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Wines, Vines & Brews


Crane Creek Vineyards: a taste of Italy in Georgia

 
In 2002, I won a sales trip to Napa Valley along with my better half; Mrs. Duvall. It was on that trip that we got the “wine bug” and a passion for visiting beautiful vineyards and developing a more refined palette. However, Napa Valley can be expensive and is a considerable distance from Georgia, so imagine our pleasant surprise to discover wonderful vineyards in our own backyard! At that time, North Georgia had only a handful of farm wineries. Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris, one of the region’s oldest farm wineries, quickly became and remains one of our favorites. To us, Crane Creek is like a trusted old friend. Even if we don’t get to visit as often as we would like, when we do, we feel so welcomed and embraced!  
 
Although I have not had the pleasure of visiting Italy, this vineyard is exactly what I would picture in Tuscany. The owners, Eric and Deanne Seifarth, spent time in northern Italy while Eric was stationed there as an officer in the U.S. Army. It was there where he grew to love the “old world” style of making wine and the process of winegrowing in three of the four major Italian wine regions: Tuscany, Veneto, and the Friuli.  Upon retirement, Eric settled back in his native Georgia and moved to the North Georgia mountains with Deanne, a full-time veterinarian, to embark on a second career making fine wines. They planted their first grapevines in 1995 and opened Crane Creek Vineyards in 2000. 
 
The boutique winery flourished, and now 25 years after planting those first vines, Eric’s son Peter, a theater major who graduated from Coastal Carolina College, has taken on a new leading role as head assistant winemaker at Crane Creek Vineyards. His charming wife, Jess, who also studied theater, plays many roles at the winery and can be found behind the scenes cleaning during the winemaking process, serving as a field hand, or on center stage welcoming guests and introducing them to delicious wines by the flight, glass, or bottle. 
 
During a recent visit to Crane Creek Vineyards, I had the pleasure of talking with Peter about his role and vision for the future of Crane Creek. Without hesitation he shared that his vision is, “to offer a humble and relaxed atmosphere for everyone.” Crane Creek strives to offer a selection of wines so that there is a wine for every visitor to enjoy. Over 90 percent of the wines are made from estate grapes, so they plant new vines every year to keep up with increasing demand. Something I greatly appreciate is their commitment to keeping their wines affordable so they can be paired with family meals or enjoyed during various occasions. 
 
David Sanford, part of the Crane Creek “family” and host extraordinaire once shared that they focus on “good wine, good times, and good friends.” This is certainly the case! The various outdoor seating areas with beautiful mountain and vineyard views provide a space for everyone to rest, relax, and rejuvenate over nice wine and even a game of Bocci ball. Years ago, my wife and I sat ourselves in their Adirondack chairs to share great Crane Creek wine and loving memories of our dog, Max, who had just passed away. Somehow spending a little time at the vineyard that day helped us through that difficult time. At other times we have witnessed a joyful wedding proposal, enjoyed various special events, and taken many friends to experience the Crane Creek hospitality and charm, and of course, the “vino delizioso!”
 
Upon our recent visit, there were 14 wines available to taste and enjoy:  
 
  • Three dry whites: Gruner Veltliner, Zusa, and Enotah.
  • Two off-dry whites: Traminette and Vidal Blanc.
  • Two semi-sweet: Apfelwein and Mountain Harvest White.
  • One dry rose: Villard Noir.
  • One semi-sweet rose: Mountain Harvest Blush.
  • Two dry reds: Raven and Noiret.
  • One off-dry red: Mountain Harvest Red.
  • One sweet red: Red-Headed Stepchild (I like this one chilled).
  • One dry Bubbly: Sassafras
     
Peter is currently creating some “small batch” wines. The next produced will be about 300 bottles of a sparkling red. As far as total annual production, Peter said Crane Creek produces about 5,000 cases of wine a year, consistent with a mid-size boutique winery.  Future plans include a new Tuscan styled tasting room with a target date of Spring 2021. The building is already complete and sits on top of a hill overlooking the beautiful vineyard. COVID-19 caused a small lull in business, but business has picked back up during the fall with plenty of room to spread out at the vineyard. There is also an on-site restaurant, Paris & Company, that is described as fabulous.

Quick Facts: Crane Creek Vineyards, 916 Crane Creek Rd., Young Harris, GA 30582. 706-379-1236.
Tasting room hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 1p.m.-5 p.m., closed Monday.
Many years ago, it was Eric who taught me my tagline for this column: “Think Globally, Drink Locally!”
 
 
 

Georgia native Don Duval grew up going to Lake Lanier and keeps a boat at one of the marinas. He and his wife have a passion for good wine, good food, and of course, the lake. He can be reached at lakesidenews@mindspring.com.







November 2020 column

Tantrum Brewing: not tantrums at this familyrun brewery, just great beer

 
My wife and I enjoy driving up to the northeast Georgia Mountains in the fall. We made the 40-minute drive from Gainesville to Tantrum Brewing Company on a beautiful Saturday in October. The cool weather and sunshine made it a perfect day to enjoy a delicious assortment of craft beers outdoors. Tantrum is a family run brewery located near Cleveland, GA, with Yonah Mountain as a backdrop. During our visit, we had the privilege of spending time with the CEO, Ross Crumpton, Georgia Tech graduate, and former electrical engineer, as he shared Tantrum’s interesting story, impressive knowledge about beer and brewing, and their vision for the future. When asked about the origin of Tantrum’s name, Ross smiled and said growing up with two brothers there may have been some tantrums along the way.
 
I’m fascinated with stories about entrepreneurs who turn a hobby or passion into a successful business. The story of Tantrum begins with Ross having a conversation with his father, John, in 2017 after doing some homebrewing and developing a greater passion for beer and brewing. From there, it became a family affair with his father, Elizabeth his mother, and his two brothers Will and Ben, who continue to uniquely pour into the brewery. Shortly after talking with his father, Ross began creating a business plan while researching other breweries and talking to financial executives. It wasn’t long before they secured funding and started their search for  property. Their search led to 5.23 acres east of Cleveland in an ideal location off Helen Highway. They built an impressive rustic, industrial brewery and taphouse with plenty of outdoor space for all to enjoy.
 
In February 2018 they broke ground and by March 2019, they opened the brewery to the public, which according to Ross, was their greatest accomplishment. Ross and his brothers grew up in White County so support from the community followed suit for Tantrum.  Ross said one thing that pleasantly surprised him was that licensing to open the brewery was not as difficult to obtain as he imagined. 
The Crumptons’ vision for Tantrum is to cultivate a family-friendly environment so customers can have good conversation over great beer. When asked about something that makes Tantrum unique, Ross said that the North Georgia mountain location, which includes beautiful views of Yonah Mountain and Pink Mountain, offers a special experience for visitors. The hops growing vertically on the property also contribute to the pleasant outdoor atmosphere. Many breweries are located near mid to large-sized cities and unable to offer such views. The other key to the brewery’s success is the taproom staff who have a passion for making great beer.
 
I imagine every small business encounters large hurdles and Tantrum encountered their largest hurdle in March of 2020: the coronavirus. Tantrum closed for two months during a time when they planned to host a one-year anniversary bash to celebrate with their greatest supporters and customers. COVID may have slowed them down, but it certainly didn’t hinder their desire to serve great beer to their customers. The Crumptons refocused their efforts temporarily from serving in the taproom to selling their beer via customer pick-up in the parking lot. This allowed them to keep their doors open and their employees working. Tantrum was able to celebrate their anniversary bash and is now open and following safety protocols, so you can enjoy a cold beer or a flight of brews on the premises, inside or outside.
 
I was curious about the business model of a startup brewery and learned that most successful breweries require a taproom to generate cash flow. Once the cash flow increases, the brewery can grow.  Distribution of the beer is the next step, but that can be a challenge for a small startup brewery. Ross’s plan, however, has always included successful distribution which requires great beer with a great taproom. Mission accomplished!
 
The day we visited, there were 16 beers from which to choose.  Four beers serve as foundational: Folklore – Tantrum’s best seller (single IPA), Look Closer (milkshake style double IPA), Palms at Midnight (Berliner Weise style sour ale, fruited raspberry and blackberry), and Gypsy Queen(Mexican style light lager). A few of our favorites also include Helles Lager, Marzen, and Dunkel Weiss. 
 
Coming soon: Two great beers featured in November: Centerfold: Single hop beer with Vicks’ Secret (a type of Hop) from Australia which is high in acid and aromatic.  The other beer (to be named soon) is a fruited sour ale similar to a goza style with a little salt added, resulting in a slightly sweet and tart surprise.
Below are
the beers we tried during our visit.  
  • Sets in the West – West Coast  IPA
  • Poems at Midnight – Sour Berliner Wiess with raspberry and blackberry
  • Infinite obscurity – 7% NE IPA
  • Dunkel Spice – Dunkel Weiss with pumpkin spice
  • Folklore – dry-hopped juicy IPA
  • Folklore Plus – IPA with passion fruit, orange, and guava
  • Folklore Plus – IPA with grapefruit
  • Marzen (Oktoberfest) crisp amber with caramel notes
     
Tantrum Brewing Company is located at 1939 Helen Highway, Cleveland, GA. Phone: 706-809-2888. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
 
Until next month, think globally and drink locally.
 

October 2020 column

 

Hall County's Cloudland Vineyards and Winery opens this month

 
A vineyard and winery in south Hall County is exciting news for casual connoisseurs like myself looking for locally made fine wine.  Upon visiting Sean Wilborn, I learned a few interesting things about this South Hall Terroir. Terroir, a French term, is defined as the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.

Even though I grew up in Georgia and boating on Lake Lanier, I didn’t know the Eastern Continental Divide runs through Hall County. Sean’s vineyard, Cloudland Vineyards and Winery, lies right in the middle of that Divide. Rain falling on one side eventually makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean, while rain on the other side of his property ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. The Divide is the first ridge rising from the Piedmont Plateau. In order to pass the “Sean Test” to grow good grapes, the land needs good air circulation. There is a constant breeze at Cloudland. Second on Sean’s list is good drainage, and Cloudland checks that box as well. Third, the property needs to get plenty of sun exposure, and Cloudland gets eastern and western exposure.  
 
As a young person Sean loved to garden which explains his passion for growing grapes and making wine. He is a Level 1 sommelier. Sean’s experience includes time at both Chateau Elan and the Winery at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. He believes in sustainable agriculture which means growing grapes to make wine utilizing methods that will not compromise the future of the land to produce more grapes. He also practices organic methods in growing grapes.

Other than the treated wood used for posts and trellises in the vineyard, everything else is organic. Instead of spraying the vines and grapes with insecticides and herbicides, he uses bee nets to keep insects and birds away from the grapes. Sean’s expansion vineyards will not utilize treated wood as posts and will be organic certified.  All the wine produced at Cloudland is from estate grown grapes. To increase his harvest in the near future Sean will partner with local families with good land suitable for growing grapes.
 
Sean planted Cloudland’s first vines in 2015. His first vintage will be from the Lomanto grape. I was not familiar with this grape but if I described it, I would say it lends itself to a red wine that people who drink either red or white will enjoy.  I drink more white wine, but with a chill in the air for fall I bring reds back into my rotation. Sean’s first vintage will be from 2018 and 2019 estate grown Lomanto grapes.

This grape is a Pierce’s Disease tolerant red wine grape that was developed by Thomas Volney Munson in 1902. The rich flavor comes from the marriage of the Malaga and Salado grapes. In addition to being disease resistant the grape also has high-quality potential. Wine made from these grapes has a wonderful fruit fragrance as you smell the wine before tasting. If you are pairing with food, Lomanto is a perfect match for tomato-based pasta such as lasagna as it is fruit forward with moderate tannins. 
 
Also consider enjoying the wine paired with a steak topped with blue cheese, barbecued pork, grilled vegetables, or your favorite salsa. Wine made from the Lomanto grape is one of the prettiest, deepest purple of wines I have ever seen. Some describe the wine as moderately bold, rich, and juicy with a smooth finish. The 2018 and 2019 vintages are aged in French oak, while the 2020 vintage will be aged in Georgia oak.
 
I like Sean’s approach to one’s visit to Cloudland. He wants visitors to experience the farm aspect of the origin of the wine. That ranges from enjoying a glass in the tasting room or outside under the large oak tree viewing the vineyard. In addition, you can arrange to spend time with him and his staff to understand all that goes into growing grapes and making fine wine. Simply put, one can have a high touch experience from vineyard employees or a low touch experience. Little interaction with the staff or more in-depth interaction; the choice is yours. 
 
You will want to make a reservation to ensure the best experience. Sean’s general manager of the winery is Blessy Devasia and she is a total delight. They met and worked together at Chateau Elan. They are friendly, inviting, and of course passionate about making good wine. Cloudland’s target opening date is October 16th. 

Check them out on Instagram to get tickets for the opening. You can also find them on Facebook. Cloudland is located at 3796 North Bogan Road, Buford, close to I-985 at Exit 8. Until next month, think globally and drink locally.
 
Cheers!
 

September 2020 column

A visit to Stonewall Creek Vineyards

This month Lakeside is introducing a new column, Wines, Vines & Brews, written by Don Duval. Our beer columnists, Michael and Sali Duling, are taking a break. A job promotion has led Michael to travel the Southeast, leaving him little time for his column.

We have all heard stories about businesses starting in someone’s basement. Although you couldn’t start a vineyard in your basement, you could learn how to ferment grapes and make great tasting wine there. 
 
That’s where this story begins for Drs. Mark and Sandi Diehl. They are the proud owners of Stonewall Creek Vineyards in Tiger, GA, about an hour drive from downtown Gainesville. Glassy Mountain serves as the backdrop for the vineyard and sits about 2,200 feet above sea level which is excellent for growing certain grapes. The first time my wife and I visited Stonewall Creek Vineyards in Rabun County, we immediately found the well-manicured vineyard and atmosphere extremely pleasant and the wines delicious. 
 
Winemakers to vineyard owners
Mark and Sandi’s passion for home winemaking goes back to 2007 when they purchased grapes from Lodi, California, and began making wine under the label Due West Cellars. Sandi fondly remembers helping her grandmother make wine in 1979, so I guess you could say her blood runs Cab red. Their “hobby” was so successful they won a gold medal for their Cabernet Sauvignon and began educating other home winemakers in Cobb County. In addition, they participated in a three-year Wine Judge Certification Program and have served as wine judges at various U.S. competitions.
 
As Mark and Sandi continued to progress as home winemakers, they reconnected with Dr. Carl and Carla Fackler, Founders of Stonewall Creek Vineyards. Mark met Carl at Scottish Rite Hospital In the early 1980s while he was an orthopedic surgery resident. Carl was the attending orthopedic surgeon. In 2004, Dr. Carl and his wife Carla purchased the property that would become Stonewall Creek Vineyards and planted the first vines (Malbec). In 2014 they added a tasting room and outdoor courtyard that rivals those we have visited in Napa Valley.
 
As fate would have it, some 20-plus years later, Sandi read an article about Stonewall Creek and immediately recognized the names of Carl and Carla Fackler. Mark and Sandi began volunteering at the vineyard and grew in their understanding of the wine/vineyard business from planting to pruning to producing quality wines from local French Viniferous grapes. As Stonewall Creek thrived and became larger and more successful, Carl and Carla decided it was time for new owners who shared their passion and dedication to producing high-quality Georgia wines to take it to the next level. In September 2018, the Diehls purchased Stonewall Creek Vineyards and have been enjoying their venture ever since. 
 
I sat down with the Diehls to talk about Stonewall Creek Vineyards and what makes it so special (of course while enjoying a flight of their wonderful wines). One thing that makes the vineyard and wines distinct is that all the wines are made from Rabun County grapes. Grapes are either grown on the vineyard property or come from nearby Stack Farms.  They are also enthusiastic about the innovative three-wire trellis system developed with the assistance of the University of Georgia. The sprawling trellis, named Athena, increases air flow around the vines helping with humidity (which is not good for grapes) and increasing the yield. Rachael White, the vineyard manager, worked on the trellis project while attending UGA. Rachael studied viniculture throughout her college career and graduated from UGA with an M.S. in Horticulture in December 2019. Lastly, the Diehls think the breathtaking view, inviting atmosphere, and friendly staff (family) make Stonewall Creek a special place. After many, visits I concur.
 
Mark and Sandi’s vision for Stonewall Creek Vineyards is focusing on creating quality wines and continuing to make improvements and adjustments to the vineyard to get the best grapes. They also focus on educating customers about wine and food pairings through social media videos and interacting with customers in the tasting room. Lastly, they want everyone to feel welcome and relaxed while enjoying their wines.  They also allow dogs on a leash.
 
Stonewall has something for everyone. Many choices at this boutique winery: red, rose, white, dry, semi-sweet, and dessert wines.  Choose from five whites, four reds, one rose’, and one port-styled dessert wine. Most of their wines are dry in a typical European style.  Check out their website: www.stonewallcreek.com to get a full description of each and discover upcoming events and information.
 
Any time of year is great to visit Stonewall Creek Vineyards, but fall is harvest time and the crisp air is especially invigorating. Grab some extra bottles to share with friends and enjoy while capturing the sunset on the lake!  Until next month, thinkglobal and drink local.
 
 Don’t Miss
  • The Atlantic Amber wine, a rare find in Georgia. It is made from estate grown Petit Manseng (white) grapes skin-fermented like a red wine. It is dry, full-bodied, and flavorful.
  • Gail McDaniel’s (tasting room and special event coordinator) homemade jelly made with Stonewall wine available in the tasting room.
  • Delicious food at Fortify and Fortify PI in nearby Clayton that feature Stonewall Creek wines. 

Address: Stonewall Creek Vineyards, 323 Standing Deer Lane, Tiger, GA. 
Phone: 706-212-0584.
Web: www. stonewallcreek.com.
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