Wine Journeys
through the South

By Mary Ann DeSantis

Photography credits: Mary Ann DeSantis – Yonah Mtn and Stone Hill Wineries; Visit Nashville provided by Arrington Vineyards photos; Wolf Mountain photos provided by Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery

You don’t have to fly to Tuscany or Napa to enjoy picturesque vineyards and sample award-winning wines. In fact, you don’t have to fly at all because these Southern wineries are making names for themselves among wine enthusiasts nationwide.

A decade or so ago, wine tourism was a thing only in the major wine-producing regions like Napa, Calif., and Bordeaux, France. However, it didn’t take long for vineyards across the nation to recognize Americans’ growing thirst for total winery experiences including tasting rooms and tours.

In 2016, wine tourism in the U.S. generated nearly $20 billion in revenue, and it’s estimated that number has grown by more than 15 percent in the last four years, according to the marketing research firm Mintel Group Ltd.

The vines are loaded with grapes in the fall, so it’s a picturesque time to visit a winery. And if you are looking for a social distancing experience in the outdoors, here are some favorite Southern wineries where the magnificent views equal the award-winning wines. And, yes, that’s correct… these wineries have received accolades nationally and internationally for their wines.

Be sure to call ahead or check websites, because most wineries have had to adjust hours and service since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Yonah Mountain Vineyards
Cleveland, Georgia

Bob and Jane Miller bought 200 acres of farmland in 2005 at the base of Yonah Mountain in the north Georgia mountains and set out to create a boutique winery. Quality was always their top goal.

“My dad always said, ‘If we are going to do it, we must be first class all the way,’ because we wanted to attract people who appreciated wine,” says Eric Miller, a former college music teacher who now handles marketing full time for the winery.

The wines are 100 percent Old World style, and Yonah Mountain produces 3,000 to 5,000 cases a year. It’s the first winery in Georgia to be primarily solar-powered and is the only one with known wine caves, which can be toured.

Among the 17 varietals that Yonah Mountain Vineyards currently offers, the Genesis X is the flagship wine and the best-selling. The Miller’s eldest daughter Elizabeth named it after the first book of the Bible because it was Yonah’s first wine and their beginning. The Bordeaux-style blend is considered non-vintage because the winemaker adds some of the previous year’s Genesis to the next one. The Genesis X is a great choice for steak dinners or just sipping on the Mount Yonah patio where a life-size bear statue reminds visitors that Yonah is the Cherokee name for bear.

All of the wines are first class, and so is the octagon-shaped tasting room, exquisite event center, and picturesque mountain-side vineyards. Even better, Bob Miller often adds to the elegance by playing the piano for his wine-tasting guests.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
Dahlonega, Georgia

Just a cork’s throw down the highway from Yonah Mountain sits Wolf Mountain Vineyards in the picturesque town of Dahlonega, about 60 miles north of Atlanta.  When it comes to breathtaking settings, this winery offers perfect photo opportunities with spectacular sunset views and beautiful vistas. In fact, Wine Enthusiast magazine named it one of the 10 best wineries in the U.S. for a wedding venue.

The outdoor tasting room is a perfect place to sip the gold-medal winner and signature wine, Blanc de Blancs Brut, a dry sparkling Chardonnay. Wolf Mountain was the first member of the Georgia Wine Growers Association to produce sparkling wines, and the Blanc de Blancs was the first Georgia wine to be served at the James Beard House in New York.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards can be a bit hectic on fall weekends because so many people come to enjoy the day, beginning with reservation-only brunches in the chalet-style winery. 

“We pride ourselves on hospitality,” says Marketing Director Stephen Smith who’s also a member of the Boegner family which owns Wolf Mountain. “We are selling the experience. The view, the wine, the food, and the ambience are all part of the total package.”

If those words ring Disney-esque, it’s because owner and founder Karl Boegner says his “graduate school” came from the experience he gained on the opening team of Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort. After more than 30 years in the hospitality industry, Karl and his wife, Linda, established Wolf Mountain in 1999 and planted 30 acres of vines by hand in 2000. The winery opened to the public in 2003, and the first vintage sold out within eight months.

Arrington Vineyards
Arrington, Tenn.

The hills around Nashville have proven certain varietals can grow there, and Arrington Vineyards is the anchor of Nashville’s wine country.

Owned by country music artist Kix Brooks, winemaker Kip Summers, and Nashville businessman John Russell, Arrington Vineyards is often called “Nashville’s Wine Country.” The winery has certainly proven that certain varietals can grow in the Tennessee hills.

Summers and a fellow wine enthusiast purchased a 25-acre hog farm in 2003 and cleared the property for vineyards of Chambourcin grapes. The following year, Brooks – known for his “Boot-Scootin’ Boogie” with musician Ronnie Dunn – purchased the farm adjacent to the original vineyard, and the farmhouse eventually became the winery’s tasting room. Originally called Firefly Vineyards, the winery partners changed the name to reflect the local community and went about creating a first-class winery.

Those estate-grown Chambourcin grapes are the basis for Encore, a rich, Port-style wine that seems to fly out the door of the tasting room. Encore is a smooth multi-vintage dessert wine that captures the essence of winery. Arrington Vineyards’ other varietals are just as popular with their unexpected elegance.

Arrington Vineyards is a relaxing place to visit and enjoy a picnic if you are in Nashville, especially on weekends when the Music in the Vines programs resume.

Stone Hill Winery
Hermann, Missouri

Stone Hill Winery, the largest in Missouri, is a stunning property along the Missouri River in what is known as the Missouri Rhineland. Established in 1847 by German immigrants, Stone Hill grew to be the second-largest winery in the country during the late 19th century when Missouri was considered the U.S. wine capital. Stone Hill wines were world-renowned, winning gold medals in eight world’s fairs.

By the 1870s, the winery was shipping 1,250,000 gallons of wine per year. Then came Prohibition in 1920, which ended Missouri’s wine industry — at least for a while. In 1965, local farmers Jim and Betty Held bought the remnants of the old winery and began restoring the historic buildings and vaulted underground cellars. Stone Hill is now managed by their son Jon and his wife, Karen.

Today, Stone Hill Winery produces 300,000 gallons of wine and is once again receiving international acclaim with more than 4,000 awards. The grape of choice is the Norton, which happens to be Missouri’s official state grape. Although it sounds like it was named after a virus protection program, the grape has a much more illustrious history because it was being cultivated in Virginia when Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was looking for the “perfect rough and silky” wine. 

Stone Hill Estate Bottled Norton, a bold red wine, pairs well with a variety of foods including barbecue and smoked meats. An afternoon visit to the winery calls for one of Stone Hill’s refreshing sparkling wines: Blanc de Blanc, Brut Rosé, and Demi-Sec. 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Stone Hill Winery normally offers guided tours as well as indoor tastings, but due to the pandemic only outdoor seating is currently available. That’s ok, though, because the lovely grounds remain one of Missouri’s top tourist attractions and offer a commanding view of the town of Hermann.

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