Looking Back and to the Future: Georgia as a Grape-Growing State

c700x420When the Trustees of the Colony of Georgia sought to develop viticulture in the colony, they sent two “vine dressers,” as viticulturalists were then called, to Savannah on the first boat. But their best efforts failed. Still Georgia was the sixth largest grape-growing state before Prohibition.

In West Georgia some 200 Hungarian families cultivated several thousand acres of grapes, for both the fresh market as well as wine making. Other ethnic groups, as well as several large northern investment companies in total planted nearly 20,000 acres of vines there in the 1890s .

But the state enacted its own Prohibition in 1907, and all that came to an end. Moreover, the state remained “dry” for several decades after Repeal in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st amendment to the Constitution.

Now that bleak period is receding as well. Today as Georgia closes in on ending its third century, it is beginning to recover from the effects of Prohibition and re-establishing itself as a wine-growing region.  Today more than 50 wineries are busy making wine in Georgia, and more are on the drawing boards.

North Georgia claims most of the fame of Georgia viticulture in its new phase, as it’s the farthest south one may grow the classical European grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, etc.)  But North Georgia also grows some of the promising hybrid grapes, such as Traminiette, Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc for instance. West and South Georgia are beginning to plant varieties that will add to the state’s viticulture options. Blanc du Bois, LeNoir, Lomanto and Norton are beginning to draw fans as their flavors enhance and extend winegrowing in these regions of the state.

Blanc du Bois, developed for Florida viticulture, will appeal to people who enjoy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, as it shows grapefruit and passion fruit characters. Heritage grapes Lomanto, LeNoir and Norton (also called Cynthiana) make medium-bodied to robust red wines.

This year, Georgia will hold its first statewide competition to discover the best of Georgia’s new viticulture. Entries will come from all over the state, north to south.  White and red wines, still and sparkling, dry and sweet, all will be evaluated in this competition, with the top award, The Oglethorpe Trophy, being awarded to the best wine made from grapes grown in Georgia. Other awards will recognize outstanding achievements in various categories.

Taste the results of the competition at this year’s Savannah Food & Wine Festival, at a gala dinner to be held on November 9, 2015. A reception featuring the gold medal winners will precede the dinner, to be held at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center.

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