In 2012 the resort leadership hired a new winemaker. Simone Bergese began his career making wine in Italy and Australia, but he also ran a successful program at Potomac Point in Virginia. So he had some east coast experience. When Simone arrived, he immediately realized that the vineyards were “a dead man walking.” He established a program of sourced vinifera from select vineyards in California. Simone does not use juice or bulk wine. He imports only whole clusters and produces all of the wine on site at Chateau Elan. With the remaining vineyard acreage at Chateau Elan, he took a more radical step. All of the vines were ripped up and replaced with Muscadine.
I will be remiss, if I do not say a few words about the Muscadine wines. First of all, because of their bright acidity, all of them will benefit from a food pairing. Unlike most wines, I found that the Muscadine taste profile was less linear and spread out more across the palate, which adds a degree of complexity that I did not expect. All were well crafted. On the nose, I detected hints of berry and something akin to Concord in all of the Muscadines, but the grape juice feature did not carry over to the palate. The Mascadry Rouge is blended with a bit of Syrah and spends a short time in oak to make it a slightly bigger wine. While it drinks well, it is more of a gateway red that will appeal to new wine drinkers without a strongly developed palate. That is not meant to be derogatory, but the red is simply not the same caliber as the higher-end wines made from imported fruit and I think that is by design.
Thomas Jefferson believed that Muscadine might be the future of American wine production, because it is resistant to every disease that plagues vinifera. Muscadine, however, has the unfortunate reputation of being a “southern sweet wine.” Curiously, Muscadine is not inherently sweet. In truth, the grape ripens with high amounts of acidity. Southern producers have traditionally masked that acidity by adding large amounts of sugar so the product can be cloyingly sweet. Simone had a different idea.
These were still the early days of American viticulture and very little was known about eastern growing conditions. Soil analysis indicated that European varietals might thrive, but everything else about the terroir was wrong. Braselton is not in the mountains, where higher elevation will support vinifera. This part of Georgia is flat, hot and humid. Fungal infections were a nuisance, but could be controlled. The real problem was Pierce’s Disease, which is spread by leaf hoppers. Spraying programs were unsuccessful and a series of west coast and European experts continued to pursue a failing program in vineyards that were slowly dying. The wine lacked any semblance of quality, active acres under vine dwindled to seventeen and the reputation of Chateau Elan suffered.
Open to Public
Sun-Thu 11 to 7; Fri-Sat 11 to 10
100 Tour De France, Braselton, GA 30517
678-425-0900 x 6354
In the end, I feel that Muscadine is the main story at Chateau Elan. Simone is singlehandedly rehabilitating the reputation of that grape and his effort may reverberate through the south. The resort and palatial tasting room will draw visitors from nearby Atlanta and the wines will speak for themselves. Great effort has been placed on an educational tasting program, so it is just a matter of time before the word gets out. With regard to the winery, Simone Bergese has taken Chateau Elan to the next level. Something historical is taking place and I strongly recommend seeing for yourself, so we can watch together as Simone’s wine program evolves. After you stop in, please let me know what you think.
Rows of Muscadine.
A few visitors enjoying a glass of wine on the balcony.
Barrels of Chateau Elan wine.
Chateau Elan Winery Profile
Written by Brian
In 1978, when Chateau Elan Winery was established near Braselton, Georgia, consultants were brought in from California. An ambitious program was drafted and 450 acres of vinifera were planted. To put that in perspective, the largest wine growing operation in Virginia is only 200 acres. The viticultural program at Chateau Elan was bigger than anything on the entire east coast. That was problematic.
The complete tasting lineup.
Advocating for under-appreciated wine regions in the Eastern United States
With the right balance of sugar, Muscadine is capable of dry-style wines. Rather than mask the acidity, Simone uses it in his Muscadry line and balances it with percentages of residual sugar that are one percent or less. Chateau Elan's Duncan Creek offering is the only “sweet” Muscadine wine at five percent residual sugar, but it still retains perfect balance. These are early days for the dry-style Muscadines, but I am of the opinion that the wines show great promise. There is a Muscadine sparkler coming in the near future and Simone is considering a move to entirely organic wines.
Of course I had an opportunity to taste the full line of Chateau Elan offerings. I will say that the wines made from California fruit are uniformly excellent. The Pinot Noir Reserve and the higher end Fingerprint Collection are worthy of particular note. I particularly enjoyed the Mameli, which is a blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo and Montepulciano. Simone grew up with these varietals, so it is no wonder that it is the most complex and food-friendly wine in the Chateau Elan lineup.
Looking across the drive at the palatial winery/tasting room building.