Dining & Drink: Big Door Vineyards, east of I-75 near White, is a big deal. It captures a relaxing wine country feel, great tastes and draws from across the region — and state lines.

Dining & Drink: Big Door Vineyards, east of I-75 near White, is a big deal. It captures a relaxing wine country feel, great tastes and draws from across the region — and state lines.

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We spent a flavorful day in Napa Valley years ago and since then have made trips to the booming wineries in Dahlonega and Young Harris — as well as a few stops in more recent years to  Ellijay and Jasper.

We could have saved the gas mileage by staying closer to home, say 32 miles to the east, by visiting Big Door Vineyards, open since fall 2017 on the Bartow-Cherokee line just east of I-75 off Ga. 20. It hasn’t received nearly the exposure it deserves and apparently that doesn’t matter. On a mild spring Saturday, we had a challenge finding a place to park. The main lots were filled with vehicles from Cobb, Cherokee, Bartow, DeKalb (Ga.) and Floyd counties — as well as a few from Tennessee and Alabama.

The word is out among wine fans and that’s good news for Northwest Georgia as it becomes a growing wine destination. Consider:

  • On Tuesday, William and Shannon Newby open Newby Farm and Vineyard’s wine tasting room on Broad Street. They’re taking reservations, which is smart. They’ll eventually welcome customers to their 58-acre farm-based operation off Billy Pyle Road as well. (Background)
  • This Saturday, Three Strands Vineyard and Winery at 1505 Willow Springs Road in Dallas (29 miles to our southeast) will celebrate with a grand opening, from 11:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. What’s scheduled:  “Join us as we celebrate the opening of our family’s wine tasting room. Wine by the glass, wine tasting, bottles sales and wine slushees will be available,” according to the Facebook event post. “Food can be purchased on site from @gastonstreeteatsco food truck. We will also have premade charcuterie available for purchase. Indoor and outdoor seating.” Plus live entertainment from 2-5 p.m. Three Strands.

There are another 27 wineries and mead companies listed by the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, as shown in the map below. It needs to be updated to locate the three newest entries from Northwest Georgia. There’s another handful in North Alabama as well.

We certainly have our favorites — Wolf Mountain near Dahlonega and Crane Creek in Young Harris with Fainting Goat in Jasper a very close third place. But we’ve discovered we can stay local with Big Door.

First, the location. This is a place we wished we’d discovered soon after it opened four years ago. We’re not big wine people but we do like the overall atmosphere and appearance of many vineyards we’ve visited. Big Door is rustic, yet modern. Efficient yet friendly. And there’s even a little snark on site. (The men’s room has a sign over a urinal that states something about their aim is to keep the facility clean — and how “your aim” would help make that happen. Pressure!) But it adds to the atmosphere.

Second, the layout. Just gorgeous. As the photo gallery above shows, there is room for everyone. The indoor tasting room had a solid crowd as did the tables on a wrap-around veranda (with heaters, barely needed on Saturday afternoon). There was a flight of picnic tables just below the tasting room, which served a young family quite nicely as well as another couple and their pup. Nearby, off the lake, there are covered areas for larger functions (think River Dog) and they, too, were full. Just as nice was the path around the small lake, complete with an artificial waterfall and the vineyards’ sign. The sloping hills, of course, had the vineyards.

Third, the food. We sampled the smaller of two charcutierie boxes and it was fine for two people. Also available: fresh paninis and jellies, pimento cheese sandwiches and a few other extra items. Our box was perfect — meats, smoked cheese, crackers, some surprisingly spicy jelly and a mix of black-and-green olives. All good — but the cheeses really stood out.

Fourth, the prices. A five-wine flight, an ounce of each, is available for $14 per person. Given Saturday’s crowd, the tastings were suspended with customers instead enjoying glasses or shared bottles at the tables amid stacks of big-and-small charcutieries boxes. Our bill was $52 before tax and tip — $12 for the smaller meat-and-cheese board, $8 per glass of wine (2) and $24 for the bottle of Gold Lace to take home (much like a Riesling). In an era where craft beers are approaching double digits for a pint, the per-glass cost was fine (we might share a bottle next time).

Fifth, the service. The staff was friendly, informative and amusing amid the midafternoon crush. Our server was very patient with first-timers. Once seated, we had to move after a few minutes as our table had been reserved (we recommend reservations on the weekends) and the waitress responded, “Trying to hide from me?”  A big plus: Every server, every person at the counter, everyone cleaning tables — all were masked. The guests? A different story. But at least the staff was putting customer safety first.

Closing time: We could ramble on but instead we’ll point to the reviews section on the winery’s Facebook page. Included are 425 comments and a five-star (5 out of 5) rating. (Reviews). We quickly concur with each. (They encourage comments; use the hashtag #bigdoorvineyards). On a spring afternoon, while still very aware of the pandemic and yet cautiously ready for a trip outside (fully vaccinated), this was the perfect spot. We look forward to both Newby Farm and Three Strands with grand opening this week; the region’s first winery at Big Door has set the example of how to do it right.

What to know:

  • The venue: Big Door Vineyards, 125 Clearwater Trail, White (east of Cartersville).  Just off Ga. 20 (maybe a football field at most) east of I-75.
  • Hours: 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 12:30-6 p.m. Sunday.
  • Food and wines: Click here
  • Family, pet friendly? Yes. Plenty of kids were with parents and the lake setting, picnic tables and overall size provide plenty of room for play (supervised by the parents, thank you).
  • Event friendly? Perfect spot as one or two showers showcased midafternoon on a Saturday (we think one bridal, one baby). We could see some team-building escapes here for local companes.
  • Entertainment: Very frequent. Two separate acts on Saturday (we were outside so we didn’t hear much). Brody Jack, a favorite at Rome City Brewing Co., performed last Friday evening so Big Door’s managers have a good ear for booking talent.
  • Parking: Ample space — which was needed when we got there around 2 p.m. on a weekend. But easy entrance and exit, and a football field off Ga. 20 but you never hear the traffic.
  • Etc. Facebook / Website / Instagram / Phone: 678-735-5244.
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