W e had a blast at the 21st Annual Vineyard Fest at Chateau Elan. We got the package that included two tickets and a night in their Inn. Well worth the cost. We met up with our friends Mark and Cindy who have attended for many years.
This was my first time attending the festival since 2010. I was a bit surprised at the number of distilleries at the festival. Doug Rolins, the VP for Sales and Marketing for Chateau Elan, told me that this was the largest number of distilleries they’ve had at the event. “Recent Georgia legislation changes have allowed more distilleries to open up throughout the state,” he said. “We worked hard this year reaching out to both new and existing distilleries to have them participate in Vineyard Fest. The attendees were extremely impressed by both the quality and the variety these distilleries bring to the event.”
I have to agree. I was hearing more comments about the spirits than the wines.
Since this was a vineyard festival held at a winery I started off tasting wines. Of course I started at the tasting table with our host, the Chateau Elan. We were impressed by Nancy one of the newest additions to the Chateau Elan Fingerprint series of wines. This one uses four Italian grapes: 42% Viognier, 24% Trebbiano, 23% Albarino and 11% Chardonnay. Each varietal was fermented separately then blended prior to bottling. It is named after Chateau Elan co-founder Nancy Panoz.
The Viognier gives this wine its main character. Easy to drink. A medium body smoothness with a bit of acid to keep it crisp on the tongue. I looked at their website and their tasting notes which said ” A persistent saltiness is the last memory the wine leaves you with.” Hmmm. I tend to go with salty rather than sweet things. Maybe that’s what I liked about this wine.
Chateau Elan produces all of their wines at the winery but they source the most typical grape varieties from California and Italy. Only the fruit that grows well in this climate, such as scuppernong and muscadine, are grown locally.
Another wine we enjoyed was their American Port Riserva. A nice little sipper. Sweet like many ports are but not as heavy as those I’ve tried from Portugal. The blend is 80% Tempranillo grapes and 20% Touriga Nacional grapes grown in Paso Robles and Lake County.
Their website described it as “opaque garnet black color. Baked, fruity aromas and flavors of berry-peach compote, spices, cocoa, and brown butter with a velvety, bright, moderately sweet medium-to-full body and a complex, long caramelized nuts, prunes and fruit leather, sweet and peppery spices, and cedar and earth finish….Fully aged in ex-rum barrels from the unique Richland Rum Distillery.”
I think the rum barrel definitely helps define the flavors. At $39.95, this is one of their more expensive wines. And if you didn’t get enough of the rum they were also sampling the Richland Rum, Georgia’s only Estate Grown rum.
We skipped around the Georgia wineries and found some nice wines from Habersham. This Helen, GA, has a red blend named Scarlet (seems to be a popular name as Chateau Elan also has a Scarlet). This is a nice little sipper. It uses two some grapes you won’t find on the West Coast, Cambourcin and Vidal. Cambourcin is a French hybrid that has been planted throughout the East Coast. Vidal is a white grape that is used in Canada for ice-wine and usually not found this far south. These grapes are blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling. They call this a “non-vintage off dry blend.” It’s red but I think it gets is character from the white grapes “taming” the cab and Cambourcin (I’d be curious to try a 100% Cambourcin just to see what this grape’s profile is).
Emily DeFoor, Habersham’s general manager told me this is their best seller. They’ve been producing Georgia wines since 1983. They have tasting rooms at the winery in Helen as well as four other locations in Helen, Dahlonega, and Juliette.
After leaving the Georgia Wines section we found some very interesting wines being presented by the local distributors. First was a red blend new to the Georgia market, Rodney Strong UPSHOT 2015, a Sonoma County blend of 44% Zinfandel, 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 5% Riesling. I’m a big fan of anything Zinfandel and this one shows its zin roots. Blackberry and dark cherry flavors. Same flavor profile from start to finish. Not sure what the price point is but they sell it at their winery for $28 a bottle.
We found two really nice Pinot Noirs: The BÖEN Russian River 2015 and Elouan Pinot Noir 2015, both in the Empire booth. Both drink like a cab but don’t lose their Pinot roots. The BÖEN’s oak is really nice. The Elouan has a nice simple elegance. I can drink these every day. Both are part of the Copper Cane Wine & Provisions group that I mentioned in a recent post. They trace their roots back to the founders of Caymus.
There was a table for Babylonstoren, a winery out of South Africa. I was impressed with several of their wines expecially their Babel Red. Nice dark full-bodied red. Little bit of chocolate. Begs for a steak. Their Mouvedre Rose was a very nice rose that would make a nice holiday sipper. Just sweet enough to serve with treats but enough acid dryess to go along with smoked salmon.
This is where my wine tasting pretty much ended. There were too many spirits intermingled at the distributors table to start ignoring them. Here is also where I have to point out something that is obvious but is often brushed over. Despite the samples being small the amount of alcohol consumed can sneak up on you. We were lucky (or smart) in that we were staying the night at the Inn. If you attend a festival, especially one with distilled spirits, you really need a designated driver. Or if you’re local better call Uber. I visited a lot of distillery booths. I didn’t realize how big the Georgia distillery market has grown. I took a lot of notes which made sense at the time but unfortunately aren’t as clear after a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately I didn’t have a designated writer with me.
Having said that we met a lot of distillers that I plan to visit in the future. My tasting notes are not so complete but I did manage to mark those that I liked. So, here we go:
Hellbender Bourbon out of Atlanta was at the Savannah Distributing booth. Nice strong vanilla flavors. Very long alcohol burn though. Made by Independent Distilling (inside the Perimter no less). Thumbs up.
Zaya Gran Reserva Rum. I seldom sip rum. This one I can sip. Aged 12 years. Nice and smooth and smoky. Drinks like a bourbon but without the burn. This one is not local. It’s from Trinidad.
Next was the Templeton Rye. This is my first whiskey from Iowa. Now I’ve consumed some whiskey in Iowa on RAGBRAI but that’s another story. I think we passed through Templeton in 2000 but they didn’t start legally producing their rye until 2001. (Go to their website to read about these “scofflaws”). This 4-year-old whiskey gets its name from it’s nickname “The Good Stuff.” Iowa is a state covered in corn. As least from my experiences riding across it on a bike twice. Having a rye whiskey might be more related to their recipe from 100 years ago considing how abundant corn is today. Light vanilla flavor. Wonderful finish. Good rye.
I ventured downstairs to the local distilleries area (mostly local). I was shocked to see a distillery from Opelika, AL. Having attended Auburn back when you couldn’t buy beer within a mile of campus or walk around a bar or restaurant with a drink in your hand I’m glad to see the Alabama ABC laws have crept into the 21st Century. Opelika for us back then had the closest ABC store to Auburn. Nice to see they are producing bourbon there now. Talked to Jimmy Sharp of John Emerald Distilling.
I liked their John’s Alabama Single Malt. This was the first legally made whiskey in Alabama in 100 years. 100% malted barley and smoked with peach and pecan wood. Nice and smooth. Very impressive. A bit of Scotland in the taste. I wish I was still going to Auburn home games. I would love to stop by and visit. They also have a Hugh Wesley’s Gin. This is a nice light gin. I typically only like gin when it’s mixed with tonic. This could make a nice sipper. Not in the same vein as a bourbon when you sit down at night to relax by the fire. This would be a nice sipper at a party with friends. Hmmm. Maybe with some Rudy’s Tonic this might be something new for my summer arsenal. Their Spurgeon’s Barrel Aged Rum is the first rum made in Alabama (at least for now). It’s aged in their single malt barrels. Make for a run flavor that is milder and a bit spicier.
Lazy Guy Distillery, out of Kennesaw, GA, has several railroad themed whiskeys. Kennesaw was famous for its role in the thief of The General, a steam locomotive, during the Civil War by Union forces. The Side Track Bourbon is a nice small batch bourbon. Not sure how long it has been aged but it has nice caramel flavors. They also have a Snow Cream Whiskey that tastes something like a sleigh ride that my mother-in-law makes at Christmas—only better (sorry Jill). It’s a blend of their corn whiskey with rich cream. This is only available at their distillery.
Next was Watershed Distillery out of Columbus, OH. Having spent time at Ohio University working on my Masters I might not have graduated if this was available back them. This one has interesting flavors. It’s double-distilled using a grand bill of corn, wheat, rye, barley and spelt. Never heard of spelt being using in a spirit. They had a Bourbon Barrel Gin that I now wish I had tasted. Guess I’ll have to wait on that one.
Now from the otherside of the other border, Six & Twenty Distillery is located in Upstate South Carolina in Powdersville. I love their labels. Their 5-Grain Bourbon has a grain bill of corn, soft red winter wheat, barley, rye, and rice, all from South Carolina. This is a bit spicier that some of the bourbons I had today. Got the usual vanilla with a bit of cinnamon. I wish I had tried their Old Money, that uses soft red winter wheat and barley. I think I need to do a road trip to check it out.
I used to love to eat at the Dillard House in Dillard, GA. Now in addition to great food this Northeast Georgia town has R.M. Rose producing some fine whiskeys. Rose dates back to 1867, when a Connecticut Doctor, Rufus M. Rose, who had enlisted in the Confederate Army, started a distillery in the postwar rubble of Atlanta. His claim to fame is that he didn’t make the region’s traditional white lightning but made brown liquor in charred oak barrels. They had a bit of a hiatus as most distillers did due to Prohibition. And after Prohibition the Bible Belt crowd made sure there weren’t many distilleries around. Now they are in Dillard and history seems to be on their side.
I tried their Straight Bourbon and their Sour Mash Bourbon. Very nice. My notes are a bit confusing so I’m not sure of the facts here. I’ll post those as soon as can straighten them out. I also had to try one of their popular spirits Fire on the Mountain. This is a blend of corn whiskey with cinnamon and spices. Reminds me of the hot cinnamon candy a German Baptist farmer gave me when I lived in Virginia. But they don’t drink so I doubt they ever served it this way. I bet they sell a lot of this for tailgating weekends in Athens.
Last but not least was Dalton Distillery and their unique whiskey, which they claim can’t be called whiskey because it is made primarily of sunflower seeds. Whiskey is defined by a mash bill made of grains (that’s why some traditional moonshines that contain corn and sugar are required in some states to say “whiskey and rum” on the label). They are the first in the world to produce a sunflower spirit. On the nose it is sunflowers. But the taste is rather smooth. They call it TazaRay giving homage to their Native American roots. (Taza means warrior and chief, Ray for the spirit of the sun). These are gluten free since they contain only sunflower seeds and corn. Their TazaRay Red spends time aging in red wine barrels. Their master distiller Raymond Butler was on hand and provided quite the photo opp. He looks like what many folks might envision a homegrown distiller to look like: fedora, long beard and overalls. I orignally wanted to say backwoods but there is nothing backwoods about the people at Dalton Distillery. Butler’s distilling lineage goes back 5 generations. They have a top notch marketing and business folks that will make sure these spirits will be around for a long time. I have a bottle of their Original and the Red. I plan to explore these fully in the near future with a full review.
With that it was time to head out. It was at the end of the festival and I have no clue as to where the time went. I didn’t even have a chance to go see the grape stomping out front. Later we met up with Mark and Cindy and some other friends to enjoy dinner sitting outside at Paddy’s Irish Pub. It was a great way to spend our wedding anniversary. Hmmm. Kinda left that out didn’t I. A great weekend.
Author Bottle Report