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Taste of American Terroir

By: Steven Grubbs

Late last summer, in midtown Atlanta, my restaurant hosted a tasting of grower Champagnes. Toward the end of the event, among the empty bottles and their cast-off, mushroomed corks, my friend Tamara pulled me aside.

“Do you want to taste my mom’s wine?” she asked. This question is like the question, “Do you want to hear my band?” or “Do you want to read this poem I wrote?” It sparks dread.

I didn’t know her mother had a winery. I asked her where it was. “Virginia,” she said. The dread reasserted itself.

“The wine’s Pinot Noir,” she added. The new detail didn’t help. The grape has many genetic gifts, but it is notoriously difficult to grow. Outside of California and Oregon, most places in North America have all but given up. I said of course I’d try the Pinot and gave myself over to the novelty.

I mostly resist any push for Southern wines, as I’ve generally found them pretty awkward in the glass. I have imagined this to be a matter of making wine where one probably should not. So I was taken aback when Tamara’s mother’s wine, the 2010 Ankida Ridge, was as good as any other Pinot Noir I commonly run into. Better, maybe. Tastes like Pinot Noir, I thought, adding a mental exclamation point.

I set the experience aside. But some piece of my skepticism had rattled loose. So, some months later, my friend Jordan Noel and I packed into my silver Miata and bent northwest from Athens into the piedmont hills that encircle the old gold-rush town of Dahlonega, Georgia. We were embarking on a three-day tour of Southern wineries, a journey that would take us north and east, following the curl of the Blue Ridge Mountains up through North Carolina and into Virginia. If Tamara’s mother could make authentic Pinot Noir, then there were likely to be other discoveries in the hilly reaches between Atlanta and DC. I hoped to find new story lines developing there.

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