TIGER – Just seven tenths of a mile, north of this town of 316 residents and no traffic light, you blissfully arrive at Tiger Mountain Vineyards.
Located on Old U.S. 441, this address becomes increasingly more prominent as the reputation of the winery consistently rises like the sun over the easterly outreaches of Rabun County.
At the outset, there is lamentation — that space constraints won’t allow justice to be done herein to this classic winery and its founders, John and Martha Ezzard, and their partners, John and Marilyn McMullan of Atlanta.
The fundamental facts are that John Ezzard — a urologist who found his way back to the farm he grew up on by way of Athens (he played high school football with Fran Tarkenton), the University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia, an internship at the Presbyterian Hospital in Denver, military obligation at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington and residency at the University of Missouri — didn’t want to grow vegetables on the family farm which he and his siblings inherited from their father. William T. Ezzard, who initially cultivated an apple orchard and then operated a dairy, was mostly a military man. He was occupied by World War II, Korea and Vietnam — a great American. Martha is a journalism graduate of Georgia with a master’s degree from Missouri and a law degree from the University of Denver.
While John was practicing medicine, she worked as the press aide to Colorado Gov. John Love and later was elected to that state’s House of Representatives and subsequently the Colorado Senate. When they became empty nesters, she found herself bored with law and began to revert back to her journalism roots which led to a position with the editorial staff of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Soon she was living in Atlanta, enjoying fulfillment in newspapering, an award winning editorialist. Before long, John was spending a month practicing medicine in Denver and a month in Tiger cultivating his vineyard.
The next move for John was to leave Denver for good with Martha maintaining her relationship with the newspaper and spending weekends in Tiger. She writes about all this in her book, “Second Bud,” which led to her being named Georgia author of the year.
A competent writer, she tells an interesting story which is a reminder that the aging process should apply to personal fulfillment in the same sense that it does for wine. There is no question — the Ezzards have, emotionally and professionally, gotten better with age. You walk through their vineyards and spend time with them — you simply feel good.
Through the McMullans, we became acquainted with the Ezzards. A recent retreat to Tiger included a visit in the Ezzard’s contemporary home with a Tuscan flair and a humbling view in every direction like the invigorating views you get from a bay window in San Francisco. Pause and let your mind’s eye run ungoverned and you see Bordeaux, St. Émilion and the Pomerol Vineyards. Or maybe Napa, Sonoma or Paso Robles.
I’m a wine aficionado, not an expert, but the ravings of others set the Ezzards and their vineyard apart. John was not a trial and error vintner. He read and he researched. He believed correctly that his family farm had the soil for wine cultivation. Rabun is one of the wettest counties in the state. It rains, it stops and the sun comes out which means than John doesn’t have to irrigate. All the while the abundant sunlight is doing what it needs to do to produce the best grapes for quality wine making.
Spend time at the Tiger Mountain Vineyards with the Ezzards and the McMullans and you become immersed into a smorgasbord of hospitality, accented by the fruits of their vineyard which has resulted in award winning wines like Petit Manseng and Cabernet Franc Reserve. The atmosphere, the history of the place and warmth are powerfully impressionable. Tiger Mountain Vineyards is one of the most delightful stories of enterprise in our state. This calls for dinner and celebration. Stay tuned.
Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org