Wineries get boost from official AVA designation
Since about 2001, Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery has been putting "Dahlonega Plateau" on the back of its wine bottles.
According to Brannon Boegner, winemaker at Wolf Mountain, designating the region a wine originates from can offer much insight into its characteristics.
Wine enthusiasts speak of "terroir," or the "flavors you taste in wine that are a direct result of the place they are grown," Boegner said.
Until now, the local area could only be spoken of in an informal fashion.
But now, the "Dahlonega Plateau" is official.
In the industry, having an officially designated region gives that wine a significant amount of notoriety.
That's why, after many years, the recent designation by the federal government for an AVA (American Viticultural Area), called the "Dahlonega Plateau" is an achievement that has many benefits to wineries in the area.
"The AVA speaks to quality and a sense of place," said Chamber of commerce Tourism Director David Zunker. It leaves "an image embedded in the mind of the consumer that will resonate for those who love a quality experience. It’s about our reputation, which is strong, and this designation makes it stronger."
The Chamber markets Dahlonega as “Gold, Wine and Waterfalls,” Zunker said, which also speaks to the area's natural beauty.
But he pointed out that wine is hot right now.
And to have a AVA is an advantage.
"It's another feather in our cap and a way for people—our visitors, our fans, our best customers—to relate to what makes Dahlonega so special."
Zunker said wine is a tremendous draw for Dahlonega and the region.
In addition to wine, visitors enjoy the "stunning backdrops, and experience the ambiance and the appeal of wineries—and Dahlonega in general," Zunker said, "for romantic getaways, weddings and an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life."
Boegner pointed out the many geographical features of the local area (including Wolf Mountain) that make it advantageous for wine production.
For example, the longer growing season in the area gives a longer hang time on the vine for grapes.
"This allows us to get the sugar levels where they need to be," Boegner said. In addition this helps the grapes reach full maturity as they go through the ripening process.
Another natural feature that local residents are accustomed to, plenty of red clay in the soil, actually helps winemakers produce better cabernet sauvignon, Boegner said. This soil feature, plus pine trees, gives the area more acid and helps produce certain desirable flavors similar to wines produced in Italy's "terra rosa."
In fact, the "Dahlonega Plateau" is a marriage of flavors desirable in the USA (such as Nappa Valley and Sonoma in California) and European flavors (such as French regions).
Matthew Garner, general manager of Montaluce Winery & Estates, is excited about the new AVA designation.
"All of us in Georgia can be proud of it," Garner said. "It puts the highlight on us as an area and sets a new bar for wineries in Georgia."
He said being able to include the designation on wines "gives it a cache of being specific to the Dahlonega Plateau," which gives it a "sense of identity and pride."
Boegner added that an official AVA helps with marketing and branding, knowing the federal government has designated the region as being different than any other area in the state.
"It gives us a leg up in stature to know that we have gone through this," Boegner said.
Although there are many wineries in Georgia, Boegner pointed out that the area wineries (Wolf Mountain Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars, Kaya Vineyard, Three Sisters Vineyards, Cavender Creek Vineyards, and Montaluce Winery & Restaurant) are now part of the only AVA in the state consisting of exclusively Georgia land. The Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA includes areas of North Carolina.
Zunker said the AVA process has been a collaborative effort, supported by the entire community.
He said the founding wineries of the region "had the vision to see what a designation like this could mean for the long-term identity of this region as an emerging force in the wine industry and what it will mean for Dahlonega, Lumpkin and White Counties to be on the map as the 'Napa of the South.'"