North Georgia wine country weather: Click Forecast / Regional radar
-New/What to see while on Georgia's Wine Highway. Today: Mercier Orchards. Click
What to watch for:
-June 5-6: 2010 Georgia Fine Wine Festival at BlackStock Vineyards & Winery, Dahlonega
-Tickets: $35 for one day, $50 for both days. $15 for non-wine adult tickets; children admitted free.
-Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday> Fine Wine
-June 5-6: Three Sisters Vineyards' Georgia Wine Country Festival: Billed as "Dahlonega's Original Wine Festival," it is set for June 5 and 6 this year. It is the ninth time Three Sisters has staged the celebration. Yonah Mountain Winery and Serenity Cellars joins Bouiter Winery, Chateau Elan, Crimson 'N Scarlett, Georgia Wines and Three Sisters at this year's Georgia Wine Country Festival. More details soon. Also, join the event's Facebook page. Cost: $20 per person.> Click
-Release news, June 5: Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Saturday, June 5, 11 a.m.6-p.m., Release of Tiger Mountain's '09 Petit Manseng. $10 per person. Served with seafood pasta, fresh strawberries, light cheeses. Also: Live music
-May 22-23: Taste of Sautee: Fine wine, food, art and music combine for a special weekend. Taking part are four area wineries as well as five bands, area restaurants and more than 40 artists. The wineries include Yonah Mountain, Sautee Nachoochee, Frogtown Cellars, Habersham and Serenity Cellars. The bands include: Kyle Obermeier & Jeremiah Osterman; Kip Dockery Band; The Georgia Mudcats; Monica Spears; Shoal Creek Band. Hours: 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $15 which includes tasting; $5 general admission; children under 16, free. Details: Click Taste or check the event's Facebook page.
-May 23, 30: Wolf Mountain Vineyards' White Wine, Sparkling Wine & Seafood Festival. The eightn annual festival has seatings at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $30 per person.
-May 29: Crane Creek Vineyards & Guest House, Young Harris: Annual spring festival, 11 a.m.-6 p.m $20 for those 21 and over; $10, under 21. Lunch, wine tastings, artists, kids events, fishing.
-June 6: Wine dinner at Persimmon Creek Vineyards> Click
While on Georgia's Wine Highway: Near Crane Creek Vineyards? Try . . .
Blue Ridge's Mercier Orchards puts twist on 'apples & oranges,'
only the other fruits are strawberries, blueberries, cherries . . .
By Carol Carter
For Wine News Vine
Known mostly for apples, Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge--a popular getaway spot for Northwest Georgians-
-has expanded into more U pick options. Mercier Facebook photo.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. _ The first-ever U pick strawberry season at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge has just wound down, and son-in-law Joe Foster proclaims it to have been “awesome” -- so awesome in fact that the family thinks it will plant a patch about five times as large next year.
The U pick operation at Mercier’s has grown so much that customers can hop aboard the 25-seat tractor-pulled trailer at varying times throughout the year to pick apples, blueberries, cherries, peaches, nectarines, blackberries (see image to the right from Mercier's Facebook page) and plums.
“We started our U pick six years ago,” Foster says, “where people come out and pick their own apples. That was one of our initiatives as far as getting people back on the farm. We get people out there where they can feel and touch the leaves of the trees. They pick the fruit straight from the tree.”
There are enough Mercier family members working at the orchard to pretty much always have one or the other on the back of the tractor, talking to the customers. Foster’s favorite story to tell concerns customers taking their first bite out of an apple they just plucked off one of Mercier’s trees (they planted 10,000 trees this year).
“They want to know,” he says, “ 'why does it taste so good?' " They often say that it tastes like a candied apple. And Foster explains to them, “That’s probably the first time you’ve ever bitten into a fresh apple.”
What people don’t realize, he says, is that controlled atmospheric storage allows apple orchards in places like Washington state to keep apples in storage for 18 months. That means, he says, that when you go to the grocery store and buy apples, “probably 90 percent of the time – because it’s not apple season all of the time – you’re buying last year’s crop.”
When a Mercier customer bites into a fresh apple for the first time, he says, “Right then and there, we know we have a customer for life.”
In the early fall, Mercier’s sells – among several apple varieties – the Honey Crisp, which is in season for only about four weeks. When customers taste a Honey Crisp, Foster says, they ask where they can get it. The Mercier answer: “Here.. Grocery stores don’t sell it. You can’t get it in the state of Georgia unless you come to a little apple house like us.”
“Little,” however, hardly describes Mercier’s. What started as, essentially, a roadside fruit stand has grown into a bustling retail store complete with gifts, a bakery and a delicatessen that serves breakfast and lunch, an online store, and a wholesale fried pie operation.
This fall, Mercier’s will sell fried pies, apple slushies, plus candied and caramel apples, at the six Georgia Tech home football games. And Mercier’s is in the final stages of building a traveling concession trailer that will sell apples, cider, candied apples and fried pies at festivals around the Southeast.
Last year during apple season, family members surveyed the tour buses that stopped at Mercier’s and counted 500 in the month of October alone. Mercier’s now has a Facebook page where customers leave comment after comment about their experiences picking and eating fresh fruit.
This year marked Mercier’s first blossom tour, during which customers ride out into the orchard and observe the stages of apple growth. “An apple doesn’t just all of a sudden show up on the tree,” Foster says. “It starts as a little flower.”
Seven vendors operate inside the store and another couple sell their wares out in the parking lot. In addition to fresh fruit, bakery items and cider, Mercier’s sells a wide variety of products ranging from kitchen gadgets to popcorn, spices, floral arrangements and bird feeders.
Whatever the season, Mercier’s makes samples available in the store.
“Our product sells itself, so why not let it?” asks Foster. “When we have fresh fruit in, that whole area (in the back of the sprawling store) is geared. We’re slicing strawberries back there right now. We’ll make strawberry shortcake and sample it. Or we’ll make chocolate-dipped strawberries and sample those. We’ll bake an apple. We’ll fry some apples. We’ll do some apple crisp.”
Mercier’s has a bakery program for kids where they come in and bake up something special, say, for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
And through it all, Mercier’s is always, always baking fried pies: one million of them per year. When all is said and done, Foster says, “We are fried pies.”
Perhaps the greatest testament of all to the fact that Mercier’s is, above all, a family operation is that 92-year-old Adele Mercier, who is in her 68th crop year, still works at the orchard 40 to 50 hours per week.