Friday, September 19, 2008

A walk in the Vineyard

Over the weekend, Meg and I went with our good friends, the Cobbs, to a benefit for Georgia Organics. The event was held at Persimmon Creek Vineyards in Clayton, Georgia. Georgia Organics is a member supported nonprofit working to integrate healthy sustainable and locally grown food into the lives of Georgians. Persimmon Creek Vineyards is located in the hills of Northeast Georgia in Rabun County. Sonny and Mary Ann Hardman own the winery and it is establishing itself as a top quality winery in Georgia and all of the US. Besides the tasting room at the vineyard, they also have one on the square in historic Clayton called Persimmon on the Square. Their wines are available at several merchants in Atlanta; including all Sherlock’s, Barrelman at Eno, Jax, Marietta Wine Market as well as being served at some of the finest restaurants; including all of the Ritz Carlton’s in the state, Sea Island Resorts, Restaurant Eugene, Eno, Woodfire Grill, Chops and many other fine dining establishments.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, which was good since we were actually walking through the vineyard to different stations set up next to the vines. At these stations we could taste the different wines of Persimmon Creek and they were paired with different local foods provided by Whole Foods Market. In going to these stations we learned about the different wines they make, why they planted the vines the way they did and about the history of the vineyard. The vineyard, which used to be the site of a huge moonshine operation, sits at 2,100 feet in elevation and they only plant cold climate grapes. I know what you are thinking, they are in Georgia and it doesn’t get that cold here for very long. Well, keep in mind, they are located in the North Georgia mountains and they tend to be 10-20 degrees cooler than most of the state’s climate. They actually had the last freeze of the year in early May. Also, they tend to receive a lot more rainfall than most of the state. Rabun County was 2nd on the list for total rainfall last year in all of the country. So they do have a totally different weather pattern than we do in Atlanta and therefore need to grow grapes that are better suited to that climate.
At the first station of the tour, the table was set up at the bottom of the rows of Cabernet Franc vines. At this station Mary Ann Hardman was giving the history of the vineyards and the information on their cab franc. The grapes looked wonderful and the vines were thick and crooked, actually Mary Ann referred to them as pirate legs (see the picture above). The 05-cab franc we tasted was very nice. I was expecting it to have a little bite to it, but it was very smooth and well balanced. It had hints of berry flavors with a little smokiness and a dry finish. They paired this wine with locally grown, grass feed beef tenderloin from White Oak Pastures, which was delicious. Mary Ann encouraged us to pick a few grapes and taste them. The cab franc grapes were small in size and had a tough skin, but were pretty tasty!
Here is a shot of the Caberent Franc grapes

When then moved up the hill to the next tasting station where the dry 06 Riesling was being poured. This is the only estate grown and bottled Riesling in the state. Most Rieslings tend to be on the sweet side, but this one only had 1% residual sugar and was very dry. This is more my type of Riesling! There were floral aromas on the nose and the taste was crisp and balanced with a touch of citrus. There was a slight sweetness but it was not overpowering at all. It went well with the goat cheese and fig jam that was provided by Sweet Grass Dairy. From the top of the hill we were on you could see the all of the vineyard; it was truly a beautiful view. The rocky and semi chalky soil in which the vines were growing reminded me of the vineyards in France, only this vineyard was surrounded by big Georgia pines.

Here is the view from the top of a hill overlooking most of the vineyard.

As we walked down the hill past the rows of mostly grapeless Riesling vines (they just got finished harvesting most of the Riesling grapes earlier in the weekend) I noticed the large windmill looking thing off in the distance. Turns out, the next tasting station was right at the bottom of the wind machine and that huge windmill was used to keep the frost off the grapes in the cold temperatures. At the bottom of the wind machine, they were pouring their Seyval Blanc. No, that is not a typo; it is not a Sauvignon Blanc but a Seyval Blanc. They refer to this wine as their “Kick Butt” wine. This grape is a French-American hybrid and is not affected by cold temperatures. Therefore these grapes were planted in the lowest area of the property closest to the creek where the temperatures are the coolest. The seyval blanc is a dry wine that has a slight sweetness to it due to the 1.5% residual sugar. It is light and refreshing and has aromas of floral, citrus, and minerals. It is very crisp and has tastes of minerals, vanilla and lemons. It has a low percentage of alcohol at 11% and would go well with most seafood dishes. I personally liked this wine and think it was the best wine of the day.
Here are the Seyval Blanc grapes

Moving on to the 4th station of the day, we had to walk close to the beautiful creek that goes right through the property. By this time, the sun was beating down on us and the creek looked very inviting, but we were able to contain our urges to jump in the cool water of the creek.

At the next station, a nice young lady was pouring their merlot. This medium bodied wine had a little bit of a bite to it, but that could have just been the temperature of the wine. That was the only real criticism I have for the entire day, the wines were served too hot. The whites should have been chilled while the reds should have been cooled down before serving. So, by the time we got to the merlot, the sun had been beating down on the bottles and the wine was actually hot. I feel it would have been much better served at a cooler temperature, say around 65 degrees. While looking at the grapes, I noticed how big and plump these grapes were, a lot bigger and juicer than the cab franc grapes. The wine had aromas of black cherry, leather, and smoky oak. On the palate, you get hints of red fruit, oak and some spice. The oak comes from the ageing in French/American and Hungarian oak barrels. Here are the Merlot grapes on the vine.

After walking up to check out the barn, Miss Piggy (their pig) and the old Spring House on the property, we headed back to where we started for the final tasting, the late harvest Riesling or also called Ice Wine. These grapes are picked while frozen usually in November and/or December. By this point the grapes are extremely ripe and often have partial Botrytis cinerea (the “noble mold” that concentrates sugars and makes the wine even sweeter.) The grapes are crushed while still frozen which just intensifies the concentration of the sugars and the peach and apricot flavors. I don’t often partake in dessert wines, but this one could change my habits. Even though it was very sweet, due to the 8% residual sugar, it also had a nice crisp, peachy and floral taste to it.

Overall it was a great day, well worth the drive from Atlanta. The vineyard was beautiful. The wines were good and the local food was yummy, and the people couldn’t have been nicer. I think that Persimmon Creek Vineyards and Georgia Organics did a good job of showcasing their locally grown products. I look forward to attending more events like this and I recommend to everyone to check out any of the up coming events. Also, I would like to urge you to buy locally grown goods when ever possible. On this day, we did our share by purchasing several bottles of wine, some veggies and a couple of their awesome pumpkins!
I would like to thank the Cobbs for inviting us we really enjoyed the day. Also, I would like to thank Georgia Organics for organizing this event and to Persimmon Creek for hosting and producing their wonderful wines. They are helping to change the image of Georgia wineries and are proof that Georgia wines can hold their own on the world stage.



Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful, very thorough review of the day! And I do apologize for the wine being warm.....I appreciate your BEAUTIFULLY done blog! Thank YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mary Ann Hardman

kelly said...

We had a great time and it was really nice to know that Georgia has such beautiful wineries.
I also have to say that in addition to the terrific wines we tasted and bought, Persimmon Creek had excellent carrots, jam, and tomatoes and great pumpkins!
Thanks for a great day!
Kelly & Spencer Cobb