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New wineries open near Big Canoe

By Phillip Bonner

The Georgia wine industry has been growing steadily over the years, and this growth has continued with the opening of two delightful wineries within a short drive of Big Canoe.

Chateau Meichtry Winery and Vineyard, between Ellijay and Talking Rock, opened in October 2014, and Fainting Goat Vineyards, near Jasper, opened just this past August. My wife Cindy and I visited both vineyards on a pleasant August weekend, and we can enthusiastically recommend both as a great way to spend an afternoon without having to drive far from home.

Chateau Meichtry Vineyard

Owners of Chateau Meichtry (pronounced “my-tree”), Bobby and Karin McNeill, dreamed for years of having a family-owned-and-operated vineyard and winery. With the help of their children this dream has become a reality. Their youngest son, Justin, is the winemaker and vineyard manager; their daughter Courtney works the tasting room; son Ryan works in construction and vineyard maintenance; and daughter-in-law Kingsley will coordinate future weddings at the vineyard. The vineyard and winery are on 40 acres of land with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and the tasting room, with its warm, “Old World” charm, opens to an outside patio area where patrons can enjoy a glass of wine and listen to live music.

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Chateau Meichtry vineyards are on 40 beautiful acres.

Courtesy of Chateau Meichtry

Karin's love of viticulture and winemaking, along with the name of the vineyard, originates with her maternal grandfather, Stephan Meichtry. In 1921, at 25, Stephan moved from his home of Leuk, Switzerland, to America. Among the very few material possessions that accompanied him on the trip were his grape vines, which he promptly replanted upon settling in Maspeth, N.Y.

As a young girl, Karin recalls watching her grandfather tend his beloved wines, and she believes this is where her love of viticulture and winemaking began. When her dream to open a vineyard and winery came to fruition, it was only natural that she would want to honor her grandfather in its name.

Chateau Meichtry currently grows three varietals on the property: norton, noiret and seyval. Their white wines include Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and a Vidal Blanc collaboration with Monteluce Vineyards. Their reds include Georgia Merlot and Meritage. I enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay that had been barrel-fermented in 100 percent new Hungarian oak for nine months, while Cindy savored a glass of Meritage with supple black fruit flavors that had undergone extended aging in French oak barrels.

Chateau Meichtry is open year round, Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, 12:30-5:30 p.m., for tastings. Live music is offered every weekend. It is definitely worth a visit, and when you go, take advantage of a nearby bonus. Only a few minutes from the vineyards is Mountain Valley Farm Store, in the middle of a working farm owned by the Wright family. The store is open every day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is famous for its farm-raised meats, cheeses, eggs, butter, produce and much more. And kids will love visiting with farm animals, including baby calves, sheep, rabbits, goats and baby pigs.

Chateau Meichtry, 1862 Orchard Lane, Talking Rock, GA 30175; Phone: 706-502-1608.

Fainting Goat Vineyards

Owned and operated by David and Robin Higginbotham, along with their daughter McKenzie Potts and her husband Corey, Fainting Goat Vineyards enjoys a spectacular view of the mountains from its perch alongside Highway 136, on the way to Jasper from Big Canoe. When Cindy and I visited the tasting room the first question I had was, “How did you come up with that name?”

Robin explained they ventured into the wine industry because of their love of earth, people and great wine. Their appreciation for earth started in Ohio, where they owned a self-sustaining farm. When they moved to Georgia and purchased the land for their winery, they considered themselves to be similar to goats, because they were caring for mountainous land, true stewards of the earth. They added the word “fainting” because fainting goats are a bit funny and light-hearted, and they feel that is how winetasting should be. For those not familiar with fainting goats, a myotonic goat, otherwise known as a fainting goat, is a domestic goat whose muscles freeze for roughly 10 seconds when the goat feels panic. Though painless, this generally results in the animal collapsing on its side, or on its back, with all four legs pointing at the sky.

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The tasting room at Fainting Goat Vineyards is a great event venue.

Courtesy of Fainting Goat Vineyards

My curiosity about the name now satisfied, I took time to admire the surroundings. The winetasting room is beautiful and spacious, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that provide breathtaking views of the nearby mountains, including Sharp Top Mountain. Indoor and outdoor fireplaces allow comfortable winetasting even during winter, and the facility serves as a venue for weddings and private and corporate events ranging from small to large. Fainting Goat Vineyards also will host special events such as Winestock, a Woodstock-themed wine festival with bands, food, arts and wine.

The family offers seven wines, ranging from dry reds and whites to sweet wines. The estate grapes are Boudreaux reds. Cindy and I enjoyed our wine outside on the patio, listening to live music and taking in the view of the vineyards and the mountains. It was a delightful and relaxing way to spend the afternoon, only minutes from Big Canoe.

Fainting Goat Vineyards is open year round, Mondays and Thursdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, 12:30-6 p.m. Live music is provided every Saturday and Sunday.

Fainting Goat Vineyards, 201 Vineyard Way, Jasper, GA 30143; Phone: 706-692-WINE.

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