A day trip to a local winery is a perfect way to spend a weekend. In less than two hours from Atlanta, there are over 40 wineries and our very own AVA (American Viticultural Appellation) Dahlonega Plateau.
This region was established in 2018 and encompasses 344 square miles, including Lumpkin, Dawson, White, Pickens and Cherokee counties. The viticultural portion is approximately 133 square miles, encompassing most of Lumpkin County and part of White County.
Georgia has a long history of winemaking and it was actually the sixth largest wine growing region in the U.S. when Prohibition passed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the industry was reborn.
Each unique winery in Georgia is creating wines from grapes that are not only locally planted but also sourced from other states. The continental climate that sits in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains brings its own set of challenges, especially our wretched humidity. Every establishment has had to adapt and create their own identity and we love visiting and seeing what is new.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, we ventured up to the newest established winery, Limoges Cellars (limogescellars.com). Located on a quiet country road outside of Cleveland, it sits adjacent to the Dahlonega Plateau. The entrance is marked by a stone gate that gives way to a gravel road which winds up at a a hillside surrounded by neat vines.
The first building you notice is a sleek, black A-frame style house where owners Kristina and Daniel Limoges live with their nearly year old daughter. Further up the lane, lies the winery. Constructed as a modern barn, the building is country cool with a welcoming side porch that overlooks the vines.
Once inside, shelves behind a tasting counter hold the winery’s current offerings. The labels are simple and neat which adds to the modern aesthetic. An unfinished loft creates high ceilings that give the building a dramatic feel. There are several tables for seating and meats and cheeses available in a small cooler.
Located behind a secret wall is their small winery – a room filled with boxes of bottles, fermentation tanks, a destemmer, a small bottling machine, a freezer that Dan uses for disgorgement and one barrel that is aging last year’s wine. As we entered the winery, we were greeted by Dan and Kristina, who sat with us and shared their journey from corporate life in Avondale Estates to farm life in north Georgia.
The founding of Limoges Cellars is a passion project that began when Dan spent time working in Austria. After spending a month in Italy with Kristina and staying at a winery, he found his calling. Kristina described Dan as someone who fully immerses himself in something and can remember every detail.
They decided to deep dive into wine by going to local shops and trying as much wine as they could. With friends, the couple would blind taste complete selections of varietals from around the world. In his spare time, Dan began taking winemaking classes and traveling to California and around the world where he took in all he could with the dreams of starting their own project.
He began making wine in his Avondale house while working with the University of Georgia viticultural program and searching for land throughout North Georgia. The pandemic obviously slowed this process, but they settled on land in Ellijay near Engelheim Cellars, but were unsuccessful with securing neighbor support, so they started over.
The property they found sat on a slope perfect for planting vines. With sun drenched slopes and space to build, Dan and Kristina purchased 37 acres and went to work. Dan continued to work in his corporate role and commuted to Norcross while spending any spare time planting and building. Eventually, the winery took precedence and, in 2022, they officially opened.
The focus for the plantings includes varietals that they fell in love with through their tasting regimen and in 2021 planted Vidal Blanc, Albariño, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Teroldego, Tannat, Nebbiolo. Their second vineyard was planted last spring with Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grüner Veltliner. Each varietal has posed it’s own set of challenges and Dan and Kristina are finding out quickly what is working and how to adapt.
Currently they are offering an apple wine, two whites from grapes they have grown and two reds made from sourced Virginia grapes. The first offering is a sparkling apple wine made from local Mercier Apples. It is made by traditional Champagne method and is surprisingly dry and fresh with soft bubbles and an extremely clean finish. Their Cheval is made from the estate Vidal Blanc. The wine is light with notes of citrus and white peach and refreshing acidity.
The second estate wine is the Femme Sallee. This “salty girl” is made from estate Albariño (a nod to Kristina’s Spanish heritage) and has floral notes and a definite saline element. While their estate red grapes are maturing and going through their growing pains, Dan is using grapes from Virginia. The Cabernet Franc is unlike any in North Georgia. This wine is made in a style that Dan wanted to represent wines he loves. It is light and fresh with dark fruits and unmistakable Cab Franc spice. The Petite Verdot is more classic with darker ripe fruits and savory herbs.
A day trip to North Georgia is always a welcome reprieve from the city and we are lucky that the Limoges family has found its home here. These wines will redefine what is being produced in this evolving landscape.