Courtney Davies, who has traveled around Spain to visit wineries, accompanied me to help document our girls’ days out visiting the five wineries on the Shelby Wine Trail, as well as White Oak Vineyard in Choccolocco.
We started our wine trail journey at the largest winery in the state, MORGAN CREEK VINEYARD in Harpersville. Owner Charles Brammer showed us that Alabama wineries specialize in more than just muscadines — blueberries are next in line. One gallon of blueberries will make one bottle of wine. Brammer’s blueberry wine is sweet and perfect for a hot summer afternoon. The blueberries are grown at the vineyard, and you can also pick gallons of blueberries to purchase and take home. Brammer let me try my hand at blueberry picking.
The newest addition to the wine trail is 2-year-old HIDDEN MEADOWS in Jemison. It’s a quaint 23-acre vineyard with stone steps leading the way to the unsealed cedar tasting room. Owner Bill Bailey said making wine was a hobby until he retired. His sons, Jeff and Michael, and his wife, Janette, turned his hobby into a dream when Chilton County became a wet county in 2010. Hidden Meadows offers 12 wines. Its specialty is the peach wine made from Chilton County peaches — it must be good because it was sold out.
My favorite wine out of the six wineries I visited was at Hidden Meadows. The red “Cynthiana” was a dry, full-bodied wine perfect to pair with a steak. Bailey’s “Concord” red wine would even fool Baptists. I call it “adult grape juice” because it tasted like Welch’s.
Our next stop was just 20 minutes away at OZAN VINEYARD AND WINERY in Calera. The winery is nestled on a hill that overlooks the vineyard. After walking through the solid wood front door, I felt like we had stepped out of Alabama and into Europe. Bottles of wine were thoughtfully arranged along the racks and shelves. A medal from the Growers Association in Alabama draped the 2008 Norton, a native American grape grown at Ozan . Owner Burt Patrick came from a military family that traveled the world. He said traveling inspired him to make wine.
Until I tried the blush wine at Ozan, I thought I didn’t like the red and white mixture. Ozan’s semi-sweet blush changed my opinion.
BRYANT VINEYARD in Talladega was our next stop. This mom-and-pop operation is the second oldest in the state and takes you down into the basement of Dan Bryant’s father’s home. Bryant and his wife, Tonya, kicked back and relaxed for a mid-afternoon tasting. We even learned that photographer Courtney is distantly related to Bryant.
Southerners are known for having a sweet tooth, and wine is no exception. “Dixie Gold” is Bryant’s best-selling wine. Blended with all of Bryant’s whites, it is the sweetest white wine at Bryant Vineyard and the sweetest white I tasted at all six wineries.
Tom Vizinni is a second-generation winemaker and the owner of VIZINNI VINEYARDS and bistro in North Calera. I didn’t get a chance to taste the food, but I’m sure Vizinni’s 13 wines can be paired with something on the menu.
Vizinni makes the same merlot his grandfather made. He named it after his grandmother, Paulina. Even though Vizinni doesn’t grow the majority of his grapes, his Riesling tasted like summer in a bottle — light, crisp and sweet — which I’m sure explains why it is his best seller. This was the only winery where I had the opportunity to taste Sangiovese, “Jesus wine,” a spicy red wine. Sangiovese is also the oldest grape in the world.
After traveling to surrounding areas, we ended our trail at our home winery, WHITE OAK VINEYARDS, in Anniston. Owners Randal Wilson and Dana Davis opened the winery in April 2004. White Oak Vineyards is the only winery in the state that makes sparkling wine. First made for their daughter’s wedding, the unique white wine is made from muscadines in a special beer-like tank and fermented twice. Even though the wine trail taught me I prefer red wine, I swooned over White Oak’s “Chardonel,” which was clean, crisp and light. The winery has also been working with Auburn University and the University of California at Davis to bring new grapes to Alabama. The new grape wines will be available approximately a year from now. So, I’ll have to go back and try the “Cavalier” wine.