stroll through the brick laid sidewalks and you’ll notice familiar favorites, along with new shopping, dining and retail. Hear live music from restaurants on the square most nights of the week. Whether you’re looking for comforting country cooking, mouthwatering ribs, fine dining experiences or an after-dinner latte or sweet treat, there’s a place to satisfy every appetite in Gilmer County. Ellijay can also accommodate every overnight need and taste, from camping under the stars or a specialized mountain biking property, to hotels and charming B&Bs. Rental cabins of all sizes dot the countryside and riverfronts. Unique accommodations include vintage Airstreams and a geodesic dome; many are pet-friendly. www.PickEllijay.com