“I didn’t buy a farm, I built it.”
Meet Matthew Vrahiotes who, with bride Lindsey, is the owner/builder of Sweet Acre Farms Winery. The 46-acre plot of rolling hills, piney woods and stick-straight rows of rich, ripe fruit is the wellspring of an array of semi-dry, semi-sweet and fascinatingly flavored wines. They are made from a combination of locally grown blackberries, blueberries, apples, peaches and lemons (not grown there).
The wines of Sweet Acre Farms Winery near Alto are not for wine snobs who rave on and on about the subtleties of the latest Syrah from the Central Coast of California and Italy’s Super Tuscans. The wines of Matthew and Lindsey Vrahiotes are for folks who honestly like wines that flat-out taste good.
And that’s what Sweet Acre Farms Winery is all about — wines that tempt your palate and announce to your taste buds, “Hey, this is good stuff.”
It’s a work in progress. Although Sweetie Pie the donkey has concluded it’s her place, it really is not. Sweet Acre Farms Winery is the love child of Matthew and Lindsey, two young folks who met and merged at Valdosta State University.
Lindsey comes from home-grown Hall County stock, daughter of Jackie and Judy Crumley. Jackie’s an electrician par excellence, and Judy is a Renaissance woman who can design wine labels and run a bulldozer. In other words, not a woman to mess with.
Lindsey is pregnant with their first child, which only adds to her homespun attractiveness. It’s going to be a girl, around the first of September, and they’re already planning chores for her around the rural winery just off Bill Wilson Road.
And from that winery don’t expect cabernet sauvignon or merlot or chardonnay or pinot grigio. But do expect exotic combinations of fruit flavors, such as lemon-blackberry, or a bourbon barrel-aged apple wine.
Also expect wines that are the pure expression of the fruit — with some unique twists. Some will even feature honey from their own bee hives.
“Too many people think of fruit wines and they immediately think ‘sweet’ and that’s not true,” said Matthew, a burly, bearded “military brat” who embraced this winery operation with the dedication of his Greek ancestors. “Vrahiotes” means “rock throwers” in Greek, he explained. When invaders crossed into his ancestors’ turf, they rose up and heaved rocks at them. And he and Lindsey have had to heave a lot of rocks to clear the land for their vineyards.
The rolling landscape was full of trees when the brainstorm for Sweet Acre Farms Winery struck. So the family set forth to level the land. Jackie was the primary land clearer. But one day he was called off to an emergency electrical job, so he gave Judy a primer on how to run the dozer to level the land.
Long story short: When Jackie, whose round face is creased with smiles, tried to point out to Judy where she could do better with the dozer, she snapped back “Don’t you try to tell me how to push dirt!”
Judy went on to swing that dozer around to pull the hundreds of stumps from the ground, then crafted the colorful and happy designs for the wine labels. One features the serene face of Sweetie Pie, the donkey.
The youngest winery owners in Georgia, according to Matthew, the Vrahiotes have taken the road less traveled — fruit wines, rather than traditional grape wines, made to — I repeat — “taste good.”
And they do.
During a recent visit, I was given samples of (pardon) Sweet Ass Peach, with Sweetie Pie on the label. It’s medium dry with the viscosity of a good German dessert wine.
I also sipped a lemon-blackberry wine that thoroughly destroyed any preconceived notions based on the expected flavors.
“It’s a lemonade-style wine,” Matthew interjected. “We call it a gateway wine.”
That was said with a wink toward Lindsey.
The path to creating a fruit-based winery in Hall County was not smooth. County officials were not sure how to deal with what Matthew and Lindsey were proposing.
It took three years of lobbying and persuading county officials to get on board. They simply had not had a project of this nature to deal with. They had a lot of round holes, and the Vrahiotes presented a square peg. But it worked out.
“Everybody was really great,” Matthew noted. “It just took a lot longer than we expected.”
But now the hoops have been jumped through, the stumps have been pulled and the wine production is steaming ahead. They’re building a winery/tasting room facility just 100 yards down Bill Wilson Road from where they’re making the wine now.
These young rock throwers are looking for an opening in early fall. Look for the intricate designs of old tin in the tasting room, and the faded Crumley Orchards sign on the second floor bar. That’s part of the family.
And family is what Sweet Acre Farms is all about. It demonstrates the strength of generations bonding, working together, making something seemingly far-fetched a tasty reality.
Lindsey, a farm-bred young woman, said as she pointed to the Crumley Orchards sign, “This is to honor them.”
Story by Randall Murray, Photos by Erin O. Smith