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As tradition goes, summer’s last big hurrah is Labor Day weekend. I cannot think of a better way to wrap up a busy summer then with a celebration of the harvest of wine grapes then Yonah Mountain Vineyard‘s Crush Fest. Fine wine, grape stomping, live music all day long, food trucks and vendors made for a fun day.

We were fortunate to be able to set up Friday afternoon, so the Saturday morning of the event, we were there at the beautiful vineyard and able to enjoy a little time to walk around and enjoy the opulent and massive tasting room that is Yonah Mountain Vineyards. This winery could be anywhere in the world but its right here in White County (pinch me!)  Having been at the event every year since its inception, we knew we were in for a busy day of food demo, so we took advantage of the quiet time and enjoyed a tasty cookie from That Bread Lady of Cleveland.

I had laid in plenty of supplies for demo — crackers, cream cheese, cookies and napkins. Such a big shopping cart full of  food and was surprised the clerk didn’t ask where the party was at. If she had, I would have directed her to Crush Fest!

When the crowds came, they came in force starting around 10 am. At one point, we stopped, looked up and it was 3:30. Talk about time flying when you’re having fun. There had been a chance of rain all day, but we were thankful for everyone that it held off until the end of the event. Some pretty big rain and thunder passed as quickly as it came in.

We met a lot of new faces and saw a lot of friends we’ve met in tasting rooms and other events. Some of our fans hadn’t tried our Georgia Vineyard Fire and were instantly hooked. They were also glad to see that we had listened to their requests and we had gift boxes for our spreads at the event and could ship them as well.

We look forward to next year’s Crush Fest but we’ll be there again before then and hope to see you there. Call and ask about their wine cave tours and live music schedule.

Martha Stewart’s sister Laura Plimpton passed away suddenly this past week. Reading Martha’s heart-felt blog post made me really reflect on my feelings and relationship I have with my sister Betsy.

We are both very unique individuals, probably with as many things in common as we have different. Betsy got all the artistic genes. She is the mastermind behind the Unicoi Preserves graphics, branding and label design. She’s the painter, the sculptor, knitter, graphic designer. Me, I’m the middle child. I got the outgoing gene, I’m the one most likely to chat up a stranger, to be on an adventure in the forest, to do something that may be borderline questionable. We did both get the cooking gene from our mom, our love of baking bread, from our mom. But canning?  Betsy is the one who inspired me to start preserving food in jars.

Betsy & I at the Helen Festhalle
 

Betsy and I talked the other day, trying to recall family canning memories. I have very faint memories of my early childhood living in a rural farming community in New Jersey. There was a pickle factory in town and they had big wooden crates of free cucumbers outside that were too big for them to pickle. I’ll never forget the smell and picking through those huge cucumbers with my mom. We took home paper bags full of them and I do recall her making dill pickles and sweet pickles. We picked strawberries in NJ also, (but that didn’t happen again after a snake encounter in the field.) I recall strawberry freezer jam. Pickled peaches when we moved to Georgia and candied pickles as well.

This past weekend, Betsy and I spent some time canning together. She had a big pot of tomato jam simmering when I got to her house with my watermelon rind that I had prepped to make into preserves. Looking over the recipe for the watermelon preserves, we both decided it needed more flavor and between us, we came up with a combination of flavors that’s both sweet and warm.

As we were filling the jars, Betsy looked at me and asked why we didn’t use any hot peppers. Why, why indeed!?!

I need another watermelon and another canning session with my sister. Soon.

RIP Laura Plimpton.

We like to keep a full calendar of demo and promotion work on the weekends for Unicoi Preserves, so more and more often, our time has been split between different venues on the same day. The weekend of 12 Spies Vineyard Anniversary celebration was no different.

The debut weekend of our new hot and spicy wine spread, Vineyard Fire, was made more special by it being included that evening on Sylvan Valley Lodge’s winemaker dinner menu with Habersham Winery. Thankfully, we had a fast breakdown at 12 Spies Vineyard and were able to get back home, feed the hounds, freshen up and make it to Sylvan Valley Lodge before the appetizer was served.

 

Vineyard Fire loves cheese and made its appearance in the third course.  Ginevra & John Boyes of Sylvan Valley Lodge and Chef Rob Rotunno love to play with unusual flavors and pairings for the winemaker dinner series and this evening was no different. The earthiness of the portobello mushroom with goat cheese and Vineyard Fire with Habersham Scarlett was spot on.

Wonderful service, delicious food and world class wines, nothing else like it in White county. Be sure to check out Sylvan Valley Lodge and make your reservation for lodging and one of their upcoming wine dinners.

One of the many things I love about living in White county is the sense of community that we have here. A community that works together, supports each other and understands the big picture of working together to make a better place to visit and live. A small community where you see familiar faces at the post office and grocery store and have people hold the door for you, look at you, speak to you, let you out in traffic. Its our mountain version of Mayberry, but with world-class wines, bountiful fruit and vegetables and a network of talented musicians.

When there was a tragic fire in downtown Clarkesville that resulted in downtown businesses and employees losing their income, possessions and livelihoods,  both White county and Habersham county residents and businesses pulled together and put together fund raisers to help them not only gain some income but to show support and empathy for the loss they had suffered.

The wineries and tasting rooms here on the Unicoi Wine Trail collaborate and work together and we were very excited to participate in an evening at The Cottage Vineyard and Winery. Serenity Cellars joined them and together, The Cottage Vineyard & Winery and Serenity Cellars each had 5 wines set up for tasting on the hillside.

If you have not been to The Cottage, you should put them on your list. Not only are the views spectacular, their hospitality is second to none, the wines they are making are top notch and their tasting room was just voted Best in White County. Go there!

Wonderful live music from Teddy Baker, fabulous and beautiful food from Cindy Gibson of Garden Gate Catering, diverse wines and my famous jelly roll cakes made for a perfect evening.

We have had 12 Spies Vineyards & Farms Anniversary Party on our calendar for several weeks. As Saturday’s outdoor event grew closer, the weather forecast did not look promising and it was indeed pouring rain here in Sautee as we loaded the car to head north to Rabun Gap.

That’s not grass on the weather map

Really, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised it was raining. Rabun county has the title of the rainiest county in the state of Georgia, with average rainfall of over 70 inches a year. Regardless of the weather, we were going to be there. When we commit, we follow through, and the event was advertised as rain or shine.

Things always seem to work out for us though.

One of many examples…
We have had a new product ready for about 2 weeks now but have been waiting on labels for it. We had hoped they’d be done in time so we could debut our third product at 12 Spies. It wasn’t looking like we were going to get them in time, but then, we got shipping notice and not only did they arrive in time, they arrived on the Monday before the event so it wasn’t a week of wondering if we’d be bring Vineyard Fire with us. It was going to happen!

Vineyard Fire is our newest and spiciest pepper spread. Using plenty of spicy jalapenos and blending them with sweet Chambourcin wine, Vineyard Fire stands up well on an appetizer plate with creamy goat cheese and roasted pistachios, almonds or walnuts.

So with Vineyard Fire, Chambourcin & Georgia Apple Cider spread on board, as well as jelly roll cakes & other goodies for tasting, we were in the car hoping for a break in the weather.

I have made 21 jelly roll cakes since we began Unicoi Preserves

When we got to the vineyard, there was a flurry of activity with everyone working to get set up for the day.

Wish you could smell the coffee roasting that Kervin Kaffee of Eastanolle had going when we got there
Tonya Kimsey of Mud Fairy Pottery was doing pottery demo and made it look easy (I know its not!)
Lisa and Mike were very considerate and thoughtful of all the vendors who came up for their celebration and instead of having everyone set up EZ-Ups in the field, we were all inside and Unicoi Preserves was blessed to score the best possible location for jelly sampling — in the winery tank room right in front of the lab sink! It was absolutely perfect for us with access to hot running water, soap and towels! Serving jelly roll cake, cream cheese, crackers and jelly can get a little sticky at times.

Clark Neal, Jr. – Purveyor of Preserves

We met some really nice and interesting people, to include a man retired from the FBI, and some people from as far away as Houston, TX and California. In addition to new friends, we were so happy to see some of Clark’s family that live in Tiger. Technically, Clark said they aren’t family, but we all talked about and agreed,  when you marry into the Neal family, you are part of the Neal family.

Towards the end of the day, our friends Chris & Sarah came by to do a tasting and see the vineyard. Awesome friends, not only did Sarah & her girl Lucy visit & give our greyhounds a turnout before coming, they helped us load out quickly so we could get home and get ready for Sylvan Valley Lodge’s dinner with Habersham Winery.

Colbie, Fox, Bonnie & Lucy the honorary greyhound
Bonnie says “Please pet me!”

Things always work out, you just have to Believe.

Have you ever noticed that it takes forever for the second in a series of books or movies to come out? Well, suffice it to say, sometimes blog posts are the same way.

My last blog entry found me back in my hometown of Albany, in south Georgia, for my high school reunion (now’s the time to refer back to that post in case you missed it.)

After a good night’s sleep at Ashley & Frank’s home, a healthy, home-cooked breakfast & coffee, I was out into the world to reconnect with friends and family throughout the area.

My first stop of the day was to visit my beautiful friend Anissa. It was an exciting day for Anissa and her husband Mark, as they were filming a new tv commercial at their office in downtown Albany. They’ve done extensive renovations to bring an older home back to its glory.

You should see the inside!
After visiting for a bit, meeting their staff and vowing to not let so much time go by without reconnecting, I left. As I was leaving, I drove around the block and went back. I had forgotten to take a picture with Anissa, so I parked, went in and we had a fun time hamming it up in front of their office.

In 9 out of 10 photos, I will have my eyes closed.

Next on the agenda was a trip out to Lee county to see Tiffanie, Vonnie and Cadence. They had sold their home in town and moved further out to a great new home in the country with access to the creek.


 So quiet and peaceful. Driving out to their home on all the roads we used to ride road bikes on together, I had so many memories of times spent there and wished I had my bike with me. Next time!
I could take a similar picture in our garage. We actually have that same rack.

Third stop of the day was to see my sis-in-law and family. They are such a high energy bunch with so many things going on, so I was glad I could pop in and visit.

At that point, I was running out of time but being the optimist that I am, went back and picked up Ashley and Frank and headed out to Arlington to StillPond Vineyard. In total bad form, we arrived at their tasting room about 15 minutes before closing time. The ladies in the tasting room were still very gracious and we did a tasting and bought some wine to bring home.

The distillery is new and the still is gorgeous!
Frank & Ashley humoring me in the hot, bright sun

By now, I was out of time for visiting friends and actually late to my reunion. Whoops! However, as perfect timing would have it, I may have missed the initial showing of old pictures from high school, but I was just in time for dinner. It was a great southern spread that included fried chicken and sweet tea. Two of our high school teachers were there as well as the assistant principal Commodore Conyers. He would always call school assemblies to order by saying “Young people, young people!” and he gave us all a thrill when he walked up to the podium that night and addressed us that same way. Good memories for certain.

Sunday morning my internal Fox alarm went off early, so I said my good-byes to Frank and Ashley and headed north. Knowing I’d be driving right through the Atlanta area, I didn’t want to miss a chance to visit with my favorite sister, so I called her in route and we had a good visit  over lunch.

I had no more stops in mind, I was ready to get home to my family. Came home and discovered Clark and the greyhounds enjoying some outdoor time brewing beer.

Bonnie & Colbie supervising Clark

It was a whirlwind of a weekend. I can’t wait to do it all again. Soon.

This upcoming December, we will celebrate six years as full time residents of White county. Our lives are very active and it seems there’s always something going on here, so we don’t go back to visit friends and family very often in south Georgia. This past weekend was my thirtieth high school reunion so I made the trek south to Albany.

On the way down, I stopped on the square in Covington, Georgia and delivered some of our spreads to the Cork Boutique and Gifts. Such a beautiful shop, filled with gourmet foods, gifts and wine. They were getting ready for a tasting with a large group and the weather was starting to change for the worse, so after spending a little time there, I was soon on the road heading south, courtesy of Apple Maps.

You may not know this, but despite being in the transportation business forever, I am directionally challenged. Having Apple Maps on the iPhone is really great because it talks to me and gives me turn by turn directions. And, if something happens and I miss a turn, it will reroute me. Brilliant!

Heading south of Covington, I was enjoying the two lane country roads when the weather got really, really bad. It was raining so hard that the wipers couldn’t keep up and I was thankful to be on a country road instead of I-75. I slowed down my speed and continued, weather breaking occasionally. As I was traveling and getting close to Gray, Georgia, the rain slowed, and the wind was weird, kind of swirling. I looked to the right in the direction I was traveling and I started to see clouds drop down towards the ground. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so scared on the road but I turned down the radio and just started praying out loud, put my hazard lights on and accelerated into the left lane. The car I had been following had slowed down, but I was not planning on sticking around to get sucked up by a tornado. Thankfully, I made it past the storm area and was soon on I-75 heading south.

I was pretty rattled at that point but as I headed south and the weather cleared, I was soon at exit 99 for Albany. I have never been a person who forgets to eat, but I did realize I had not stopped for lunch and it was actually approaching the dinner hour, so as I came up on Striplings, I knew exactly what I was having for dinner.

Stripling’s Sausage Dog & Phickles Wedgies

When Clark and I would travel from Albany to Sautee, we would always stop at Striplings for a sausage dog, chips and a drink. We did it so often for so many weeks in a row, we called it our Friday night date. I was a little lonely eating my sausage dog by myself (Clark was at home dog wrangling and didn’t make the trip south) but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I finally made it to Albany and arrived at Ashley and Frank’s beautiful home where I was greeted by a terribly happy Kelsey and Mason. I always joke that I never stay anywhere that doesn’t have a resident greyhound and once again, this proved true, and times two!

I’m a big boy but I don’t like the thunder-boomers!

Friday night’s get together at Austin’s Firegrill was a nice reconnection with so many familiar faces. We all agreed, we all look better now then we did in high school. After the get together started breaking up, I headed back over to Ashley & Frank’s. Apparently, the bad weather had followed me south and we had a pretty big thunderstorm. Poor Mason was really stressed out, he has a true storm phobia. I know he was glad to have us there and for the chatter to distract him, but I really felt bad for him.

We stayed up later then any of us usually do and enjoyed some cocktails. I was quite surprised to roll over Saturday morning at 8 o’clock — the Fox alarm never allows such luxury at home!

Stayed tuned for part II…

Spring is here, the season of rebirth. Watching the forest change, with ferns coming back and trees greenery filling in is always awe-inspiring. This spring, we are especially thankful our grass seed has taken off. The cycle of rain and snow resulted in a red clay backyard and three unhappy greyhounds. But, like I said, Spring is Here and we started celebrating.

May 24th we celebrated the first anniversary of Serenity Cellars with Joe and Tina Smith. Driving down the hill to the winery, you are transported from White County, Georgia to Tuscany. Walking into the tasting room and being greeted by its old world charm puts you in a different frame of mind.  One of our favorite ways to spend the day is drinking a bottle of Traminette and listening to local musicians on the piazza. We are blessed to live in an area filled with great musicians and Joe had a full day scheduled to include Jeremiah Osterman, Teddy Baker and Tom Connor.

Their piazza is set up with comfy wrought iron chairs, tables and umbrellas that are surrounded by showy roses and landscaping. Looking over the vineyard at Mount Yonah, you realize that the vision Joe and Tina had to put the winery in that particular spot was absolutely right.

We set our EZ-Up up early in the day, and brought along some new pairings to highlight the flavors of our spreads. The weather was ideal for being outside, sunny with an occasional breeze but nothing as brisk as to make us worry about staking down the tent.

So many friends were there to celebrate the anniversary, such is the close-knit community we live in. The late afternoon speech by local folk legend Harold Bryson made everyone feel the love that we all have for Serenity Cellars and Joe and Tina. We are happy for their success and wish them all the best.

Saturday, May 3rd was our product debut at Habersham Winery.

There were a few details that had to happen that were outside our direct control, so the week leading up to WineFest, Clark & I were both feeling a bit concerned. However, lady luck smiled upon us as she so often has, and we had jars of our spreads to sample and sell that even had labels on them.

Speaking of labels, the beautiful graphic design and consistent branding our company has is the work of my sister, Betsy Lescosky.  We are a truly honored to have her work and input. Yay Betsy!

Habersham Winery has been very kind to us and has supported our venture from the beginning. They listened to our ideas for products and were willing to taste test multiple batches through the winter months to help us dial in the flavors we were after.

Getting ready for WineFest, Clark purchased an EZ-Up and we put it up in our driveway to make sure we/me understood how it worked (Clark knows how to do most everything).  We basically set up everything we would need to sample and sell and made a list. Then, looked at it, made some changes, and added to the list.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about the whole EZ-Up thing, but transitioning from a City Person to a Mountain Woman, I can handle putting up a tent that is called EZ.

Emily DeFoor at Habersham Winery set us up for success, though and we didn’t even need the EZ-Up. We set up inside the winery’s tank room, and the thing that was only a little bit of a challenge was getting our 8 ft. banner stretched out and hung straight enough to pass the winemaker’s critical eye. However, Andrew deemed it “Good Enough” and we were open for business.

The day started out with a big surprise. Clark’s parents had driven up from South Georgia to be there in support of us. Clark’s mom is very supportive and loving but was quick to tell Clark and anyone else who would listen that he needed to get rid of that beard. Many of our friends came out in support of us (and of course to drink wine from the 15 wineries that were there) and it was an emotional day to see how many people really liked what we cooked.

Its a true compliment to a person that cooks when someone likes your food. We left Habersham Winery very humbled and appreciative of so much kindness shown to get us off the ground.

This year, the winter seemed harsher and longer then usual. But suddenly, everything is green and lush, which means that spring is here and we are getting local vegetables once again.

We support a family of farmers in southern White County, the Cook’s, at Cedar Hollow Farm, by subscribing to a weekly share program. We got to know them by going to the weekly So Called Farmers Market at the Sautee-Nacoochee Center. The Cook family always had unusual vegetables and beautiful flowers, so when we went a few years back and noticed their absence, we asked Steve of Steve’s Famous Greens, where the family was. He told us they started a weekly subscription plan and wouldn’t be coming to market any longer. Disappointed but excited, I was able to reconnect with Carolyn and we have been members of their subscription plan ever since.

Every Tuesday, we get to ride out to the Cook family’s land and pick from what they picked earlier in the day. Its great because if there is something one of us doesn’t like (Clark won’t eat beets, I’ve tried!), there are plenty of other freshly picked things to choice from.

May starts out with greens. Kale, several varieties of lettuce, spinach, mustards, green onions, leeks, tatsoi, radishes, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes, beet greens, beets, broccoli, basil and other herbs.
Winter salads just don’t do it for us any more so we have been making up for lost time and have been eating like rabbits since we started farm pick up two weeks ago.

We try to buy foods as locally and minimally processed as possible and have eliminated eating things like commercially produced salad dressings. When I look at labels and don’t know what ingredients are, or even how to pronounce them or see high fructose corn syrup or sugar as a main ingredient, more times then not, I will put them back. Oil and vinegar are my usual choice for dressings because of this, but sometimes, I miss the complexity and flavors that a bottled dressing has.

Today, I experimented and came up with a new vinaigrette using our Chambourcin Spread. Since our spread is low in sugar, its light sweetness mixed with the acidity of the vinegar makes for a fantastic and flavorful dressing. Here I use it over my mixed green salad with goat cheese, scallions, pecans, topped with my sister Betsy’s Pickled Sweet Cherries.

Here’ the recipe.

Unicoi Preserves Chambourcin Vinaigrette

1 T. Unicoi Preserves Chambourcin Spread
2 T. Red Wine Vinegar
1 T. Olive Oil
1 small clove Garlic, finely chopped
A few rosemary leaves, finely chopped

In a small bowl, whisk Chambourcin spread, red wine vinegar, garlic and rosemary until combined. Add olive oil, a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Whisk til smooth.
If rosemary isn’t your thing, try it with fresh basil or mint.

Makes enough for a generous two servings