Nestled in the mountains of Dahlonega, Georgia is Montaluce Winery and Estates. This vineyard grows a variety of grapes for lovely white and red wines; plus a surprise – great tasting meads too. Whether you visit in the spring or summer, winter or fall there is always something great going-on. Depending on the time you choose to visit, you may also catch the vineyards in bloom or ready for harvest.
We visited in November and found it a buzz with activity the day after Thanksgiving. Seeking a diversion from the holiday turkey and dressing, our day started with lunch in LeVigne Restaurant. First glance of the menu and we knew our choice was a good one.
Executive Chef Sean Fritchle stopped by our table and shared a few ideas for the restaurant, his plans for the menu and style of cooking. And, of course we asked him what we should order.
At just 26 years old and a couple of months in his job at Montaluce, Chef Sean – born and raised in the South, a Savannah native -holds on to his Southern roots. He brings with him a variety of classic Southern dishes but is not afraid to experiment with produce and flavors from all around the world.
A 2009 graduate of La Cordon Bleu Collage of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, chef Sean has a large amount of experience under his belt. He and his wife moved to Kansas City where he spent time working with the Intercontinental and Hyatt hotels. And, in Atlanta he worked with James Beard award winning chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene’s and Holman and Finch.
Planning a menu for an elegant location like Montaluce, requires special and delicious choices and chef Sean is ready to meet the challenge. To create a menu with an Italian (Montaluce is Italian) yet Southern flair, he plans to include and develop options that give guests a culinary experience. He uses a lot of Thai flavors while featuring a southern favorite (and his favorite) pork belly. He wants his creations to provide something his guests have never had. Chef Sean mentioned, “I make the pork belly into something that will say “wow” and that will have guests wanting to come back again the following week!”
He plans to keep the menu modern by adding new and creative items each month. He calls it “Modern American”. A fan of old cookbooks, he will have no trouble sticking with tradition while blending Thai flavors with their own special wines.
With a vineyard right out side, grapes grown at the winery are featured in many dishes. A gel made from grapes was used to coat one of his innovative dishes. It is important to the chef that the menu items are friendly, so people recognize ingredients and staff can describe and talk about them.
A garden out front helps provide about 40% of the produce used in the restaurant. As part of his culinary plan he is looking to triple the size of the garden as well as work with local farmers – that’s really a farm-to-the-table attitude.
We got around to asking what we should order. He recommended several appetizers and dishes which he thought would be a great introduction to the restaurant and his style of cuisine. A quick response: “Try the cheese plate first, beet salad and pork belly!” The cheese plate is their best selling dish – the first week on the menu, they sold 160 plates and on the holiday weekend of our visit he expected to sell around 80.
The cheese plate with award winning cheese from Georgia’s Sweetgrass Dairy as well as some of the best cheeses from around the country, was a perfect way to start our meal. Paired with wine, you see right away why it is a best seller. The Tomme cheese from Sweetgrass Dairy in Thomasville, GA shows his commitment to offering the best products from the Georgia area – supporting the local farmers and dairies.
The Beet Salad – a delightfully sweet, fluffy meringue mixed with Marcona nuts coupled well with a variety of beets cooked to perfection. And this just scratches the surface of describing this dish. A savory, nutty and sweet mixture made this one of my favorites.
Chef Sean was right! The Pork Belly entrée highlights an old southern favorite – the humble yet tasty pork belly was the star of the menu. This dish shows innovation and allows the great flavor of pork to come through. Seasoned with green apple, coconut, pineapple,” blis” fish sauce and lemon grass, it was simply delicious.
The meal ended with a great chocolate and fruit inspired dessert presented in a beautiful glass bubble.
This was not only a tasting of fine foods, but also a sampling of North Georgia’s exquisite wines. It is best to sample a flight of wines with both red and white choices. Our flight included each of the featured wines on the menu. This will allow you to have the full experience and gauge your own personal pairing accents with each dish and determine what compliments each wine best.
The waiters are also helpful with pairing and creating a tasting flight of your preference.
Both white and red wines come in a variety of flavors and vary from dry to slightly sweet and work well with any meat or vegetarian meal. But, most unusual was their mead, which is technically not a wine. Meads are made from fermented honey and wine is made from the fermented juice of fruits. Meads have been described as the ancestor of all fermented drinks. Believed to have originated from many sources in ancient history it has played a part not only in our historic food map but cultures around the world have used it in everything from festivals to rites of passage.
After sampling the various wines we were anxious to have a tour. Complimentary tours are offered Tuesday – Friday at 2pm. During the weekend on Saturday and Sunday tours are offered at 12noon. You can also reserve a Deluxe tour and tasting Tuesday – Sunday. During the tour you will be amazed to see the facility where wines are made and stored right on the property.
After a quick stop in the gift shop our visit was over and it was time to explore the beautiful surroundings. Make sure and bring along your camera. Photographs are inspired not only by the Italian architecture but also the rolling hills and lush greenery.
Chef Sean, who we found to be passionate about and respectful of the ingredients that create his culinary experiences, invited us to return when the grapes are on the vine and the sun is basking over the meadows. And my answer in true southern form and gratitude – “Thank you sir, I think I’ll do just that!”
Montaluce – www.montaluce.com
Written by author: Doc Bill, co-host of Travel Bags With Annita & Friends and travel culinary expert.
Our wine flight:
Montaluce, Vidal Blanc (2013)
Montaluce, Primaluce (2013)
Montaluce, Seyval Blanc (2013)
Montaluce, Dolce (2012)
Montaluce, Mead (2013)
Montaluce, Risata (2011)
Montaluce, Centurio (2011)
Chateau Meichitry, Merlot (2011)
Blackstock, Ace (2008)
NV Montaluce, La Stella – a great pair with the short rib