There’s just so many cool things to do in the Lake Martin area. I mean, it is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Boating, fishing, hiking, kayaking, it can all be found here in our area-and if you know anything at all about our lake, it’s islands, and almost 900 miles of shoreline-that should come as no surprise to you. But one thing that may come as a surprise to you is the award-winning wine that comes from our area. Who would have thought it, right? But- it’s true-and whether you are an experienced sommelier or casual wine drinker-wine tasting is something that you have to put on your things to do at Lake Martin list.
One of Southern Living Magazine’s Top Vineyards in the South
Southern Living magazine named one of our local farms, Whippoorwill Vineyards, as one of the top vineyards in the south. I thought that was pretty cool to have someone bestowed with that honor right here in my own backyard. So what did I do? My friend Karen and I decided to go and check it out for ourselves. We took off early on a Wednesday for what I like to call product research (aka happy hour.) I personally had tried a couple of their wines before, and I liked what I had. However, I had never gone through the formal sit-down wine tasting there, and I wanted to experience that for myself.
Getting to Whippoorwill Vineyards
4282 County Road 31
Notasulga, AL 36866
It’s not a bad drive at all from Lake Martin, and GPS will take you right there. From Dadeville, it takes about 20-30 minutes to get there. The scenic journey was a part of the experience though. It’s a gorgeous drive through the country roads, and the anticipation of the personal tasting experience during the beautiful, scenic drive just made it that much better.
Walking the Vineyards
When you first pull onto the property, you are welcomed by a feeling that can just be described as pure peacefulness. The flowers and plants that surround the outside of the tasting room are fascinating, and you can see the rows and rows of vines right there on site. Every single one of the wines that they make is made from fruit that they have grown themselves, with the exception of one that I will tell you about in my wine run down. We walked the vineyard with the owner, Vickie, and we may have snagged a couple of the delicious muscadines from the vine to sample ourselves. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting that sweet taste of the south, but I also was really impressed with the educational lesson that came with that part of our tour.
Why Whippoorwill’s Wine is Healthier Than Many Others
Most wine drinkers usually have a preference of white vs. red. I personally like both. I started out as a white wine drinker, but then jumped on the health bandwagon several years ago when the word had spread about the extra health benefits of red wine. Why not get a little extra wellness benefit from it? When we were at the winery, I learned about how their wine is different from wine made in many other parts in the country.
The grapes commonly used in most Alabama wines are Muscadines. WedMD says that Muscadine wine contains many vitamins and minerals, and is a great source of resveratrol, which is a potent antioxidant. Muscadine grapes contain more antioxidants than other types of grapes, and actually have some of the highest antioxidant levels among all fruits.
Antioxidants like resveratrol are linked to a reduction in free radicals in your body, which appears to reduce the risk of chronic heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
LiveStrong.com also talks about how the thicker skins on the muscadine grapes also contain more fiber than other grapes. Getting enough fiber helps you maintain a healthy weight and also helps reduce the risk for conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Muscadines are definitely making a mark and starting to be considered one of the “superfoods.” So you know what that means-even more health benefits! Who doesn’t want to feel like they are making good healthy choices while enjoying that glass of deliciousness?!
The Tour and Wine Tasting
Outside of being a good healthy decision, taking a trip to experience Whippoorwill Vineyards is also just a truly fun experience. You have the option to choose a tasting of 6 wines or all 11 of their wines. If you are going to do it, go for all 11-you won’t be disappointed, and will be able to taste the diversity offered by all of their wines. With either tasting option, you will also receive crackers, chocolate, and a Whippoorwill Vineyards glass to take home as a souvenir. Although reservations are not required, you can make a reservation and pre-order an add on charcuterie board if you like. In addition to the super interesting tasting, we were also treated to a tour of the facility and had a chance to learn all about their wine making process, which helped us appreciate the wine even more. You will also want to walk the grounds and say hello to their beautiful horses that reside there at the vineyard. This was a great girls night out activity, but would also be a really cool experience with your special someone or even your family. There’s tons of room for the kids to run and play-no matter if your kids have 2 legs or 4. They are one of the great pet friendly experiences of the Lake Martin area.
The Wines of Whippoorwill Vineyards
Whippoorwill Vineyards has been recognized nationally and internationally for their wines. The countless awards that they have won are a testament to the high quality of their wines. I was so impressed with the wide variety of wines that we tried, and I’m happy to share my thoughts on each.
The Dry Wines
Harvest Moon-This was the first one we tried and it was a great way to start the tasting, as it ended up being one of my top 3 favorites. Karen and I both loved it, and Vickie told us this one paired great with chicken or fish. It is light and crisp, and can be compared to a Sauvignon Blanc.
Lenoir-This one is also known as the “Black Spanish” because it has been documented that Lenoir wine was used by the Spanish in communion. Vickie said that this was the one to pair with steak or red meat. This one has deep purple hues, with a finish that is lingering and smooth. This ended up being one of Karen’s favorites.
Cynthiana-They call this one the “Cabernet of the South.” I like my Cab, so I had high hopes for this one, and it certainly did not disappoint. The flavor was amazing, and this also ended up being a top 3 favorite for me. I saw some of this in Karen’s to go bag too, so she must have been just as impressed. It had a really sophisticated, medium bodied taste with a hint of oak and spice. The Cynthiana is also called the Norton grape, and we’re told that this is the type of grape that Thomas Jefferson used to make wine. This grape is commonly grown in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, but one of Vickie and Tim’s greatest winemaking mentors, Mr. Kelly Bryant, told them this could grow in Alabama. Spoiler alert-it did, and as it turns out, Whippoorwill Vineyards ended up producing some pretty awesome Cynthiana wine right here in Alabama.
Noble-This was the driest of the red wines that we tried. It has a full-bodied flavor with moderate acidity that gently spreads raspberry and cherry flavors across the palate. This was one Karen really liked also.
The Semi-Sweet Wines
Noble-Yep, turns out there is another Noble, and it happens to be beautifully deep in color and slightly sweet, with intense fruit flavors of the south. While Karen preferred the dry Noble, this one became a quick favorite of mine, and yes, it is the third of my top 3 of the day. One neat thing that Vickie showed us with this wine is that you can mix it with mulling spice and put it in a crock pot for 3-4 hours. The end result can be described as nothing less than pure happiness in a glass. Move over pumpkin spice latte-Mulled Noble Semi Sweet is the new Fall go-to drink.
Saugahatchee Creek-This one is what I call the old school wine. The Creek Muscadines that it is made from is actually one of the oldest varieties of muscadines. One special thing about this one is that it is named after an actual creek right here in our area.
Black Pearl-Remember earlier when I said that only one of the wines made at Whippoorwill Vineyards was made with fruit that they didn’t grow? Well, this is the one. This one is made from blackberries that they bring in from Florida, but the wine is made right there at Whippoorwill. This one was really nice when I tasted it after the first sip. But then Vickie was like….. But wait, there’s more…. She wasn’t kidding! She had us then take our chocolate and pair with this already sweet and delicious creation and it was definitely a wow factor what we experienced. This particular wine paired so well with the sweet chocolate and the pairing made such a difference in the taste. There could not have been a better example of the power of pairing the right foods and wines together to best complement each other.
The Sweet Wines
Tailgate Red- This one takes the noble muscadine, which we learned earlier that we love, and gives it a little something extra. It is mixed with the perfect amount of strawberry. What is interesting is that the flavor gives you a double punch of flavor. At first you taste the noble, and then that sweet strawberry kind of sneaks onto your palate at the end. If you didn’t know the strawberry was in there, it would be a very welcome surprise.
Sunset Rose-This one is for the indecisive person in your life who can’t decide if they like red or white best, as it is a blend of both. This blush blend is the perfect combination of the red muscadine and the bronze scuppernong. One thing that Vickie mentioned about this one is that it is good for cholesterol. Sweet, delicious cholesterol medicine.
Scuppernong- This is a light golden wine that has a fruity flavor and is made from the Scuppernong grape. This one is very familiar to a Riesling. We were told that this is the one that helps you get a restful night’s sleep.
Southern Glory-This one is a smooth blend of three different muscadines-the Regale, the Noble, and the Carlos. This one was yummy too, and a great finale to our wine tasting at Whippoorwill.
In addition to the wine tasting and tours, the beautiful landscape of the vineyards also makes it a great event venue. One thing that will catch your attention when you arrive is the old rugged cross that sits right there in front of the muscadine vines. I can’t imagine a more beautiful backdrop for a wedding! Their spacious grounds allow for many different set ups to accommodate a variety of groups, and Vickie is happy to help with the plans for your special occasion.
A Family Affair
A trip to Whippoorwill Vineyards is a truly special experience. This is not mass-produced wine-it is 100% a family-owned and operated business. The business was started by Tim Watkins and his family back in 2006, with his father, Bobby, officially coming on board in 2015. When it came time to name their vineyard, they struggled coming up with the perfect name. One evening when they were finishing up their work, Bobby commented on the sounds of the Whippoorwills in the background and instantly that name stuck. Whippoorwill Vineyards was officially born that evening. These are some of the hardest working people I have met, and they do everything themselves-from planting, to harvesting, to conducting the wine tastings. That is the part that makes it even more special-the people that actually created all of these amazing wines are there to take you through the wine tasting process. This is so much more than just a wine tasting. We had a special treat that day and were also able to meet the whole family, including the next two generations of winemakers.
A Few More Tips for Your Lake Martin Wine Tasting
Our trip to Whippoorwill Vineyards was a unique, personalized experience, and we had a blast. We tasted great wine, met wonderful people, and learned a lot in the process. I highly suggest you add wine tasting to your itinerary for your next trip to Lake Martin! They are open Thursday-Saturday 10am-6pm, and you are welcome to walk in and do an onsite wine tasting. However, I recommend calling to set up a reservation like we did. We scheduled a reservation outside of the normal hours, had a very personal wine experience with the owner, and were the only ones there at the time. As I mentioned before, you will have a choice between trying 6 wines or all 11. Go for the 11-because I promise- your palate will be awakened to new flavors that you didn’t even know existed. And before you depart, make sure to stop by the gift shop too. They have lots of great gifts for wine lovers, including that mulling spice I mentioned earlier for those yummy fall wine drinks. And if you want to add even more wine tasting fun to your trip, you may also want to check out another of our local wineries, Hodges Winery. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by all of the delicious wine that is being made right here in our area.