Stonewall Creek Vineyards: Retired Couple Crafts the Perfect Blend
Jun 17, 2016 05:29PM
● By Melanie Heisinger
Lovely view of Stonewall Creek Vineyards in bloom.
Stonewall Creek Vineyards [9 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
Stonewall Creek Vineyards has been around rather successfully since late 2011. Though, the story is much more webbed than a simple date. What started out as an intention to grow a simple 150 vines with a simple cottage to stay in, turned into an eventual 3,000 vines on 5 acres.
We had a chance to get in touch with Carla Fackler, part owner with her husband Carl, and hear the full story. Her wit and silliness is evident in her rhetoric, and be sure to look for the italic font that denotes her own witticisms and comments.
Tell us a little about the winery, can you tell me when and how it was started?
When Carl Fackler, my husband, finished his orthopedic residency at Harvard, we moved south to Atlanta. That summer we made our first visit to Rabun County with a weekend at the Lake Rabun retreat of senior partner Jim Funk and his wife, Florrie. Several visits followed over the years.
On another visit to Rabun County, we stopped by Tiger Mountain Vineyards (TMV) to taste their first wines. TMV’s co-founders, Leckie and Bill Stack, were friends from our Atlanta volunteer days, and we soon became friends with TMV’s other co-founders, Martha and John Ezzard. Not only did the two couples make wine from grapes grown in Rabun County, they made good wine!
In 2004, three years before Carl planned to retire from Peachtree Orthopedic Clinic, he suggested that we buy a few acres in Rabun County and grow grapes for our friends at Tiger Mountain Vineyards. Just 150 vines as I recall. Who wouldn’t want to spend time in the North Georgia Mountains!
Growing grapes was just an extension of gardens that Carl planted at every house we owned. We both grew up in Iowa families that were second to fourth generation German immigrants who landed first as farmers.
We found land off Bridge Creek Road west of Tiger at the old McMillan Farm with aged apple and peach trees and pasture along Stonewall Creek. Other orchards once flourished along Bridge Creek, but only a few remain.
Our first land purchase in 2004 was around 15 acres, and we added an adjacent 15 acres over the next five years. I guess those 150 vines were “lonely" as we kept planting and now have 3,000 vines on five acres—all European Vitis vinifera—French varieties grafted onto American rootstock.
Carl retired from orthopedics in 2007 and spent more time in the mountains growing grapes. We sold our first three harvests (2008-2010) to TMV and the winemakers made a separate Rabun Red blend with just our grapes. A lovely gesture at a busy harvest time.
I guess Carl had too much time on his hands as he was soon flying out to the University of California, Davis to take viticulture (growing of grapes) and oenology (making of wine) courses. He now wanted to make wine, which required a winery. The little cottage that we restored ourselves on weekends in 2004, became the guest house when our neighbor/contractor built a house with space below for a winery.
Do you remember your first official harvest as a business?
We kept our 2011 harvest and opened for business in August 2012 with just two wines: a white and a rosé. Our two reds were aging in French oak and would be released a year later.
What happened next?
In 2015, we added a tasting room next to the winery, naturally cooled with a “green” roof, and a covered patio a few steps from the vineyards. We are currently pouring eight varietals and blends—five are from our grapes on the Stonewall Creek Vineyards label and three are from grapes we harvest nearby at The Stack Farm on our Standing Deer Cellar label. We tend to sell out as the season progresses as we produce only 700 cases of wine a year. Carl believes that exceptional wines begin in the vineyard, and he and Vineyard Manager Miguel Barcenas work at growing premium grapes.
For a small artisan vineyard, Mother Nature rules and each growing season is a challenge.
What should we expect from Stonewall Creek Vineyards today?
Today, Stonewall Creek Vineyards is known for dry wines made from Georgia vinifera grapes. In addition to our Winery Tasting Room, our wines are listed at well-regarded Rabun County restaurants Fortify and Lake Rabun Hotel, in Athen’s at the popular Healthy Gourmet and in Atlanta at James Beard Chef Linton Hopkins’ Restaurant Eugene and the 25,000 bottle wine cellar at the Cherokee Town Club.
Where is the best place to find SCV wines?
The best place to find our wines is at the Winery Tasting Room:
- Open June-November on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, 1-5PM, and Saturday, 11:30AM-5PM.
- Open mid-March-May, Saturday, 11:30AM-5PM, and Sunday, 1-5PM.
What is your personal favorite aspect of the winery?
Although I work in the vineyards with canopy training (weaving vines through our VSP trellis), my focus is marketing the business and running the tasting room. We’re fortunate to have as Tasting Room Manager, Gail McDaniel, who managed tasting rooms for the former Persimmon Creek Vineyards. She leads a double life as she spends two days a week at Goin’ Postal in Clayton.
Also on hand from time to time are Sherry and John Schomburg and Ramelle Garland.
Our Winery Tasting Room offers a vineyard view of a pastoral mountain valley with Glassy Mountain to the west and Stonewall Creek to the east. Tasters tend to sit a spell on the patio with a glass of wine just steps above the vineyards.
We have an off-site farm winery tasting room at InsideOut Sautee, across from the Old Sautee Store. Georgia farm wineries are allowed up to five tasting rooms.
At the Sautee Tasting Room, the view from the deck is an expansive view of Yonah Mountain. Several wine bus tours stop for tastings. Tasters can order take-out from The Village Market next door and eat on the deck. Sheilah Welsch runs the show with the tasting bar manned by Captain Malbec (Mike Fisher) and Mama Bordeaux (Anne Crocker Christol).
Carl and I both work at our Winery Tasting Room and enjoy meeting tasters and introducing them to Georgia wines. As our vineyard can be hard to find, anyone who finds us really wants to taste our wines! At 73 and 74, we are not retired!
What's the funniest thing that has happened at the winery?
Friends from our 30 years in Atlanta have been known to walk into our tasting room and begin singing the theme song from “Green Acres,” a TV sitcom that first aired in 1965. You need to be a certain age to recall it; if not, Google it.
Episodes were filmed in black and white with a plot that revolved around a New York City lawyer and his socialite wife who moved to a country farm in Hooterville. Believe it or not, Hooterville was larger than our nearby town of Tiger.
Carl and I were married a few months after that first episode aired 50 years ago!
In our own personal “sitcom", Carl practiced as an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta for 30 years. I wasn’t a socialite but did chair events like the Atlanta Symphony Ball and Hospice Atlanta Gala and dressed up a lot. “Atlanta clothes” as I now call it.
The “star” of our “sitcom" is Max, a six or seven-year-old Australian Shepherd mix with an engaging smile and a yen to greet every taster. He joined us two years ago after we saw that he was looking for a new family on Rabun County’s Town Crier.
We also produce wines named for our two daughters-in-law—Yukari (from Japan) and Boriana (from Bulgaria), our top sellers by the way—and for our three sons—Three Eagles (all three were Eagle Scouts). Max is pushing for a label.
What’s something that is asked most frequently?
Most frequently asked question is about the rose bushes at the end of the rows. It’s a European tradition; aesthetically pleasing, but also useful in monitoring critters (Japanese beetles appear first in the roses) and mildews (a given in the Georgia county with the most rain at 70” average).
there ever been any proposals, or even weddings, at the vineyard?
We’ve had would-be grooms pop the question at our vineyards over a bottle of wine. We don’t hold large weddings at the vineyards as sound travels in our valley and we don’t want to subject our neighbors to the late nights. We did host two early-evening, small weddings: The first a couple from Athens who became engaged at our vineyards (wedding party of 10) and the second friends from Athens and Atlanta (wedding party of 28).
Are there any events coming up?
We hold two major annual events at the vineyards: Summer Solstice is held on June 18th this year and Harvest Stomp! is set for September 24th. Latter is usually the same weekend as TMV’s Harvest Party for Wine Club Members as there are only so many fall weekends without a University of Georgia home football game! There’s time for both events.
Summer Solstice 2016 celebrates the sun’s “longest day” and the beginning of summer and features vineyard strolls and a live band, wine tastings and a souvenir T-shirt. (Adults $15.)
Sweet Charity plays for Richard’s Kids, a non-profit providing new clothes to local school children in need. A portion of the admission fee is also donated to Richard’s Kids. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic and settle in and enjoy the view, music and wine.
Third Annual Harvest Stomp! is linked to a 1950’s TV sitcom, “I Love Lucy.” Nostalgia galore here! Nearly everyone recalls the famous grape stomping scene with Lucy and Ethel in Italy! Last year, two tasters arrived dressed as Lucy and Ethel, thrift shop finds from across North Georgia. Saturday, September 24th, 1-5PM. Adults $25. Well-known Athens surf band, The Flamethrowers, will be on hand playing 60’s favorites. Our Assistant Winemaker/Three Eagles son, Nate, plays lead guitar.
Guests will step out of the stomping barrel onto the back of their souvenir T-shirts, which are then hung on the deer fence to dry. Love the long line of purple feet!
In addition to wine tastings, a Sassy Glassy wine cocktail will be served. Guests may bring a picnic lunch or buy BBQ and fixings on site, prepared by Pat Crunkleton at the nearby Bridge Creek Market & Deli. A portion of the admission fee is donated to Rabun County PAWS 4 Life, a no-kill animal shelter.
Max invites canine friends to attend the festivities!
Some Georgia State Wine History
Before Prohibition, Georgia had 20,000 acres of grapevines, with many located near Carrolton in West Georgia. After Prohibition, South Georgia was quick to replant Muscadine. North Georgia’s first vines were planted in early 1980 at Habersham Vineyards and Ringgold’s Georgia Winery. There are now 25 vineyards with wineries spread across North Georgia and only 250 acres in vines. The challenge is to grow more fine wine grapes in Georgia.