“There’s gold in them thar hills.” These are the famously misquoted words spoken by Dr. MF Stephenson in 1849 as he stood on the Dahlonega Court House steps attempting to persuade miners to stay in Dahlonega instead of joining the gold rush craze in California. The words Stephenson actually uttered, “There’s millions in it”, referring to the bountiful gold that still lay in the surrounding hills and mountains. In 1828 a large amount of gold was discovered in Georgia Cherokee land in an area later named Dahlonega (Cherokee for “yellow money”) leading to the first major US Gold Rush beating California to the title by twenty years.
What Dr. Stephenson didn’t realize is not only is there gold in those hills but wine too. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Montaluce Winery & Estates located on the Dahlonega Plateau. Dahlonega, known as the heart of the North Georgia Wine Country is just over an hour outside of Atlanta making for a wonderful day trip destination or an extended stay in the beautiful mountains.
Winemaker – Maria Peterson
Maria was under the weather when I visited but I had the pleasure of meeting with General Manager Warren Robertson who gave me the red carpet tour and provided some background on Maria.
Born and raised in South Africa, Maria was exposed to wine at an early age while helping at her family’s winery outside of Stellenbosch. A fourth generation winemaker, Maria received her Oenology and Viticulture degree from the University of Stellenbosch. After graduating Maria spent time working at wineries in Western Australia, France and Napa California. It was while working in France she met her husband, a blues musician from Georgia. After spending a few years in back in South Africa Maria and her husband packed up and moved to Rabun County in Northeast Georgia.
Not long after, Maria answered an ad for a winemaker at Montaluce Winery and is now making wine grown in the red Georgia clay. To quote Warren Robertson, “Maria shouldn’t be here. Maria for all intents and purposes should be in Napa or France working about twenty percent as hard.”
Making good wine in the Deep South requires more work than Napa or France. After having the soil of the vineyards analyzed, the findings showed the soil to be deficient in zinc and magnesium. To compound the difficulty of growing grapes in this type of soil the pesticides and fungicides used in the vineyards strip the natural resistance out of the vines. Maria set to work to combat this problem and brought in worms from her worm farm. The worms puts microbes back into the ground helping to build up the natural disease resistance. In addition spraying each vine with a combination of magnesium, AZOMITE and manure assists with fertilizing and adds nutrients back into the ground.
Spring 2013 temperatures were cool with just the right amount of rain and sun. There were no late freezes proving devastating to one local winery in April of 2012 and everyone believed this year’s bounty would exceed the 2012 yield. Then the unrelenting rains came, washing away land, roads and bridges, forcing the cancellation of Fourth of July celebrations and hampering ideal conditions for many growers. While the rains ended a long Georgia drought and brought Lake Lanier levels up to above full tidal pool, the abundance of rain will have an affect on this year’s harvest.
In August the rains subsided and temperatures finally reached normal highs. Unfortunately the yield will be low this year but the wine quality will still be high due to careful selection during harvest which began the second week of September. There is hope the grapes had enough hang time to bring depleted sugar levels up. Grapes not worthy of winemaking will be dropped and allowed to compost back into the ground.
Nine varietals are planted on ten acres of vineyards. Current varietals include Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. If winemaker Maria Peterson has her way, this line up will change in the near future.
During my visit I was able to sample the wines with my meal, allowing me to play with pairings. If you plan on staying for lunch or dinner at Le Vigne this is a great way to experience the wines.
Montaluce offers a variety of red, white and a new addition, sparkling. This was one of my favorites. Made from mead sourced from local honey the sparkling is a great fit for the seventy-five plus weddings held at the winery annually.
White Wines prices are listed per glass and by bottle
Mead 2011 – Off-dry sparkling mead made from unprocessed local wildflower honey. Aromatic honey, magnolia and jasmine notes. 7/26
2011 Montaluce, Primaluce – best selling white wine. Medium bodied blend of 50% Pinot Gris and 50% Chardonnay. White grapefruit and melon with a long refreshing finish. 7/27
2012 Montaluce, Viognier – 100% Viognier with ripe peach and a honeysuckle bouquet. This was my second favorite white wine. 8/32
2011 Montaluce – Primoro – Off-dry wine made from 50% Seyval Blanc and 50% Vidal Blanc. Flavors of green apple, pears and tropical fruit. 6/23
b>2012 Montaluce Dolce – A blend of Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc. Semi sweet, lush mouthfeel with a tropical fruit finish. 5/19
Red Wines prices are listed per glass and by bottle
2011 Montaluce Risata – A beautiful Rosé made from a blend of nine varietals. Raspberry and cherry with spicy notes of citrus, melon and white pepper. 5/19
2011 Montaluce, Super Georgian – best selling red wine. 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese, 19% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec. Bing cherry and chocolate flavors. 7/27
2009 Montaluce, Baleno – 100% Merlot this wine has aromas of candied cherry, medium bodied with a rustic old world wine finish. 5/12
2009 Montaluce, Tramonto –Made in the Bordeaux style the wine is medium bodied with aromas of vanilla and tobacco and flavors of red berries. 6/17
NV La Stella – 60% French grown and 40% Georgia grapes. Georgia Merlot aged in oak barrels for 6 months blended with French grown Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromas of leather and earth with flavors of black currant and black fruits. This was my favorite of all the wines. 9/35
2011 Vidal Blanc – Floral aromas with hints of apricot, grapefruit and melon. 8/34
A visit to Montaluce is not complete without a meal at their onsite restaurant Le Vigne. Twenty-six year old Chef Austin grew up in Southern Mississippi cooking and baking with family members at an early age. After earning a Culinary Arts degree in Pasadena, CA, Austin returned to the south and held positions in prominent Buckhead restaurants before joining Montaluce as Head Chef.
Following a local farm to table focus Chef Austin is able to create familiar Southern dishes with an elegant flare. All proteins come from local farms, chicken from Springer Mountain Farms, pork from Mountain Valley Farms and beef from Solomon Farms.
Le Vigne also has a concentration on providing organic foods. In order to call their gardens organic they had to be moved from their original location, relocated and planted in raised beds. The gardens while not treated chemically were considered too close to the vineyards. Now located at the front entrance the raised beds produce will not come into contact with the same soils the vines are grown.
In addition to buying locally and growing organic produce Le Vigne is committed to sustainability. Coffee grounds and the daily changing shredded menus go into a compost bin where earthworms feed and turn into nutrient rich soil.
As I mentioned the menu changes daily but I have a few recommendations if available.
Cheese (See photos below)
English Shropshire with jalapeño jelly, a light heavenly blue cheese. This is the blue cheese for non-blue cheese lovers. Don’t skip the jalapeño jelly and look for it in their store attached to the tasting room. The jelly flies off the shelf so if you see it grab it and if you can get two, send one to me too as they were out when I was there.
Drunken Goat with Risata jelly. No the goats haven’t been hitting the bottle. A semi-soft cheese from Spain’s Murcia region is soaked in red wine for two to three days giving the rind a deep purple color.
Idiazabal a pressed cheese made from unpasteurized sheep milk from the Basque Country, Spain with a light smokey flavor.
Small Plate (See additional photos below)
Mountain Valley Pork Belly melt in your mouth divine porky goodness with celery root, smoked apple (this was really delicious) and quail egg.
House cured Smoked Salmon with smoked blueberry, pickled okra and house crème fraiche. The salmon is served under a glass dome that has been given a blast of smoke using a smoke gun just prior to serving. The salmon is presented at table upon where the glass is removed leaving an intoxicating scent of wood smoke.
Soy cured Foie Gras, huckleberry, black garlic, foie powder, brioche. I sadly did not order this put it’s on my must have list if it’s available next time I visit.
Mountain Valley Farms Pork Meatballs with Anson Mills polenta, house tomato sauce, broccoli rabe and pecorino romano. I’ve made the trip to MVF and purchased pork to serve in my home. There’s something about knowing exactly where your meat was raised and meeting the people who care for the animals.
Painted Hills Short Rib, fingerling potato, garden radish, porcini mushroom, broccolini and veal jus. Seriously, are you drooling yet?
Sandwich (See photos below)
The BLT a southern twist on the classic sandwich with Benton’s bacon, fried green tomato, young lettuce and ramp aioli.
Solomon Farms Dry Aged Beef Burger, baby lettuce, tomato, Vidalia onion, pickle, Dijon aioli and house pimento cheese. Oh mama was this burger spectacular.
When my husband and I were considering moving from our home in Tampa, FL one of the biggest draws to Dahlonega was the great wine being grown and produced in this mountain town.
Each time I see the mountain ranges either in the distance or up close while driving through the winding, forested roads I find myself smiling. Leaving Atlanta behind you find the stress of the traffic, the blaring horns and even stop lights slipping away. Dahlonega truly is a mountain get away right in the shadow of the bright city lights
Hours of operations:
Brunch: Sunday 11:00 – 3:00
Lunch: Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 – 3:00
Dinner: Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 9:00
Complementary tours Tuesday-Sunday at 2pm
Deluxe Tour and Tastings Tuesday – Sunday by Reservation Only
Have a special event coming up soon? Click here for event information.
Montaluce Winery & Estates
946 Via Montaluce, Dahlonega, GA30533