first_imgPeople have always come to Dahlonega looking for a brighterfuture. In 1828, it was the gold rush. Today, it’s more of a grape gush.On a recent Saturday, Doug and Sharon Paul gathered friendsat their Three Sisters Vineyards, a 184-acre vineyard estate justout of Dahlonega, to help harvest their inaugural crop.Busy clipping grapes from the vine was Greg Sheppard, a LumpkinCounty Extension Service agent who has helped the Pauls sincethey came here in 1996.”We’ve had to learn a lot about grapes,” Sheppardadmitted. “With any crop, insect and disease problems mustbe managed. We’ve been developing management practices that workin our area.”Saving FarmlandSheppard isn’t alone working with this emerging crop. More than a dozen wine vineyards are now scattered around north Georgia.”The fescue pastures being converted to vineyards areless expensive to establish than if (growers) have to clear land,” Sheppard said. “This is an industry that preserves our farmland and offers good potential income for producers.”Grape growers have found the rolling north Georgia hills perfect for growing grapes. A region once known for brewing great ‘shine is now producing some fine wine.Paul is growing several varieties of grapes, including CabernetFranc, Merlot, Touiga, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Cynthiana-Norton.”Each vineyard has its own specialty,” Paul said.”Our initial estimated harvest is 35 tons, and we will producea small amount of wine here.”Pesky PestsWhile this generation of grape growers is fairly new, takingroot in the late 1970s and early ’80s, grape growing in Georgiadates back to the Cherokee Indians and other early settlers.James Oglethorpe, Georgia’s first colonial governor, tried to introduce European viticulture as part of his economic plan. His attempts failed when the grapes contracted a New World disease and were attacked by indigenous insects.Those pests persist today.”Pathogens are prevalent in middle and south Georgia thatprevent those areas from being good for growing grapes,”said Phil Brannen, an Extension Service plant pathologist withthe UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.”Pierce’s disease is a problem even in some areas of northGeorgia,” Brannen said. “But elevation helps us outwith pests and disease, so you’ll have most vineyards above 1,200feet.”Over the decades, native muscadines were cultivated throughoutGeorgia for table grapes and sweet wine production. European winegrapes, though, are relegated to these high elevations.”Georgia features both large and small vineyards,”Paul said.Chateau Elan and Habersham Wines are two of the mainstays.”Literally across the highway from Chateau Elan is smallerboutique vineyard-winery Chestnut Mountain,” Paul said. “Anothersmall winery is Fox Vineyards & Winery in Social Circle.”Tourism and Agriculture MixGeorgia’s northernmost vineyard, Crane Creek Vineyards in YoungHarris, hopes to anchor the top of the Georgia Wine Trail.Beautiful, rolling hills of neatly tended rows of vines aren’tjust attractive economically. They make for pretty agribusiness.That helps attract income from another source.”Tourism is big business in this area,” Sheppardsaid. “This type of business works well with tourism andI think can actually bring tourists in.”Like most Georgia vineyards, Paul included special events aspart of Three Sisters’ business plan. The estate has an outdoorgazebo with a spectacular view for weddings and outdoor functions.”We see this as ‘agritourism’ at its finest,” he said.”The producers are optimistic,” Brannen said. “Theycertainly have the opportunity to make a nice profit, especiallyif it’s tied to tourism and provides a good escape from the city.”So will north Georgia be the next Napa Valley?”In order to compete with Napa, it will take some time,”Brannen said. “But these vineyards are going to produce somegood wines, and some will be very competitive. This is an industrywith a bright future.”last_img

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