The site offers views of the Choccolocco mountains and acres of vineyards awakening from dormancy, surrounded by native plants bursting into a profusion of shapes and colors.
My most recent visit to White Oak was occasioned by an invitation from vineyard owners Randal and Dana Davis Wilson to attend a joint meeting last month of some 60 members of the Alabama Winery and Grape Growers Association and the Vineyard and Winery Association of West Georgia. These groups were joined by Charles C. Mitchell, an agronomist and soil expert from Auburn University, and Elina Coneva from Auburn’s department of horticulture.
Every state can now claim at least one winery. One of the most recent wineries to open in Alabama is the Fruithurst Winery Company in Cleburne County, founded in 2010 by cousins Josh and Dylan Laminack on lands that have belonged to the Laminack family since the mid-1800s.
The Laminacks currently have 15 acres in vines, with plans to expand.
The Laminacks are not exactly wine pioneers to Fruithurst.
In 1894, the Alabama Fruit Growing and Winery Association was formed to exploit 20,000 acres of land in the area now known as Fruithurst.
The association was headed by a group of speculators from New York, who sold land and built an 80-room inn in rural Fruithurst, along with homes and stores.
The development plans failed for a number of reasons, including a bad economy, impending prohibition and pesky vine-attacking diseases.
That winemakers like the Wilsons and Laminacks are succeeding where those who tried over a century ago failed miserably has a lot to do with developments in the science of grape-growing at institutions like the pioneering UC Davis and Auburn.
The mountainous regions of northern Alabama and Georgia are advantageous for growing grapes, because these regions are characterized by virgin soils rich in ancient composition.
But it is difficult to grow Old World grapes — vinifera — in our region.
One of the major problems with planting vinifera in our region is Pierce’s, a bacterial vine disease feared around the world. At the meeting, Coneva discussed strides being made in developing disease-resistant varieties of wine and table grapes at Auburn’s experimental agricultural stations —particularly in Clanton, home to plantings of a Pierce’s-resistant vinifera developed by UC Davis.
When fruit is harvested from the Clanton vinifera, Wilson will make the first wines from these grapes.
Wilson is an enthusiastic candidate for this task.
He recently received surprise recognition from Epicurious.com for his most recent vintage made from Norton grapes. His was the only Alabama wine receiving recognition.
This wine also received a gold medal in the Alabama-Georgia regional competition for best in category.
For an enjoyable spring adventure and to sample award-winning regional wines, plan a visit to White Oak or The Fruithurst Winery. Both operate attractive tasting rooms.
• White Oak, 1484 Dry Hollow Road, Anniston, is open 1-6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. 256-231-7998, www.SouthernOakWines.com
• The Fruithurst Winery Company, 27091 County Road 49, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The tasting room houses a treasure trove of historical items, including photographs of the inn from the 19th century winemaking colony of Cleburne County. 256-463-1003, www.TheFruithurstWineryCo.com