Ms. Jeannie’s friend was visiting from the West Coast a few weeks ago, and over dinner one night he was remarking on a wonderful trip, he and his fiancee had taken to Napa Valley. Of course they stopped at a bevy of wineries to learn and sample and the whole experience really opened him up to the wide world of wine palates. So Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun, now that he was a wine connoisseur of sorts, to take him on a little southern road trip to Braselton, Georgia, the location of the state’s most noteable vineyard, Chateau Elan.
Wine in Georgia, you say? How could that be, Ms. Jeannie? Well, my dears, Georgia has actually been growing two unique types of grapes since the 1500’s – the scuppernong and the muscadine grape. It is not uncommon to see little vineyards of two or three rows in people’s yards all over the south. Ms. Jeannie, herself has two rows of 35 foot vines herself. Here’s some pictures…
Larger then your traditional grape, muscadines (red) and scuppernongs (golden) are just slightly smaller then the size of a golf ball. You can see in this picture some some sizing perspective…
Both muscadines and scuppernongs have a thick, tart outer skin and a sweet, juicy center that is similar to a plum, yet with a touch more tang. Most people bite and then suck out the sweet interior pulp – but Ms. Jeannie likes to eat the whole thing or cut them up in little segments like a sweet tart.
First discovered growing wild in North Carolina by Italian explorer, Giovanni de Verranzano in 1524, these two varieties of grapes grow naturally only in the Southern United States where they thrive on a short cold season and lots of humidity.
When Giovanni discovered them growing in the Cape Fear River Valley, he wrote in his trip’s log book that the “grapes were of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater.” At the time, Giovanni was on a coastal exploration trip on behalf of the French King, Francis I. Ms. Jeannie wonders what this french King must have thought of the their-bigger-than-yours statement when Giovanni went to report his trip findings!
On a side note, unfortunately, in the end things didn’t fair so well for Giovanni, who on his third trip to the coastal US, was killed (and some sources say eaten) by local natives in 1528. Goodness gracious – it is not a very sweet ending to the story of a man who discovered such a sweet fruit.
Anyway, back to the grapes…the wine produced from muscadine/scuppernong grapes is very, very sweet, (think sweeter then a riesling) and light in body, which makes it nice (in small doses!) on those hot summer evenings, when it seems too stifling to eat anything but air. Often times, as in the case of Chateau Elan’s varieties, these local grape wines are enhanced with other local fruits like peaches, strawberries or blueberries which give it a unique flavor. This enhancement also makes for interesting culinary delights like fruit syrups drizzled over ice cream, simple soaked white cakes or jams and jellies, so scuppernongs and muscadine, as you can see, s are quite versatile when it comes to cooking as well.
Chateau Elan offers four local varieties of muscadine/scuppernong wine as well as a variety of wines imported from their California vineyard, Diablo Grande in Patterson, CA.
Ms. Jeannie went on the wine tour and tasting at Chateau Elan so that she could try both the sister wines from California as well as the local Georgia wines.
The vineyard at Chateau Elan was established in 1981 and sits on 3,500 acres. It’s about a 45 minute drive east from Atlanta in the tiny, rural town of Braselton, GA. Braselton has a little Hollywood color to it. The actress Kim Basinger, bought the entire town for $20 million in the late 1980’s with the idea of turning it into a Hollywood film set/production studio. Unfortunately, that idea never materialized. Kim ran out of money and wound up selling Braselton to a developer in the mid-1990’s. Now it is mostly known for it’s antique shopping, area golf courses and of course, the Chateau Elan Resort which in addition to a winery includes a small luxury hotel, several golf courses and a spa.
Before we look at the wines, Ms. Jeannie wanted to point out a few pretty things she noticed about the Chateau itself…
Since it was early Spring when Ms. Jeannie visited – the gardens and vineyards were just waking up – but to add a bit of color to the landscape, the flower beds surrounding the Chateau all contained a bright yellow/blue combination of pansies and guess what… flowering broccoli! Very pretty and quite an unexpected pairing! Ms. Jeannie will have to remember this for her early season gardening.
At the entrance of the Chateau is this wonderful bronze statue of a woman stomping the grapes set inside a large fountain. It’s a really pretty figure!
When Ms. Jeannie was taking pictures, crows were hanging out on the roof-line – maybe they were getting together for cocktail hour themselves!
The winery tour starts inside the Chateau in the large gift shop area. On the tour, Ms. Jeannie learned about the production side of wine-making which included, of course, how it was stored, and bottled. It was a pretty industrial process and a long way away from stomping of the grapes that the statue represented – but it was interesting none the less.
The barrels were beautiful all lined up in rows. The wine is aged in both French and American barrels…
Once the tour was over it was on to the wine tasting. During the tasting, Ms. Jeannie sampled five wines, three from the California property and two from Georgia.
The first wine Ms. Jeannie tasted was the Chardonnay Reserve 2010, which she liked very much. In addition to the actual tasting part, she also learned how to sniff, swirl and suck in her breath to really appreciate the advanced flavors of the wine. This does make a big difference – to taste your wine this way. It’s nice to take some time to appreciate what you are drinking and to identify the subtle mix of flavors and aromas.
Next was the Pinot Noir. This one was lighter in color than Ms. Jeannie expected!
The next was Ms. Jeannie’s favorite of all the samples, the Scarlett 211. It was full-bodied and smelled a bit like incense. The Scarlett is a blend of Syrah and Sangiovese grapes which gives it a darker, richer color than the Pinot Noir.
The last two Ms. Jeannie tasted were the Georgia wines. The first was Summer Wine which was muscadine infused with peaches…
The second was Spring Blossom which was muscadine infused with raspberry…
Both were very sweet with residual sugar levels of 6%, ( to give you some perspective, the California wines had sugar levels of .5%). Ms. Jeannie, herself doesn’t care for such sweet wine, so she preferred the California varieties better – but she could see how these two could definitely be incorporated into a flavorful dessert.
In addition to wine, scuppernongs and muscadines also make fantastic jams. Ms. Jeannie wants to send a giant box to her sister this summer so she can experiment with some special jam recipes! She’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.
After the wine tasting, Ms. Jeannie and her friend headed to Paddy’s Ale House, just one of the 9 dining experiences on the Chateau property.
The pub was built in Ireland, then deconstructed, brought to Georgia and reassembled. It has wonderful character and has retained a true Irish spirit. So if you are not exactly a wine lover – but a beer lover instead – than this is a grand spot to while away the afternoon. They serve all the traditions – warm Guinness, Irish whiskies and their own take on traditional fare like Fish & Chips, Shepard’s Pie and Boxty. Ms. Jeannie had the Shepard’s Pie which was comprised of braised spare ribs, mixed with vegetables and baked under a layer of mashed potatoes. Delicious!
If you have visited the Chateau, Ms. Jeannie would love to hear about your experience so please comment below. If not, are there any local wineries in your neck of the woods that you enjoy? If so, please share them with us!