Trip Ideas

Georgia's New Culinary Pioneers

Meet some of the innovators in Georgia's dining landscape.

  • Tiger Mountain Vineyards

    GDEcD Photography

Georgia's Gold Rush of 1829 brought legions of prospecting pioneers to the northern part of the state. In recent years, a new breed of trailblazers has shown up here. Instead of mining for gold, they’re working Georgia's rich, fertile soil to grow a rapidly budding tourism industry.

  • Richland Rum, Richland

    A 2014 Flavor of Georgia winner, Richland Rum - Richland Distilling Company has begun revitalizing the southwest Georgia town of Richland. Founders Erik and Karin Vonk have crafted an independent artisan rum empire that includes sugar cane grown on their Vennebroeck Estate farm; a distillery (in a restored 1896 building) featuring copper pot stills made in Portugal and oak barrels for aging; and a tasting room where visitors can sample the final product. 
  • Georgia Olive Farms, Lakeland

    In 2009, influenced by a visit to Italy, third-generation farmer Jason Shaw teamed up with four other farmers (including his brother Sam) to revive Georgia’s long-dormant olive-oil production industry. Two years later, these oil barons harvested the first olive crop east of the Mississippi since the late 19th century. Georgia Olive Farms’ smooth, slightly sweet extra virgin olive oil is now the culinary equivalent of liquid gold, cherished by James Beard Award–winning chefs such as Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. Guided tours of the farm are available, with tastings offered for an extra charge. 
  • Oliver Farm, Pitts

    Bought by D.H. Watson in 1903, this “Centennial Farm” is now owned and operated by fifth-generation descendant Clay Oliver. With original buildings such as Watson’s log-cabin home and kitchen still in use today, Oliver Farm like a living snapshot of Georgia’s agricultural history. But the historical attraction is at the cusp of culinary trends: In addition to grass-fed, hormone-free beef, the farm grows, processes, and sells food-grade oils from uncommon sources like pecans and sunflowers. They offer cold-pressed, unrefined cooking oils, as well as a variety of infused oils that can be used for marinades, dips, and dressings. 
  • White Oak Pastures, Bluffton

    This Bluffton farm has been in cattleman Will Harris’ family since 1866, focusing primarily on grass-fed beef and lamb and free-range poultry. Harris was named Georgia’s 2013 Farmer of the Year for his nationally acclaimed innovations in sustainable farming, and the results of his family’s dedication have made White Oak Pastures a favorite of Whole Foods and myriad Atlanta chefs. Harris opened Pasture to Plate Restaurant on the property in 2012 to provide employees and visitors alike a taste of White Oak, and he opened cabins on-site last year to give visitors a weekend-at-the-farm getaway. 
  • The Smith House, Dahlonega

    Georgia’s Gold Rush lives on at the ever-popular The Smith House restaurant. While renovating the former inn in 2006, owners Freddy and Shirley Welch accidentally struck gold when they discovered the building’s original Gold Mine Shaft at the Smith House. Visitors can now see artifacts from the Rush that brought so many people to Georgia nearly 200 years ago. The Welch family is also among the Southern food pioneers; for three generations, their take on homemade Southern food (think crispy fried chicken, fried okra, cornbread, and cobblers) has made them legendary, earning accolades from the likes of Travel & Leisure and Southern Living.
  • White Hills Lavender and Herb Farm, Dearing

    Owned by medical and teaching professionals Ben and Lisa Kessler, this certified Georgia Cottage Foods farm is the only commercial farm in the state to grow lavender. White Hills Herb Farm also produces a variety of savory herbs using sustainable farming techniques. Their fresh and dried herb singles, herbal blends, custom organic teas, and herb-infused vinegars have made them a foodie favorite, with their Lavender Calamint Rooibos Tisane tea named a 2014 Flavor of Georgia finalist. They also offer make-it-and-take-it workshops at their bucolic headquarters.
  • Georgia Wineries, Various locations

    Georgia’s wine boom began in 1982, when Don Panoz (the entrepreneur behind Road Atlanta) opened Chateau Élan Winery & Resort on 3,500 acres in Braselton. Tom Slick opened the Habersham Winery in Helen the following year, and his Georgia-grown wines have gone on to win more than 150 medals in national and international competitions over the years. More recently, Doug Mabry has proven an inspiration as the founder of the Vineyard and Winery Association of West Georgia. As a result, wine makers such as Randy and Ann Muller (Bremen’s Vineyards at Mill Creek) and Jerry Culver (Villa Rica’s Little Vine Vineyards) are now harvesting grapes and opening wine-tasting shops in rural areas that haven’t had a wine-production industry since the Prohibition era.