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Posted: Thursday, April 24th 2014 at 9:05pm

Farm wineries get Hall Commission okay

By Marc Eggers Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Matthew Vrahiotes
GAINESVILLE – Hall County Commissioners have decided the time has come to join neighboring counties by allowing wineries to be a part of local agri-business.

The vote to amend the county code was unanimous; the only question was if the protocol being used was correct.

After a few minutes of discussion and debate Commissioners voted 4-1 that the Thursday night reading of the amendment was actually a second reading, and not the first reading as noted on the agenda. (Note: two readings and public comment opportunities are required before a vote may be taken.) That would allow immediate approval of the amendment, something critical to Matthew Vrahiotes and his wife.

County Attorney Bill Blalock added that the amendment had been read at a previous meeting despite the confusion on its status. “We did have a reading on it on March 27th, which was a regular meeting.”

The Vrahiotes patiently explained their desire to the Commissioners to have the amendment approved as soon as possible because in the back of their minds was the nightmare of acres of fruit being over-ripe and unusable for this season’s production.

The Vrahiotes own 46-acres on Bill Wilson Road near Alto and are trying to become the first “Farm Winery” in Hall County. They have decided to name their enterprise Sweet Acre Farms Winery.

Fifteen vineyards dot northeast Georgia as members of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia. None of them are in Hall County. Sweet Acre Farms would be the first.

“We are trying very diligently to have this motion passed…but I by no means want anybody to suffer because of a hasty move,” Vrahiotes told the Commissioners.

“My wife and I have decided that until we have the Hall County licensing approved we will not be able to move forward with the federal licensing,” Vrahiotes explained. “It takes 110 days for them (federal agencies) to approve or disapprove our application.”

Vrahiotes further explained that his plan is to be a fruit winery rather than a grape winery. “We think the niche in the market for us is fruit wines. We think that we can appeal to the community a little bit better by offering them something that they can relate to.”

“Everybody knows what peaches taste like, everybody knows what blackberry tastes like. We want to produce something that everybody can have fun with; right now we’re going to concentrate on strawberry, peach, apple, blackberry, and blueberry.”

Vrahiotes told Commissioners, “We have blackberries that are getting ready to come into harvest. We need to know, without any doubt, if we need to go back to our normal yearly practices (production of jams and jellies as well as fresh and frozen fruit sales) or whether we need to start conserving our berries so that we can turn them into wine.”

“I want this done the right way, just like you do,” Vrahiotes added. “I might be the first farm winery but I won’t be the last.”

The Vrahiotes left the Hall County Government Center to wishes of "Good luck." from several of the Commissioners following their unanimous vote to amend the county code.
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