AFTER 25 YEARS HOLDING THE REINS at Pamelot Farm, a working horse farm in the heart of Milton, Pamela Jackson found herself at a crossroads. Through circumstances outside of her control, her life had drastically changed. She was hurt and angry after a painful divorce, but not defeated—she simply needed to vent. The self-proclaimed farmer hooked a plow to her grandfather’s 70-year-old Ford tractor and started ripping the ground on a patch of her 22-acre estate.
“It was cathartic,” Jackson says. She plowed for three days, recalling that she felt a little like Scarlett in “Gone with the Wind.” “This [devastating event] wasn’t going to ruin me,” she says. The plowing proved to be more than just a liberating release for her emotions; as Jackson watched her land turn over under the blades of her tractor, she realized something brand-new could be born from her tragedy. As she reflected on the things that brought her joy—particularly travels across Europe’s wine country with her daughters Jackson decided to plant a vineyard.
In 2020, Painted Horse Winery & Vineyard became the first farm winery in Fulton County, and Jackson the first female sole proprietor in the state of Georgia to build a vineyard from the ground up. The new venture’s name holds a special place in Jackson’s heart—painting horses has always been a hallmark activity at Pamelot Farm, but more than that, it is a symbol. Just like the American Indians painted their warhorses to show victory, Painted Horse is Jackson’s own victory cry as she plows forward with her dream.
ONE OF A KIND
After planting 300 grapevines by hand, Jackson was confident in her plan, but knew she couldn’t do this alone. With no knowledge of the winemaking process prior to this venture, she needed an expert at the helm. Providentially, there was one just across town. Master winemaker John Bowen had been producing award-winning wine since 2009 and was entertaining his own dreams of a winery experience in Milton when a friend introduced him to Jackson. With a shared vision, the duo joined forces and officially launched their operation last year.
As the first farm winery in this particular region, Painted Horse has a unique role to play in the world of Georgia wine. The vineyard’s elevation is significantly lower than the others in the center of North Georgia’s wine country, and the difference will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on the grapes—a rather fragile and finicky crop. With no precedent to follow, it’s up to Painted Horse to pave the way, a position that earned the attention of the viticulture department at the University of Georgia, which has offered advice on what to plant and anticipates tracking the results.
Because the vines at Painted Horse are so young, the grapes for their current wine portfolio are currently sourced from other wineries, including Kaya in Dahlonega, which provides Sangiovese and Chardonnay, as well others in California, Washington and Oregon. But all wines with the Painted Horse label are made right here on-site on the terrace level of Jackson’s home, a former basement apartment that now houses both the winemaking operations and a tasting room.
The facility may be small, but the production is rather significant—last year, Painted Horse produced almost 10,000 bottles of wine. And they did it all without the use big equipment; rather, fermenting is done by hand, a process that certainly takes longer than more high-tech methods, but ensures Jackson and Bowen have a literal hand on quality control.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Painted Horse released its first wine in April 2020, the Acclamation Chardonnay with hints of vanilla and crème brulee, followed later in the year by the flagship Pamelot Cabernet Sauvignon, a full-bodied wine made from Sonoma County grapes with notes of black cherry, black currant, peppercorn, cocoa and baking spices.
Since this is such a boutique process, each wine at Painted Horse tells a story. A particular crowd favorite is the story of Pedro, a red wine blend. During the processing of this particular blend, the red skins were dumped into the back of a work vehicle after pressing; Pedro, one of the farm’s resident goats, helped himself to the discarded skins as a little snack and got himself quite tipsy. The blend was named in his honor and labeled with a comical sketch of Pedro’s loopy face.
In fact, most of Painted Horse’s wines bear sentimental names — such as the Mac Malbec, named for Jackson’s grandfather and grandson, and Dear John, an ode to the winemaker. And the new releases continue to roll out. In January, Painted Horse released C’est la Vie Sauvignon Blanc and But if Not For You Petit Syrah; a new Chardonnay is coming soon in May.
To maintain its designation as a farm winery, which requires that 40 percent of goods must be sourced in the state of Georgia, Painted Horse also bottles and sells both jalapeño and fig wines with fruit grown-on site, as well as honey from the property’s aviary, with the possibility of brewing mead sometime in the future.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE PAMELOT
And that’s not all we have to look forward to. Jackson’s ultimate goal is to turn her house into a B&B and build a new winemaking facility on the hill. For now, however, her winery continues to share its space with the working operations of Pamelot Farm, which offers horseback riding lessons, boarding, camps, parties and events under the management of Jackson’s daughter, Juliette. The farm also hosts preschool days on Friday mornings, where kids are engaged with arts and crafts and invited to assist with a cast of farm characters—a cow, some lambs, goats, hens, a rooster, and a donkey named Cabernet Franc, or Fraunkey Donkey.
Between the farm business and winery, there’s no doubt Pamelot will be bustling with activity this spring. Keep your eye out for lantern tours of the estate with progressive wine tastings, barrel tastings, wine and cheese pairings, a movie night in March, Easter Egg hunt on April 3, a Mothers Day Tea and a White Party in May. And if you want to paint your own horse, you can do that, too—just book a private wine tasting and horse painting session with a group of friends.
“It’s very therapeutic,” Jackson promises.
And let’s face it, we could all use a little therapy this year.
PAINTED HORSE WINERY & VINEYARDS
Tasting room hours: Thursday 1 – 6 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 1 – 8 p.m.; Sunday 1 – 5 p.m
2105 Bethany Way, Milton