First of two parts on this emerging wine region.
Welcome to Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards' wine tasting room, just off Ga. 17 at Sautee Nacoochee between Helen and Cleveland in Northeast Georgia. The tasting room offers free samples of seven wines. Our favorite--and all were good--was Valley Mist 2008.
First, please note the word in italics in the headline: f-a-m-i-l-y. As odd as it may sound to some, we found our trip to an emerging wine-friendly community tucked among Helen, Cleveland, Dahlonega and Gainesville to be the perfect escape for parents or grandparents who want to try some new wines--and keep the kids more than happy as well.
There are several great wine-tasting experiences in Sautee-Nachoochee with another on the way later this year. Or as our 10-year-old calls it, cracker-tasting experiences. He'll munch on the "between sips" crackers offered to all while mom and dad sample each winery's offerings. (Note from 10-year-old: Goldfish are preferred).
This week and next, we're writing about our visits to Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards and Yonah Mountain Vineyards. Or to their wine tasting rooms, separated by about the length of a football field. Also nearby is the granddaddy of Georgia wineries, Habersham Winery. And on the way: A new tasting room from Dahlonega's Frogtown Cellars.
More on the wineries in a second. First, a qualifier. Why is this particular community so kid friendly?
Answer: Especially during the summer season, nearby Helen offers a wonderful list of family friend activities. Perhaps the most relaxing is a trip down the river on glorified inner tubes. Several Helen-area companies offer a variety of slow-flowing trips down the river. You can pick the estimated time and that's how they decide to drop you and dozens of others off. The flow time depends on the depth of the river, the current and your own pace (buy one of the sticks offered at each spot; you'll need it to better navigate).
After a morning or early afternoon on the tubes, the kids can go to a water park or hit some of the multiple putt-putt golf courses in Helen. Lots of shops and restaurants will keep the family busy as well. So will a few gem and stone mining operations. For a comprehensive list of what to do, click HelenGa.
As for the adults, their adventure comes usually after lunch time with trips to the wine-tasting rooms.
We'll start with the Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards at 98 Nacoochee Way, just off Ga. 17 near the Ga. 255 split. The tasting room (pictures on top and to the right) is tucked away a bit from the descending driveway and you'll pass a few shops. A few rows of vines help guide you to a relaxing indoor or outdoor visit to the tasting room. (For details: click About SNV)
Most surprising: Wine tastings are free. Or should we say complimentary?
And you'll like what you taste. We took home a few bottles of Valley Mist 2008, described as "a semi-sweet wine made from merlot grapes.... perfect to enjoy accompanied at the beginning or end of your mail. It is also a natural with fruits, cheeses or chocolates." In all, seven wines are available for tasting or for $6 a glass. Click Wines.
The tasting room has a nice porch area as well, cooled by several fans. If you're lucky, the nearby horses will stop within yards. There's a great view of the valley as well and an overall relaxing atmosphere. You could spend some quality time here on the porch alone. The only negative: it is a bit set back and below the highway. There is plenty of signage to get you off the two-lane, however. Go to far and you're in the parking lot of the retail center that is home to Yonah Mountain (we'll get there next week).
The Sautee Nacoochee tasting room is a nice break from the ones attached to the larger wineries in nearby Dahlonega. That's not a slap on "the big guys." This cutaway seems to make you focus just on the wine tasting and not on the bustle of an adjoining restaurant or event hall or the like. You're there to taste wine and you do so in a very comfortable and fun way.
Sautee Nacoochee's grapes are all locally grown. It has its own vineyards with more to come but they also purchase grapes from local growers. One variety of muscadine wine is offered and that fruit comes from SouthGeogia.
There are plans to add a small tasting at Sautee Nachoochee's nearby winery for special occasions and it likely will feature a small amphitheater.
We found the quaint tasting room plenty big enough to sample--and enjoy--these first wines from Sautee Nacoochee.
What to know:
-Tasting room: 706-878-1056. Address: 98 Old Nacoochee Way, Sautee Nacoochee, Ga. 30571
-Tasting room hours: Noon until 6 Monday-Saturday; 12:30-6 p.m. Sundays.
-Admission/tasting: Free (up to seven samples).
-By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
-Our favorite: Valley Mist 2008.
-Per bottle prices range from $14.95 to $23.95. Merlots (red and white), Cabernet Savignon included.
-By the glass price: $6.