Nothing celebrates the warm weather season like a glass of wine enjoyed with a few friends in the beautiful outdoors. And while the South is largely known for its liquor distilleries, it’s also home to some fine Southern wineries. So to celebrate summer, round up your girlfriends, load up the car and take a road trip to enjoy the fruits of these award-winning vineyards in person.
Often called the New York or Hollywood of the South, Atlanta certainly has enough attractions and activities to keep even the most hard-to-please entertained. But if you’re looking for a place to relax and slow down a bit — while enjoying some award-winning wines — Chateau Elan is the destination for you. As soon as you drive up to the property located in the foothills of Georgia, you will be swept away to the French countryside and met with both luxury and loads of Southern hospitality.
Chateau Elan was born in 1981 with the planting of vineyards and was officially opened in 1984. Since then, the winery has expanded to include two restaurants — the upscale, French Le Cos, and Café Elan, a more relaxed, Mediterranean bistro — but the focal point remains the wine itself. Chateau Elan produces several varieties using the muscadine grape, a type of grape that thrives in the heat of the South. The Muscadry is yellow with a tropical flavor and a mix of guava, lemon zest, pineapple and grapefruit, while the award-winning Muscadry Rose is light pink with notes of orange flavor. And two wines — the Duncan Creek and Duncan Creek Red — are made entirely from Georgia-grown muscadines. Public and private tours and tastings are available. Click here for pricing and details.
Deep in the heart of Texas, about an hour north of San Antonio, is the town of Fredericksburg. And with just under 11,000 residents, the people in Fredericksburg are most certainly outnumbered by wine grapes, thanks to the sweeping vineyards of Grape Creek. From its founding as a single vineyard, Grape Creek has grown to occupy 100 acres of fertile Texas Hill Country. The company recently added a new tank room and crush pad, bringing total production space to more than 35,000 square feet, which makes for a lot of wine. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll find bottles of Grape Creek in local stores. Bottles are only available online, via the monthly wine club or tasting rooms on-site, to limit production and maintain a focus on “handcrafted wine-making standards.”
Stop by Grape Creek for a $30 Taste & Tour package (refundable if you sign up for the wine club and buy three bottles), during which you’ll visit the crush pad, tank room and take a sip from wines aging in three different oak barrels. Wondering which bottle to take home? You can’t go wrong with the 2013 Rendevous, a light and fruity blend with floral, cherry and herbal notes of cherry. It was voted one of the Best Texas Wines of 2015 by Texas Monthly.
You’re already familiar with the rich history of Williamsburg, VA, the former capital of the Colony of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and political hub in the years leading up the American Revolution. But you may not be familiar with the city’s rich wine history. Wessex Hundred, the 300-acre farm that is home to Williamsburg Winery, is steeped in it, dating back to 1619 when a government decree prescribed that each new settler plant at least 10 grapevines for the purpose of making wine. And that tradition continues nearly 400 years later. “It is said that when you visit Wessex Hundred today, you can feel the drumbeat of history as it unfolded on these grounds,” reads the company’s website. “The events and the people who played pivotal roles in the rich history of Williamsburg live on through the products we create today.”
Those products include numerous award-winning wines that have been lauded by the World Wine Championships, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and others. Be sure to try the Adagio, an elegant blend of berries with a hint of black currant and spices, including nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. And click here to learn more about tour and tasting opportunities.
The running joke at Wolf Mountain Vineyards is that if owner E. Karl Boegner’s middle name wasn’t Karl it would be “Hospitality.” His experience in the industry is vast. He previously served as executive vice president of Chateau Elan; he opened and operated The Roswell Founders Club (an urban country club concept) in Roswell, GA; and he was a member of the team that opened the Golf Resort and Clubhouse at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. He has since taken everything he has learned and funneled it into Wolf Mountain Vineyards, his family-owned winery located in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
After opening to the public in 2003, Wolf Mountain was off to a great start, selling out of its first vintage in only eight months, and things haven’t slowed down since. Annual production now surpasses 5,000 cases each year, but there is still a determined focus to keep production limited and of the highest quality. To get a taste of the rigid standards that have resulted in more than 200 awards in Wolf Mountain’s short history, try the Plenitude, a unique blend of chardonnay and viognier that is aged in stainless steel to preserve the delicate notes of citrus and grapefruit, or the Instinct, a full-bodied red that is aged for a total of nearly two years. Pay a visit for yourself and try a tour and tasting. Get more details here.
Some folks find success and like to rest on their laurels. Others, like Richard Childress, keep striving for more. After a solid career as a NASCAR driver, Childress founded his own racing empire that raked in numerous championships, thanks to a pretty well-known driver by the name of Dale Earnhardt. Childress could certainly live out the rest of his life basking in his racing glory, but in 2004, he decided to realize a longtime dream of developing a world-class winery. (He fondly remembered visiting wineries with friends during his early racing days in California.)
The same passion and commitment to quality that Childress brings to RCR Racing is exhibited at Childress Vineyards, and the efforts have resulted in numerous awards. Visit the 72-acre vineyard in person, and be sure to try one of the 30 varieties produced on-site. The signature Chardonnay is a special treat, crisp and smooth with apple, vanilla and citrus. It’s aged for eight months, which yields a slightly toasty undertone that makes it the perfect companion to roasted or grilled dishes, as well as garlic or cream sauces.
Pigeon Forge, TN
Forgo the hustle and bustle of the South’s urban metropolises, and head to the Great Smoky Mountains, a region known for its rich, natural beauty and majestic views. With so many couples, families and solo vacationers all making treks to East Tennessee, it’s no surprise that developers decided to take advantage of the area’s incredible scenery. Nestled near the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find shops and attractions in the quaint town of Gatlinburg, Blackberry Farm’s luxury resort and spa in Walland and in Pigeon Forge, not far from Dolly Parton’s amusement park, there is one of the best wineries in the South: Mountain Valley Winery.
The folks at Mountain Valley Winery have been producing wine since 1991, including traditional French- and German-style varieties, but the winery is best known for its sweet fruit wines. There’s the Muscadine, which “tastes just like you plucked a muscadine right off the vine;” the Mountain Valley Red, which features a blend of sweet concord and other native American grapes; the Mountain Peach; and the Rhubarb, a surprise best-seller that features citrusy notes of lemon and pink grapefruit. Not sure which you’ll like best? Tours are available daily from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and while they are family-friendly and open to kids of all ages, the free tastings are for ages 21 and over only.
Little River, SC
If you like your wine served with a splash of triumph, you definitely need to visit coastal Carolina’s La Belle Amie, home to the Twisted Sisters brand. Vicki Weigle planted her first vineyard in 1995, followed by the second a year later. She was well on her way to realizing her dream of having a fully functioning vineyard and winery when the hurricanes started in 1996. And for a while, they didn’t seem like they’d ever stop. From ’96 to ’99, hurricanes Bertha, Fran, Bonnie, Daniel and Floyd all tore through Myrtle Beach’s La Belle Amie, oftentimes destroying the entire harvest and leaving Weigle to start again from scratch. Anyone else may have given up, but winemaking is in Weigle’s blood — she is a descendant of great vintners from the south of France, and her late Uncle Gifford, who owned the land that La Belle Amie currently occupies, was famous for the homemade wine that he gifted to family and friends each year.
Lately, Weigle says, the “hurricane gods have smiled” on her, and the result is a thriving business churning out some of the South’s best varieties — no pretension allowed. With names like Bitchin’ Babes (a Southern-style white), Sugar Mama (a light red) and Bless Her Heart (a dry white), the Twisted Sisters brand isn’t made for white tablecloths and upturned noses, though Weigle says you can certainly enjoy it that way if you choose. “Our philosophy regarding wine is quite simple — it should be enjoyed,” she says. “We respect you as the best judge of what is or is not a ‘good’ tasting wine to you, as well as how you should enjoy it.”
Wherever your travels take you, there are plenty of lush Southern vineyards worthy of checking out. Start your Southern vineyard bucket list travels here, and make sure you share your pics with us on Instagram, @StyleBlueprint.