Step into the enchanting world of Southern winemaking with host David Zelski as he uncorks the rich history and vibrant flavors of muscadine wine, Georgia's hidden gem. From the lush vineyards of Nashville to the bustling tasting room along I-75, discover the passion and dedication behind each bottle of muscadine wine. Meet the farmers, vintners, and storytellers who are preserving Georgia's agricultural heritage while crafting award-winning wines. Whether you're a wine connoisseur or an adventurous spirit, this podcast invites you to savor the taste of the South and raise a glass to the magic of Muscadine wine. 

Vineyards at Horse Creek Winery

Vineyards at Horse Creek Winery in Nashville, GA

Credit: David Zelski


Jessica Wells:  In the South. The muscadines are I mean, this is just their natural habitat. There's not a lot of folks that make wine out of them. A lot of people do sway towards your traditional wine grapes. So we've actually been able to take our muscadine grapes and make award-winning wine.

David Zelski: Muscadine wine. Can you find it outside of Georgia? Sure you can. You'll find it all over the South, and it's probably pretty good, but the Peach State and Muscadine wine have a special relationship. We are the largest producer of muscadine grapes in the United States, and muscadine wine is our specialty.

Theme Song: I came from the mud, there's dirt on my hands. Strong like a tree, there's roots where I stand.

David Zelski: I'm David Zelski, and this is the Fork in the Road podcast presented by Georgia Grown and the fine folks at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Each episode, we feature stories from Georgia's farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans, chefs and others who help provide Georgia grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Today, we're talking wine. Not that fancy stuff from the south of France, northern Italy, or Napa Valley, California. No. Today we're talking about the super fruit of the South. This episode is about muscadine wine from Nashville, Georgia. So let's do something a little different and go straight to the end of the podcast and work our way backwards.

Ed Perry: We got a very dedicated crew that, that that makes this thing tick. And, and Darian, we are associated with a very dedicated crew. The Waterfront Wine Bar and Gourmet is actually our, flagship tasting room, which is located in Darien. So that's like family and that's part of it. And they their mission is to perpetuate, the the good feel of a good time. But but in a historical environment. Here in Nashville at where the actual winery is located, our job here is to embrace agriculture, be it produce and, and, our commodities such as corn and wine and wine. And our muscadine wine is just as much a part of a Georgia commodity as, the cotton and, and corn that we have and soybeans. So we embrace the farming community here and, and the way we lend that to, agritourism is drawing people off of I-75 and bringing them here to show them a completely farm environment and how it operates. Now it starts on 75, our establishment on 75, manned by highly dedicated people there. We have a chef there. We try to take farm raised food from South Georgia farms all around and use them in the cooking and in the gourmet, effects of the tasting room and restaurant in Sparks. So each one certainly has a different appeal to different kind of people. But collectively it's all pushing the same mission. And it's not just Horse Creek Winery, but it's Georgia agriculture and it's Georgia tourism. And we're proud to be a part of that.

David Zelski: That voice is Ed Perry. He is the owner of Horse Creek Winery in Nashville, Georgia. What's that? You didn't realize there was a Nashville in Georgia? Don't worry. A lot of people don't know that. So you can see why Ed in the Horse Creek Winery are proud to help with the mission of Georgia Agritourism.

Ed Perry: But collectively, it's all pushing the same mission. And it's not just Horse Creek Winery, but it's Georgia agriculture and it's Georgia tourism. And we're proud to be a part of that.

David Zelski: And we're getting a bit of a tour of South Georgia on this episode. There's the Waterfront Wine and Gourmet in Darien, the Vineyard in Nashville, and there's the beautiful event space and tasting room right off exit 41 on I-75 in Sparks, Georgia. That is where we'll find Ericka Watson and Peyton Wade.

Ericka Watson: So, we're right off the exit, 41. And I think that was what appeals to everybody, because there's not many wineries that are all right off of the interstate with a lot of activities. And we have a lot of things that we offer here. So, we do weddings, birthday parties. We do catering events. We have a wide range of wine. We have dry, sweet red wine. And we also have the restaurant that's attached to the winery. So that appeals to people too, that are stopping in for lunch.

David Zelski: Yeah. There aren't many restaurants like this in the surrounding radius. Tell me why this, you know why this is special for this little region.

Peyton Wade: Well, we have a lot of different options here. We're a part of the Georgia Grown. We hold very true to that. We like to support our locals and our local farmers and everything like that. So if you take a look around, most of the things here in our store is all from right down the road. And the same goes with our restaurant. We're working really good right now as a farm to table, just getting things from 30 minutes away from local farmers, putting it on a table and making really good things for everybody.

David Zelski: Local ingredients in the restaurant, local grapes in the wine. What else could you ask for? So this is a great atmosphere for people. Also to just stop, relax I bet it's a, it can be a good time here by the bar.

Peyton Wade: Yes, sir. One of the best things to do is to stop by, to take a wine tasting. And especially us being down here in South Georgia, the best thing we have for you here would be our wine selection. It's new and improved, so we have a lot of hot days down here. You finish up your wine taste and it comes with a wine slushie. We've also now got them together. They can come in, sit anywhere on premise and enjoy it, or they can take them in a little jug to go. And, it really cools you down on these hot South Georgia days.

David Zelski: Wine. Slushies. This will not be the only time we hear about those two amazing words together. Let's now head about 13 miles east from Sparks over to the winery in Nashville and talk to Jessica.

Jessica Wells: Our vineyard was planted in the early 90s here in Nashville. The winery itself was opened in 2008. We started making wine then we still sell, our grapes to the fresh market. As well as make wine with them now also.

David Zelski: Tell me about the grapes that you grow.

Jessica Wells: We grow muscadine. We have 43 acres here in Nashville of muscadine grapes. They are indigenous to this area. They grow great. They're easy to grow. We have about six different varieties. Between the red and the white muscadine grape that we make our wines from.

David Zelski: The neat thing about vineyards is they create a beautiful atmosphere. And you all have taken that atmosphere and done more with it.

Jessica Wells: They do. So you can come out here, you can do a wine tasting. You can just have a slushie, a glass of wine. Just enjoy the 40 acres, the nature and just just enjoy yourself out here. We also do have weddings, class reunions, any kind of event, you know, you could think of. We do host here. And it's really nice it's set back off the highway. It's just it's a perfect place to to have something.

David Zelski: Horse Creek Winery grows muscadine grapes. Now, they're not the traditional winemaking grapes, but that doesn't make them inferior.

Jessica Wells: So, your Chardonnay, merlot, pinot, cap. So those are going to be your traditional wine grapes. I guess you could say. You know, in the south, the muscadines are, I mean, this is just their natural habitat. There's not a lot of folks that make wine out of them. A lot of people do sway towards your traditional wine grapes. So we've actually been able to take our muscadine grapes, and make award winning wine all over the country with it. We send it up to international competitions in New York and out to California yearly. And our muscadine wines, I mean, they compete with the biggest Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot grapes that are out there.

David Zelski: But you also have a little bonus, you don't see many Cabernet slushies.

Jessica Wells: You don't. So muscadine wine also makes for a great wine slushie. Those are really popular. We have those in three different flavors, three different sizes that we're able to sell for people to, to take home and enjoy.

David Zelski: Carlton is the vineyards manager, and he can fill us in a little more on the muscadine grape. Tell me about the consistency of this grape. It feels a little different than the ones that, get from the grocery store.

Carlton Cotney: Yes, these are going to be. Well, most of these right here are going to be like like I said, like, they're going to be a little bit bigger and, and maybe it's going to be like they're the ones at the grocery store like a bunch grape. You know, these are like, you know, like, say muscadines. So they're going to be, you know, like, you know, wild grown, you know, grape. And they're just, a lot, a lot, you know, bigger than the muscadines or than the, than the, bunch grape you get at the grocery store.

David Zelski: What do you have to, battle when it comes to weather? Climate. What are the battles for muscadine?

Carlton Cotney: Well, if we have a lot of rain, it's a battle for maybe your, sugar. Your, you know, it's going to be, the the brick on it won't be as high as you want it to be. So then, you know, you have to go in and you have to check your brick. And then with, then you have to, you know, either put a lot more sugar than you're supposed to, you know, to get it up to, you know, what it's supposed to be to pour or and if you have a lot of sun, you know, you're going to have, you know, just the grapes are going to be, you know, really maybe overripe or whatever. And then you have a lot of battle with, you know, you know, the, and them going to the grocery stores and maybe, you know, you know, them being like cut splits or whatever. But I mean, right now we have, you know, good weather and it's going to be a good year.

David Zelski: When I talk to Ed, he told me the history of this land, and it wasn't always a vineyard. Okay, well, tell me about, Horse Creek's beginnings.

Ed Perry: Well, the beginning, it was this farm. This family farm goes back way to the 1800s at the end of the Civil War. Family have always been a family of agriculture. So in dealing with agriculture, they came to this part of the world, South Georgia. And, they started out actually in the timber business when timber was big. And, so they often say the railroad came and got the timber for crossed paths. And then when the timber was cut, we got into the cotton farming, the boll weevil got the cotton. So then we went into the tobacco business raising the tobacco. And the government got tobacco when they found out it was so unsafe. So we got into the cattle business and we, we, we got involved with horses and cowboys and cattle raising cattle. And that's mainly what we did in this area. And then it evolved into a produce business. We had, grocery store chain here, Jays Harvey Company, that was a big, supermarket line. And this going back to the 50s. So we got into, produce and produce we chose was the muscadine grape.

David Zelski: I just want to take a moment to recognize that Ed Perry, the owner of Horse Creek Winery, is just one of those natural storytellers. I mean, I could listen to him all day.

Ed Perry: Muscadine grape is native to Georgia. it's been here since before man. It was here with the dinosaurs. And, it's a native grape and it's easy to grow. It's resistant to diseases that you find around here. It'll surive in the humidity. And, that's how we got into the grape business. So when we went out of the cattle business and mainly, that's when we, but begin to take us with the children to begin to grow up. And we took other avenues of, ways of making living. And we started in the produce business with the grocery store chain. And then at the end of the harvest, just like farming and anything, you always got a surplus of a product or, overripe and, or certain parts of it doesn't grow it out. And then we started selling that to wineries around the country. Down in Florida, Lake Ridge was a winery that was sold a lot of our fruit to, overripe fruit. And Chateau Ryland was in, middle and north Georgia that bought our fruit, my wine. And they found out that the grapes coming from this vineyard, made really excellent wine. And I'll tell you how that came about, but but all this was, discovered by accident. And, we begin to explore the possibility of just being a winery here and being attached, of course, to agricultural steel. And then they had the concept of, farm wineries. The government came out with that and that and also a value added program to where you take a farm commodity and grow it and produce it. And instead of just selling it on a buck market, like you say, if you grow watermelons, then you send your watermelons to the supermarket chain and they turn around and retail them. Carry your product all the way to the retailer. So the concept of farm winery and then the concept of value added along with Georgia grown all begin to come together. And this began to take place in around 1992 when the actual vineyard was planted. But it was around 2008 when the winery was actually established with the concept of Georgia grown and farm winery concept. Agrotourism. And, and these Georgia trails, the highways, 41 and 37. And then now you have them for 41 and up in North Georgia coming down. And now you 17, which is trail 17. So that evolved into the to the winery. And then when we started making wine, we found out that we were so close to Florida that we actually had more sunshine on our vineyards than they did in North Georgia, or either vineyards even in California. So we're we're part of the Sun Belt. So we had perhaps two, two weeks more sunlight. And we have a good, wonderful aquifer water under us here. So we have an abundance of water. Thank thank the Lord for that. And with those two combinations, with the dirt that happened to be in this farm in South Georgia, you have to have some amount of clay and all that adds to the quality of the grapes.

David Zelski: Did you know that? I didn't.

Ed Perry: So when we harvest our grapes, we do it by hand. All our grapes are picked by hand. We don't harvest any of it with, by machines. And and wine grapes, the difference in a fresh fruit grape and a wine grape is the harvesting method that they use with machines to shake the grapes and then they collect as it fall out. But of course, when you're doing that, you collect a lot of other stuff other than just the grapes that go into the juice. But us being a hand-picked vineyard, all our grapes were cleaned and graded. So whenever we made the wine or sold the grapes to Chateau Ellen or any of the other wineries, reason we thought maybe the reason it was making such a superior wine is because of the. The grape was really a pure grape, and it wasn't mixed with any leaves or trash or bugs or anything else that may happen to get in on mechanical harvesting. So that's what got us into the wine business. But we always wanted to accent agriculture because that's what we are. That was what our roots were. So we developed watermelon wine and blueberries, black berries and peach, of course, which the states known as the Peach State. And that is our best selling wine. But we have strawberry and all the other fruits and commodities that's grown around the state. So all of our product is a Georgia grown and Georgia produce and has a Georgia history behind it.

David Zelski: That's fantastic. And it's turned out to be wine and agritourism. This is something that people like to see and like to experience and like to have around them.

Ed Perry: Right. And you have a story. Let me, explain a little bit about the story that, when you're dealing with with AG agritourism, you got to have an agricultural accent to, to it, but you also need a story. And we, we try to produce the story. So our story to go along with the winery is, is Horse Creek and horses and and cattle. So all of our wines, if you look at the name, each name has reference to a horse or horse racing in some way. And the horses that are named on the wine, there's a history and the story behind that. For instance, our best selling wine, Big Red, Big Red is Secretariat's name. That was the first name Secretariat had before he won the Triple Crown. And so that is, makes a story where it people knowing about Big Red. Traveler the same way that was the name of, Robert E. Lee's Horse and, and, and then the list goes on. Florida Joe. The pronunciation of that is Florida Joe. And Florida Joe was the fastest quarterhorse on the whole eastern seaboard, from Miami all the way to Churchill Downs up the eastern seaboard. And this was back in the 50s and 60s, early 60s, when I would race these quarterhorses on a quarter mile. That's why they call them a quarter horse. So Florida Joe won all the money. And, of course, those days were gone and there was some bit of illegal racing going on with it, but, that. I didn't have anything to do with us naming the wine. We still like the name florida Joe.

David Zelski: I'll say it again. Ed is a heck of a storyteller, and I could listen to him all day. So, are you ready for a Georgia history lesson with Ed? I am. There's the Sparks location. There's this location. And you also have a store on the coast that.

Ed Perry: Yeah. Our next big push, and this is very important. I'm really excited about this. Horse Creek Winery, it embraces rural Georgia and embraces Georgia history. So our third leg of what we're trying to create with Horse Creek Winery is going to the coast at Darien, Georgia. Now, Darien is the second oldest town in Georgia. It was settled about the same time that Savannah was with Oglethorpe and my descendants actually came over with Oglethorpe as indentured servants. They're out of debtors prison. They had to work for seven years in order to be a citizen of the Crown and part of the colonies, which they did. So they move from the Savannah, Darien, the coastal area on inland to around the Dodge and Laurens County area, where Dublin and Eastman is, and the Revolutionary War came about. And of course, they join, the revolution on the side of the American colonies. And of course, you know, they won the war. And in doing so, they were granted then land grants, around the Dodge and Laurens County area. And in those two counties, you have the Oconee River that comes down between Dublin and East Dublin, and you have the Ocmulgee river. It comes down, around by Macon and Hawkinsville. Well those two rivers join near a little town called Jacksonville, Georgia. Just south of McCrae and Telfair County, and it becomes the Altamaha River. So after the Revolutionary War and it went in the 1800s came along, they, started cutting the timber, of these middle Georgia, counties and floating it down Altamaha River to Darien, Georgia. And that is what made Darien a thriving seaport area much bigger than Savannah. At that time, Darien outweighed Savannah, because of the shipping lanes. And then on on Sapelo Island, they built a lighthouse, and it was a beacon to where the ships could see where to come in to come up the Darien River, which is a branch of the Altamaha, the loaded lumber. The timber was was very valuable to England because it was, straight, real tall, straight, long leaf logs. And, that was perfect to make mass on ships. And so as they developed that, then the naval stores came about, and that was the turpentine. So they went to turpentine. And and the turpentine was also exported to, to take when they would build a wooden ship, they would use the turpentine to fill in between the boards word to make it leakproof. And that's, that's where the term naval stores come when you're referring to turpentine and, and, and pine tree products in the state of Georgia and Darien was the center for all this.

David Zelski: There's a couple of takeaways from today. One, don't let anyone tell you that muscadine wine is inferior to other wines. Two, you can draw a straight line through history, from English debtors prison to the Revolutionary War to wine slushies for sale in a winery just off Interstate 75 in South Georgia. Want more stories like this one? Well, you can watch A Fork in the Road on GPB-TV or any time on the is where you can listen to and subscribe to this podcast or download it on your favorite podcast platform.

I'm David Zelski. Thanks for listening to A Fork in the Road.



A Fork in the Road airs Saturdays at noon and Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on GPB-TV. Check your local listings for other replays throughout the week and watch all episodes anytime at  Please download and subscribe to the Fork in the Road podcast at or on your favorite podcast platform.



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