The idea of sipping wine against a backdrop of beautiful mountains and valleys has always brought images of touring wineries in Napa Valley or Italy to my mind. But I’ve discovered this past year that I don’t have to travel thousands of miles from East Tennessee to experience some of the world’s finest wine. With Great Smoky Mountain tourism, a boom in retirees, and the popularity of Knoxville with young professionals, East Tennessee has debuted several local wineries in the past decade. During my search for a unique wedding venue that reflects my love of the mountains and valleys, I managed to stumble upon several wineries that are worth visiting. These establishments embody the spirit and soul of East Tennessee.
Blue Goose Vineyards is a small slice of Appalachian heaven. Not far off of the main streets of Maryville, TN, sitting on a hill behind a quiet residential area, is a farm complete with vineyard and livestock. The tasting room itself has the traditional high bar and a small shop filled with wine-inspired gifts. Blue Goose is a family business, with wines either made made entirely from grapes grown on their farm, or with grapes from other Tennessee vineyards.
Their Foothills Kiss muscadine wine is the real deal. Growing up, I frequently visited my grandfather in south Georgia. He owned land with chickens, grew a vegetable garden, and most importantly, tended his own muscadine vine. Every muscadine wine I’ve ever tried tastes like it came straight from concentrate compared to the fruit itself. But the folks at Blue Goose get it right. The flavor of their Foothills Kiss is true to the fruit and the sweetness isn’t overpowering.
As far as their other wines, Vinny’s Special Red appeals to the red wine lover in me; but one of the biggest surprises I had awaiting me at Blue Goose was their fruit wines. Both of their fruit wines, their Blackberry Blue and Rosie’s Raspberry, are good choices to take home when you pay them a visit.
The grounds of the farm at Blue Goose is home to several cattle and a donkey. They aren’t shy in the slightest, and are always ready for a photo with visitors.
I walked away from Blue Goose Vineyards feeling a true connection to the corner of Appalachia that I call home. There you have the unique opportunity to see the idea of farm-to-table living in action. Their fully functioning farm and vineyard echoes a simpler time when you ate and drank what you grew. With their friendly livestock and homegrown wine, Blue Goose Vineyards is an experience the whole family can enjoy.
Spout Springs Estate is a hidden gem in the middle of Grainger County. A friend recommended it to my fiancé and me when we first started looking for a wedding venue. You exit the interstate onto Rutledge Pike and drive until you think you must have missed your turn. You wind down curvy back roads and past abandoned buildings and old junk yards until you now know you must be lost. But then you see a welcoming sign telling you there’s a winery around the bend. The iron gate that greets you at the entrance is akin to a manor you might find in the English countryside. The winery itself sits at the top of a high hill overlooking a 360° view of some of the most gorgeous valleys and distant mountain views I have ever seen in East Tennessee— and this is coming from a local, born and raised. When my fiancé and I went to visit, we didn’t exactly know what to expect, but as soon as we saw the view, we knew we wanted to begin our married lives together with that as the backdrop.
Spout Springs Estate is more than just a winery on top of a pretty hill. It’s a life-changing experience. Owners and winemakers Chuck and Alice take great pride in their wines. Alice and I had exchanged plenty of emails to schedule our visit, and when we walked up to the big house, she ran out of the door and gave me a huge hug. At Spout Springs Estate you aren’t just a visitor or a client, you’re family.
If their hospitality wasn’t enough reason for you to visit, their wine should seal the deal. Each sip you try in their tasting room brings you more into their corner of the world, and each bottle you buy is a work of art. Chuck talks about the flavors in his blends as if they were colors gracing a canvas. They have many options: dry red, dry white, semi-sweet, and sweet. Some are more traditional, like Cabernet Sauvignon—a must if you’re even remotely a Cab fan. Others are custom takes on classic blends, like their Smoky Mountain Rose and Magnolia. The grapes these wines are made from grow right on their property, and their wines have even won regional awards.
A personal favorite of mine is their Scarlet. This sweeter red blend is named after the rescue border collie that lives on the property. I’m inclined to love the wine simply because it’s named after a dog, but much more than just the name makes this wine something special. The sweetness of the wine itself is balanced well with their practice of aging it in Appalachian Oak. This gives it just enough spice to please my palate that usually prefers a dry red.
After you finish a tasting, buy a glass—or a bottle—of whatever you like best and take in the sweeping views while enjoying their wine-barrel fire pit. You’re certain to meet Scarlet the border collie and have countless good conversations during your time there. Much to the joy of my fiancé and myself, Chuck and Alice rent Spout Springs Estate out as a wedding venue on the weekends in the warmer months of the year. In their words, they like to make wine and make people happy, and from their award-winning wine to the amount of weddings they host each year, I would say they’re doing a good job of living up to that philosophy.
The Winery at Seven Springs Farm is tucked away in Union County. To get there, you have to drive through winding roads in the hills and pass quaint communities that echo the setting of The Waltons. When I first visited, they were having a full-blown party with a food truck, a live band, and a crowd of wine enthusiasts. If the weather had been pleasant I might have expected this kind of reception on any given weekend at a local winery, but the rain was pouring down and a thick chill was in the air. The gloomy day in no way interfered with the winery’s weekend plans, though.
One of the first things you’ll notice about their tasting room is that it isn’t just a tasting room. They sell vegetables, meats, cheeses, milk, and many other odds and ends. They are a fully operating farm and sell their own products at the Farmer’s Market in town every weekend during the warmer months, but also collaborate with other local farms such as Sweetwater Valley Farm—we all know how well wine and cheese pair together—and Sunrise Dairy out of Crossville, TN. They even hire a local artist to create the artwork featured on each of their wine labels.
Seven Springs Farm has 14 wines to taste, several of which are estate wines made from grapes growing on 60 of their 400 acre, family-run farm in Union County. Their estate wines include their Farmhouse White, Rooster Red, Vineyard Blush, and Pink Bubbly—one of the wines Seven Springs is most proud of. It recently won awards for Fruit of the Year, Wine of the Year, and Sparkling Wine of the Year in Tennessee. It has one of the best blush flavors I’ve ever experienced in a wine, and the same exciting thrill found in a good bottle of champagne.
A special treat that Seven Springs had set up in their tasting room is a frozen wine option. There are two different options: Margarita made from their James’s Peach wine, and Blueberry Pomegranate made from their Royal Blue wine. I couldn’t decide between the two, and that’s when I found out they were happy to swirl the flavors. Even on a cool and chilly day I was still able to enjoy this frozen treat, so I can only imagine how refreshing it could be on a summer day.
The general air about the property at Seven Springs was one of excitement on the day I was there. I knew no one, but the staff still chatted with us about their wine and everything the farm has to offer like they had known us our entire lives. The winery often hosts special events throughout the month, including options like Girl Scout Cookie pairings and trivia nights. Their emphasis on community collaboration breathes life into Union County. Needless to say, they offer a full-bodied, social, and lively East Tennessee experience for any wine lover.
Visiting wineries in East Tennessee is easily one of the most relaxing activities I’ve found in my adult life. These establishments combine my passion for wine with the East Tennessee home that I love. They involve beautiful drives through the countryside with views of the mountains, and I never know who I’m going to meet or what kind of conversations I’m going to have. Each of the wines I’ve tried is an experience all its own. Sometimes it reminds me of pleasant childhood memories spent in the heat of a Georgia summer. Other times it sparkles in my mouth like a kiss after midnight on New Year’s. But there is one thing that’s true every single time: East Tennessee wineries are about more than producing wine or making money—they’re about a community and a lifestyle. Each winery I visited mentioned at least once the importance of enjoying the simple things in life: happiness in love, treasuring family, and always reminding oneself of one’s roots. All necessary reminders in this busy life that what is simple pairs perfectly with a glass of East Tennessee wine in hand.