For wine-lovers in the Lake Country area, a quick drive on I-20 West to Social Circle will bring you to Fox Vineyards and Winery, a cozy roadside stop run by the Fuchs family. John Fuchs, a retired pilot, started the vineyard in 1984, eventually passing it down to his son, Ken, and grandson, Evan. Fox Vineyards offers a wide range of wines, from classic reds to sweet fruit wines such as a Bonny Blueberry. Lakelife Magazine took a trip to the winery to speak with Evan Fuchs about the history of the family business, get tips on the proper way to sample wine, and more.
What is the history of this vineyard?
We’ve been here about 35 years. We planted in ‘84 and opened in ‘87—it took about three years for the grapes to mature. The vines out there now, those are actually different than what we originally planted. We grow about six different kinds of muscadines and five different kinds of scuppernongs. We make about 15 different wines here, not including blends, so a lot of that fruit we have to buy and have it shipped here from out of state. A lot of the reds tend to come out of California and a lot of the whites actually tend to come out of the Great Lakes Area these days—Wisconsin, Michigan.
We make a lot of fruit wine here. People tend to know us for our dessert wines. But that’s also what Georgia is known for—sweeter beverages, with Southern cooking. All the food is fried, salty, and buttery. The sugar in your meal isn’t really coming from a sauce the way it would in European cuisine. All the sugar is coming from your drink, like sweet tea, lemonade or Coca Cola. So our wines are focused on replacing a cup of sweet tea. A lot of our wines are really fruity, really sweet like that.
Our best seller is our blueberry wine. That’s one of the fruits we actually do get from Georgia, and those come out of the Baxley area.
Who’s on the winemaking team?
It’s just me and my dad right now, and whichever friends or family have time to pitch in. We make about 12–15 thousand gallons right now. My dad and my grandpa started this back in the 80s when I wasn’t even around yet. Grandpa was an Air Force captain, and then he was an Eastern Airlines pilot. He used his pension from that to start this place. He was very, very devout Catholic. He found his life’s calling to make communion wine and donate it to the church.
When are the grapes harvested?
Usually around August through September, or if it’s hotter, the end of July. We also let people harvest and pick their own. It’s $1 a pound and they usually go for like $4 a pound at a grocery store. We get a lot of people out here who make their own jelly or wine at home. They’ll come in and buy like 50 pounds or more just for their own winemaking. It’s cool that they’re using our grapes.
What is the winemaking process?
We get the juice or fruit in the tank. If it’s still fruit, we have to run it through a machine that crushes it into pulp and juice. When that’s in the tank, just add yeast and possibly some sugar, if you need it. The yeast has to eat something, and some juices are naturally really low in sugar. So if we add a little bit, that’s how it boosts up the alcohol content in the end product. Then you just let it go. It’s a really simple process, it just takes a long time.
We tend to sell out of a lot of stuff here. We’re really small but we have a pretty large customer base by now. And we’ve been here 35 years so it’s a pretty loyal customer base. The wines don’t age long here. I don’t think we have any wines on the list right now that are older than three years. We have the capacity to make about 50,000 gallons of wine.
How does the tasting room work?
We get a lot of people who are just traveling through and stop in on a whim, so we don’t even take reservations for those kinds of things. As long as you can show your ID you can say, ‘I want a little sip of this one or that one,’ and we can tell you what goes into it. If you want, you can try pretty much everything we’ve got on the list right now. We normally make about 15 different ones, which is kind of ridiculous for a winery our size, but we’re used to making small amounts of lots of different things.
Tastings are complimentary. We don’t have an in-house sommelier, necessarily. None of us are registered or certified. But we do make the wine ourselves, so we know what goes into it.
What’s the best way to sample wine?
The right temperature can be very helpful. But certain substances give off an aroma and if you warm up your drink, it’ll give off just a little bit more of those aromas. You can swirl it around in your glass, and with the airflow flowing through, it will help release some of them too. About half, if not more, of your sense of taste is your smell. So, it’s really important to be able to smell your wine properly. Because sometimes wines have an almost undesirable smell, you don’t want to give off too many of those smells, because it’s going to mess with it.
With a white wine, you want to serve it colder because they tend to taste a little sweeter that way. Red wines tend to be aged a lot more heavily. And because of that, you’re trying to sense little things that may not have been present if the wine was fresh, but still had all those fresh aromatics going on, you age it and let those go away. And now you’ve got all these really subtle flavors that you’re trying to pick up that you couldn’t have if all that stuff was in the way before. So that’s why you start those a little closer to room temperature to bring some of that to the surface, swirl it around, really appreciate it.
For many of our wines, they’re so new, so sweet and fruity, and we try to capture as many of those aromatics as possible. We don’t age anything in oak here. It’s all stainless steel because we’re just trying to capture as much fruity essence as possible.
What are some good foods that go with your wines?
There’s a restaurant near here called the Blue Willow in Social Circle. Our wines go with just about anything they serve — fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, mashed potatoes, country fried steak, the Southern classics. Otherwise, the classic go-to is white wines with white meat, red wines with red meat. Red wines with red sauce, white wines with white sauce.
Do you get a lot of people looking to buy wine for their wedding?
For wedding parties, we give a discount. We get a lot of people buying bulk here for wedding parties. We have people say, ‘I’m going to have this many people at my wedding, how much wine should we get or what kinds of wine?’ That’s what we answer questions about.
Do you have any recommendations for anniversary celebrations?
I just recommend that people always save several bottles of wine from your wedding. Just buy a little bit extra and then keep that wine and it’ll be your anniversary wine. If you’re looking for something romantic, I always recommend going to a wine tasting together, try to find something that you both enjoy, and drink it together. It’s more about the shared experience. What you really want is that connection with the other person just being like, ‘hey, remember that time we got that wine together?’
Story & photos by Jordan Meaker
Video edited by Katie Marie O'Neal