Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yonah Mountain Vineyards challenges California Goliath - David wins!!

By Doc Lawrence
SAUTEE-NACOOCHEE, GA-The road to the winery tasting room traverses the ancient land of the Cherokee, along the path where Desoto explored during the 1500’s. Yonah Mountain Vineyards, named after the nearby imposing mountain, is a rising star operation that will not shy away from a challenge. 
North Georgia was still reeling from a rare blizzard that trapped millions in their homes for nearly a week. My antidote to cabin fever brought me deep into the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Atlanta to judge wines. Our distinguished panel-with no black robes or powdered wigs-evaluated some Napa Valley Goliaths with Georgia’s David, the rising star wines from Yonah Mountain Vineyards. 
Former longtime residents of Fort Lauderdale, Yonah Mountain owners Bob and Jane Miller came into the wine business through gradual experiences with fine wines and haute cuisine. No longer new kids in the wine business, Bob Miller teamed with 
his winemaker wizard Joe Smith for a few hours, placing their confidence on the line. Calling the event “the great wine challenge,” their wines were pitted against some Napa Valley giants in a blind tasting before an elite panel of judges led by maestro Michael Bryan, president of the Atlanta Wine School, Jane Garvey, one of America’s top wine authorities, Gil Kuylers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harry Constantinescu, wine director of the fabled St. Regis, Atlanta and others. 

Joe Smith, already an established force in the wine world, described this inaugural challenge as “pairing three of our wines from two vintages against Ghost Horse Cabernet Sauvignon at $250 dollars per bottle, our Chardonnay against Kittler Dutton Ranch at $90 dollars per bottle and our Viognier against Darioush which sells for $43 dollars per bottle.”
The Viognier winner was the 2008 Darioush, with the Serenity 
Cellars, a Yonah Mountain signature cellar, finishing impressively as second and third. Chardonnay, a Yonah Mountain showcase wine competed well in a photo finish with the winner, Kistler Dutton Ranch, a Napa legend.
However, the drama was the Red Meritage competition. Ghost Horse Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa sells for $250 dollars plus a bottle, a price that Michael Bryan, said “appeals to more than a few Dubai businessmen.” Yonah Mountain Genesis 2, a food friendly, outstanding release, toppled the obscenely priced Napa counterpart which was mercifully cashiered to last place by the judges, this writer included.
The results were in and Yonah Mountain claimed some impressive victories. As the results were announced, I recalled Muhammad Ali’s aphorism: “If you can back it up, it ain’t braggin’.” 
An underling reason for a wine competition is knowledge. How little we really know about wine from Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia or anywhere else. Wine has been produced for at least 6,500 years. And, the American wine industry did not begin in California, but in the East and South. Just before mindless Prohibition destroyed their livelihood, immigrants from Europe had under cultivation over 40,000 acres of vineyards in West Georgia, selling wines throughout the country. 
Bob Miller shared with me during dinner at nearby Bernie’s, a heralded gourmet restaurant, that within three years he planned to be producing Yonah Mountain wines solely from Georgia grapes. After scoring so well in this competition, it’s difficult to doubt him. 
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was our first major wine advocate, a connoisseur who hosted countless wine dinners at Monticello. The acknowledged father of America’s 
wine industry would surely celebrate Yonah Mountain’s success and 
salute their vision. The great wine challenge was one of the most 
important wine events here since Desoto brought along the wines 
of Spain for his entourage long ago.
An easy drive from Atlanta, Yonah Mountain Vineyards is a 
perfect destination any time of year. The countryside is breathtaking 
and it’s an opportunity to pick up a few championship bottles of 
Genesis while they last.

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