Montaluce Winery and Le Vigne Restaurant-Dahlonega, Georgia and a recipe for Berkshire Pork Meatballs
The weather in the South has been absolutely gorgeous lately, so rather than waste a day on Twitter the computer, what better way to spend a beautiful Autumn day than to go On the Road with Bunkycooks! This time we headed to North Georgia for a trip to a Georgia winery and restaurant, Montaluce Winery and Le Vigne. You can find them right here.
Now, I know that you might be thinking…Georgia wine…who would travel anywhere to drink some of that? Well, let me tell you, lots of people! Dahlonega, Georgia is home to several wineries and it has become quite the place to visit.
The day we arrived, Montaluce was incredibly busy with wine tastings and visitors. Montaluce is also the home of Le Vigne, their on-site restaurant. Le Vigne and the Executive Chef, Steve Hartman (formerly Chef de Cuisine at The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee), were recently featured in the October 2010 issue of Southern Living Magazine.
Of course, the Bunkycooks came to drink some wine (I wouldn’t be Bunkycooks if I didn’t do that!) and have lunch, but I also wanted to sit down with Rob Beecham to talk about Montaluce.
I first met Rob, who is a Partner in Montaluce with his dad and brother, at Stir It 28 in Atlanta (this was a Haiti relief effort by food bloggers). I saw him at several more food, wine and blogging events after that. In fact, it is Rob who got me obsessed with Twitter. (Should I thank him or never speak to him again?!) Rob has become such a great friend that he was one of the major sponsors for the Atlanta Food Blog Forum. Those folks sure liked that Georgia wine!
Montaluce sits on four hundred acres in the North Georgia mountains. The vineyard occupies forty acres of that land. The northern border of the property is the Chattahoochee National Forest and the western border is the Etowah River. The river’s headwaters flow down from the North and the National Forest.
I can certainly see why they fell in love with this piece of property. The views from the terrace of Le Vigne over the vineyards and the rolling hills are truly breathtaking. I felt like I was in Tuscany. With a few more glasses of wine, I just might have actually been there!
Rob took us on a tour of the main building and the winery. He told us that he was incredibly fortunate to have two very experienced winemakers. The master winemaker, or “Executive Chef” of the winery, is Stefano Salvini, who hails from the Campodelsole Winery in Bertinoro, Italy. The on-site winemaker (or “Sous Chef” for you culinary types), Maria Peterson, came to Montaluce after years of winemaking in some of the best wine regions of the world.
She worked at wineries in South Africa, France and Australia and also at Rutherford Hill in Napa. Rob said they were so fortunate to be able to hire Maria and only because she married a local Georgia boy. They would not have been able to hire someone of this caliber away from France or Australia. How lucky for them (and for us)!
Montaluce produces nine different types of wine. The 2009 vintage (which is their second year of winemaking), was just bottled and yielded a total of 5,000 cases (60,000 bottles). Some of our favorites include the 2009 Risata, which is a Provençal-style Rosé, the 2009 Chardonnay (unoaked) and the 2008 Centurio, which is their Reserve Merlot.
While lunching on the terrace in what felt like Tuscany, but in reality was Dahlonega (hey, I like pretending!), Rob told us that building and owning a winery was something that he thought he would do later in life, but after visiting several of the local wineries and falling in love with the area on a weekend vacation, he moved that plan up by about ten years.
After looking at several properties in the mountains, they decided on the first one they saw, which is where Montaluce is today. When the Beecham family purchased the land in 2006, the housing market was booming. The philosophy behind Montaluce was to offer luxury housing (with some full-time residents, but also second or vacation homes) along with a winery and a restaurant.
Shortly after opening Montaluce in 2008, the housing and financial markets crashed. Since then, selling property and new homes has essentially evaporated, so in order to survive, the original idea behind Montaluce had to change. Their primary focus is now on the winery and the restaurant.
Rob told us that they are looking at building a hotel (with cottage-style bungalows) and a day spa on the property and turning Montaluce into a destination location. I would definitely go! There is nothing quite like this that is only one hour away from Atlanta and Dahlonega is a quaint little town with interesting things to see and do. It is a great area if you love being outdoors.
Le Vigne has always had a farm to table philosophy. Chef Hartman serves breads made in house, house-cured bacon, local meats and produce. Rob said they currently have a small farm area, but are looking at planting much more of the land for growing more of their own produce.
He also told us the wines they are making reflect more of a local European house wine tradition of winemaking. The food is the focus and the feast and wines are there to accompany the food. Many of the California wines are more about the wine being the focus and the food is the accompaniment.
If you have had a big Cabernet or an oaked Chardonnay, you will understand the difference. The Chardonnay at Montaluce is unoaked and is more of a French Chardonnay. It lends itself to food very well and is lovely to sip (and sip I did!) all by itself.
Their Rosé (Risata) is also perfect to drink on a gorgeous afternoon outdoors (we had some of that as well). It is lovely paired with the Charcuterie plate. Everything was sooo good, especially the Black Mountain Blue goat cheese from Spinning Spider Creamery (I saw the process of making this cheese on one of our other On the Road adventures to the goat dairy farm. Remember Colbert? That’s a face you can’t possibly forget!).
The Bunkycooks are really fussy eaters and I must say that Chef Hartman has done an incredible job with the menu at Le Vigne. It is truly worth the drive just to sample some of his dishes.
Thank you so much to Rob for taking the time to visit (and drink!) with us at Montaluce. It is an exceptional piece of property, winery and restaurant that can take you away to another place just one hour outside of Atlanta. I wish them the best of luck in becoming Georgia’s premier farm to table winery. I think they are well on their way!
By the way, congrats to Montaluce for being one of the wineries to win “The Challenge”, four Napa wines versus four Georgia wines, in a blind tasting, sponsored by Georgia Production Partnership. Georgia won in three of four categories. Montaluce’s Chardonnay was one of the winning wines.
Chef Hartman was kind enough to share one of his recipes with me to share with you. I can’t wait to make these!
Berkshire Pork Meatballs
Recipe courtesy of Executive Chef Steve Hartman
Le Vigne at Montaluce Winery
5 pounds ground pork (from a quality source)
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1 ounce fresh oregano, chopped
1 ounce fresh basil, chopped
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cups Pork or Chicken stock
Tomato sauce, as needed
Salt and Pepper to taste
Combine pork, garlic, eggs, oregano, cheese, salt and pepper and mix well. Once all ingredients are well incorporated, form meat balls into desired size, and sear in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Once nice color (this might have to be done in batches) is achieved, remove the meatballs from the pan and deglaze with stock, keeping all of the flavorful brown bits from the pan. Add the meatballs back to the pan and add enough tomato sauce to cover the meatballs ¾ of the way. Place in the oven at 275 for three hours. Once the meatballs are cooked, the sauce will be a little thin. Use some of the cooking liquid with fresh red sauce to achieve desired consistency, and serve over polenta, or your favorite pasta. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan.