Like Brigadoon – Crane Creek Vineyards North Georgia

Brigadoon is a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, and distant from our world of tension and stress. Crane Creek Vineyards fits this definition perfectly. Like Brigadoon – Crane Creek Vineyards.

Like Brigadoon – Crane Creek Vineyards

David and Gayle Darugh

Brigadoon is a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, and distant from our world of tension and stress. Crane Creek Vineyards fits this definition perfectly. Gayle and I have traveled the world in quest of food and wine and few locales feel as cozy and comfortable as Crane Creek Vineyards.

Owners Eric and Deanne Seifarth have assembled a “family” of employees and constructed a small “village” of operations at the very northern boundary of Georgia in the Shadow of Brasstown Bald. With an infectious smile, Eric told us “wine is second; the experience for our visitors is the first priority. Making wine is just the controlled spoilage of grape juice.”  We can certainly attest that Crane Creek has assembled a wonderful crew of helpers. They ensure that every guest gets greeted immediately; people are not left to feel anonymous. They instantly make you feel like part of the extended Crane Creek family.

What pleases us about visiting Crane Creek Vineyards is that it has old world European charm. It remains rustic and outdoorsy, yet comfortable and inviting.  The tasting room is a restored vintage farm house with beautiful old wood floors. It is surrounded by wood decks and porches that overlook the vineyard and its large pond. There are many different gardens, nooks and benches where visitors can take a bottle of wine, some cheese and bread and have their own intimate picnic. And visitors are encouraged to do so.  Not that we don’t like the large stone and mahogany California-esc wineries near Dahlonega – they are gorgeous.  But Gayle and I are both drawn to Crane Creek because of the reuse of the old farmhouse, barns and outbuildings.  New construction retains the theme of the old farm, which suits this location perfectly.

The winery and vineyards have grown since our last visit.  Crane Creek is now on its third extension to the winery building.  Soon they will have more room for storing cases of bottled wine.    Additional bathrooms have been added to the pavilion to facilitate larger events.  Eric indicated they have many weddings, bridesmaid lunches and rehearsal dinners scheduled as the weather warms.

The vineyard encompasses 15 acres of grapes, and this includes a few leased acres nearby. In addition, Eric purchases some grapes from area farmers.  Altogether Crane Creek now produces about 3400 cases of wine in what is likely the coolest zone for grape growing in Georgia. The vineyard looks south toward Brasstown Bald. With these growing conditions in mind Eric concentrates his effort on grapes that thrive in cool climates.  Spring is chilly with unpredictable freezes, but the Georgia Mountains are blessed with long warm summers and cool nights.  Current grapes planted include Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that need lots of micro-management in the vineyard; easier are Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Chardonnel, Villard Noir, Traminette, Norton and Chambourcin.  From these grape varieties Eric renders 13 different wines that are available to taste and purchase.

We have always been a big fan of Eric’s style of winemaking.  As a chef, I prefer my white wines to have good acidity, a certain steeliness that comes from minerality with little or no oaking.  They are just easier to pair with food.  And, at Crane Creek you can find plenty of white wines made in this style. Eric’s red wines are medium to light bodied and also pair well with food.  The Norton Eric poured us during our visit may well be one of the best and most restrained I have ever tasted. It just won a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in California. Our hats go off for Eric’s ability to tame this indigenous and unruly American grape.

Eric has more vineyards to plant. In the near future he plans to add several more cold hardy varieties.  These include Austrian native Gruner Veltliner (dubbed Gru-Vee) which makes a lovely tart white wine that we see little of in this country because the Austrians drink most of it.  Another Austrian grape he plans to add is Lemberger.  This is a red skinned grape that offers a coat of many colors for wine lovers.  It can be dark and brooding or it can be light and quaffable. And finally, Eric would like to experiment with some plantings of Petite Sirah, a very thick skinned grape with tight bunches that I normally associate with much warmer locations of California.

Well I love the vineyard and I adore the old world charm, but do you know what excites me the most? Along Crane Creek where grapes don’t’ do especially well Eric constructed a culinary garden. The bounty of produce from the garden’s daily harvest is transformed into of-the-moment, wine-friendly creations by resident Chef David Sanford.

The garden features antique specimens and heirloom cultivars, all grown with 100% organic farming principles. Each month, throughout the growing season, new and delicious offerings from the gardens find their way into dinners at the vineyard. The vineyard family also tends a small flock of free range chickens and Guinea hens that provide a steady supply of farm fresh eggs. Finally, there is a small apple orchard that features a wide variety of old heirloom and antique North Georgia apple varieties, some being quite rare. Each fall the apples are transformed into pies, cider, and other delicious offerings for vineyard visitors. In mid-summer, don’t miss their “Tomato Festival.”

Eric and Chef Sanford have opened Crane Creek Café which offers Prixe Fixe seasonal dinners on Fridays, and “stimulus package” Soup Kitchen Saturdays. Once a month Chef Sanford offers farmer’s Pasta Dinners. The dining room is an inviting patio under the sky adjacent to the vineyard with views of the mountains. I love Al Fresco dining.

If you are feeling stressed out, and need some time away in a relaxing pastoral setting, Crane Creek also offers a guest cottage in the vineyard. If you plan ahead Chef Sanford can even offer a wonderful meal for you. Well Toto, how close can you get to Napa-Sonoma and still be in Georgia?  Pack your bag, Gayle, we’re getting away from the Beechwood Inn for a couple of days.

Crane Creek Vineyard: 916 Crane Creek Road, Young Harris, GA 30582; (706) 379-1236. www.cranecreekvineyards.com

At the traffic light in Young Harris, GA go north on GA 66 3.3 miles then left on Crane Creek Road .7 mile.

Editor’s Note: David and Gayle Darugh own and operate Beechwood Inn in Clayton, GA. It is considered Georgia’s premier wine country inn and is a member of the prestigious Select Registry. It also has been named a winner of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. (706) 782-5485.