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Dahlonega's wine region just got a lot more official
Dahlonega Plateau refers to 133 square miles of land just right for growing grapes
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Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery, pictured May 2017, is one of the properties included in the new Dahlonega Plateau wine region designation from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Several area wineries and tourism officials have been pushing for the designation for years, and locals say it puts Dahlonega on the same level as Sonoma and Napa valleys. - photo by Nick Bowman

The Dahlonega Plateau is now a nationally recognized wine region of the United States.

Eight vineyards and wineries are included in the region, which covers areas of Lumpkin and White counties. Winemakers and tourism officials are cheering the decision, saying it puts Dahlonega on the same federally recognized level as Sonoma and Napa valleys in California.

The designation makes clear that “there’s a particular geographic region — the Dahlonega Plateau — that has a special growing condition,” said Stephen Smith, manager of the tasting room at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, one of the properties in the designated area. “There’s a particular soil profile. Everything that goes into growing grapes makes this area unique.”

The honorific comes from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for some reason, and you can read the (extremely dry (drier than a hearty Cabernet, you might say)) language in the federal register laying out exactly what’s included in the latest American Viticultural Area.

The Plateau designation is the product of more than two years of work on the part of the wineries and the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber & Visitors Bureau. It becomes effective at the end of the month.

It’s good news for Lumpkin wineries Accent Cellars, Cavender Creek Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars Vineyards, Montaluce Winery and Restaurant, Three Sisters Vineyards and Wolf Mountain Vineyards, and the White County vineyards of Cottage Vineyard and Winery and Kaya Vineyard and Winery.

They’re all in the Dahlonega Plateau, which describes the mountainous terminus of the Appalachian chain. The area covers 133 square miles, and the existing wine industry operates on 100 acres within the area, which will grow to almost 115 acres in the coming years.

Expect to see the Plateau in marketing materials and on bottles in the coming months and years.

“It’s actually a fortunate name, because we think the Dahlonega Plateau designation, the Dahlonega Plateau phrase, is even more romantic than something like Napa Valley or Sonoma,” said David Zunker, tourism director for the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

Much like the Georgia Grown label, wines that carry the AVA label for the Dahlonega Plateau will be made only with grapes grown in the area, Smith said. Blends made with grapes from outside of the viticultural area cannot carry the AVA label.

A loose association of wineries and vineyards in the Dahlonega Plateau is beginning to form, Zunker said, which will complement the community’s reputation as the tasting room capital of Georgia and the area’s longstanding wine highway, which is a project of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia.

Wolf Mountain’s proudest

Stephen Smith, the Wolf Mountain Vineyards tasting room manager, walked through a few of the winery’s best sellers.

King claret

Above all is the winery’s claret, a Bordeaux-style red wine that runs big in flavor and short on supply. Smith said the claret usually has a six-month lifespan at the winery before it runs out.

“It’s been a special wine for us for a lot of years,” he said. “We’ve increased production and not been able to keep up with demand. It’s turned into a bit of a cult wine.”

Whites on reserve

On the lighter side, the winery’s reserve chardonnay and plateau blanc are both popular choices.

And like the wine highway, the Dahlonega Plateau is the first AVA entirely within Georgia. The Upper Hiwassee Highlands was the state’s first AVA, but it’s part of a larger area that includes portions of North Carolina.

But even with the associations, designations and millions of dollars rolling around North Georgia, it’s still early days for the area’s professional industry.

“People have been growing grapes in Georgia for a long, long time, and they’ve been growing grapes in North Georgia for a long time, but there’s been a surge in the last 25 years,” Smith said. “Twenty-five years — these guys are babies in the grand scheme.”

As viticultural areas get recognized, that will begin to change, he said, and the Dahlonega Plateau is one of the first steps toward a more serious reckoning of the Lumpkin and White county wine scene.

“We hope it will start to drive folks to say, “This is not a bunch of armchair winemakers. There’s something valid to what’s going on up here,’” Smith said.

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Cavender Creek Vineyards vines stretch over the property in May 2017. The vineyard and winery is one of eight to be included in a new Dahlonega Plateau wine region designation from the federal government.