PERCHED ATOP a hill overlooking Burnt Mountain in Pickens County, Fainting Goat Vineyards beckons visitors with both scenic views and stellar wines.
Entering the winery is like stepping inside a majestic lodge—a very sophisticated one. The two-story tasting room boasts 30-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, but there’s plenty of space outside, too, with a 50-foot verandah, a second lower terrace, and an expansive lawn overlooking the vines.
Fainting Goat is a true family operation. Proprietors Dave and Robin Higginbotham manage the vineyard and tasting room, respectively; daughter McKenzie is the vineyard’s winemaker and their son, Ryan, serves as technology manager.
The idea for the family business was born around glasses of—what else?—wine at a Virginia vineyard in 2008.
“We thoroughly enjoyed working with the earth. We grew up on a small farm in Ohio, so agriculture has always been a thread in our fiber, and we really enjoy working with people, too,” says McKenzie. “We wanted to be in a business that allowed us to entertain guests, almost like inviting them into our home.”
The foursome wrote out a mission statement that day and began to dream up their business around it: “Enjoy Earth, Enjoy Life, Enjoy People.” The vineyard was a natural manifestation that allowed them each to utilize their unique skill sets.
The family purchased the land in Jasper in 2010 and spent five years pouring their heart into it—building the tasting room, planting the vineyard and making their first vintage of wine—before opening to the public in 2015. Their flagship wine, a Cab/Merlot/ Malbec blend called 1812, was an instant success, and continues to be their best seller from season to season.
Currently, 5 of the 20 acres at Fainting Goat are covered in vines, specializing solely in Bordeaux reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Alhough much of the remaining acreage at Fainting Goat is wooded, the family is considering how they might farm it.
“Right now, we have weather stations placed around the remaining pieces of the land to gather accurate weather data so we can make sure we’re growing the right vines,” McKenzie says. “You can’t grow every varietal of grape everywhere you want,” she explains. The family relies on Ryan’s technological expertise, such as drones that do infrared growth tracking in the vines, and consultations with a viticulturist, an expert in the scientific study of grapes, to ensure the very best quality. “We’re tiny but mighty,” adds McKenzie. “We have a very little vineyard, but it’s very high tech.” One thing the technology helps them combat is damage by intruders in the vines, namely deer and black bear, the vineyard’s No. 1 predator.
But there are some creatures who are not only welcome at the winery but are an integral part of the operation. And as their name suggests, the humans aren’t the only members of the Higganbotham family; they share their space with four fainting goats, Ronnie, Reagan, Dollie and Mamie, as well as two protective Great Pyrenees dogs, Teddy and Rosie. Visitors to the vineyard can watch the creatures play in their pen on the lawn.
About 80 percent of the wine at the venue is made with Georgia-grown fruit, so Fainting Goat’s own grapes are often supplemented with grapes from other local vineyards. The remaining 20 percent is constructed from out-of-state grapes from wine regions in California, Washington, Texas and New York.
“We work really hard to ensure we only purchase grapes of really high quality, so we have a network of grapegrowers who care as much about the grapes as we do,” McKenzie says.
Fainting Goat’s wine list changes with the release of new varietals at least once a year, and often more frequently. This fall, look for Cannonball, a lighter bodied red with a nice pepper finish and McKenzie’s personal favorite. The tasting room also serves locally brewed beer from Creature Comforts, making it a great date spot with a non-wine drinking significant other in tow.
In previous years, the tasting room has offered cheese platters and experimented with wine cocktails. Though food service is currently suspended, picnics are always welcome, as are children. The playful pets make this vineyard particularly kid-friendly as they provide entertainment for all ages.
The venue’s vast outdoor space makes it the perfect place to escape while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Here, groups can scatter out to enjoy Sunset Concerts on Friday evenings and live music every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. While many other wineries are offering glass and bottle purchases only, Fainting Goat has developed contactless tastings you can enjoy at your own table rather than waiting at a crowded bar, and is in the process of obtaining a distribution license so you can have their wines shipped directly to your doorstep.