Stirring up memories
Stompin' at Still Pond
August 2, 2006
The sign just south of Morgan on County Road 153 caught both of our eyes. We were headed home on one of our backroad rambles from Atlanta. A vineyard! A winery? Not in southwest Georgia. But in just a few more miles right across Highway 62 on the Calhoun-Baker County line we spotted another sign pointing up a dirt road and instructing us, "Turn here."
Still Pond Vineyard and Winery stretched under the Georgia summer sun waiting to delight and amaze us. Verdant vineyards surrounded an inviting grove with picnic tables and shop. We stepped in to a warm welcome from owner Charles Cowart, who delighted us by telling the story of the land and the vineyard and giving us a tour.
The notion of growing muscadine grapes commercially came from Charles' father Charlie Cowart in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he managed this property for the Norris Cattle Company, a large Chicago enterprise. He was looking for a way to make the land, and the labor force, productive year round. Grapes were just the ticket since so much vineyard work—tying and trimming—takes place in the winter. When the Norris Company liquidated a few years later, Charlie bought 40 acres, started his vineyard and a family enterprise. Today the Cowart family, Charles and Susan and sons and their wives Jake and Susannah and Charlie and Stephanie, rule over 160 acres of commercial vineyard. They not only sell grapes and juices to other wineries, but for the last several years they have (the whole family is involved) offered their own wines—10 labels of 100 percent muscadine wine. And they have managed to win some prestigious prizes along the way.
Nestled between the vines is Still Pond, the headwaters of Caney Creek, which gives its name to the vineyard. Tranquil, I thought, a perfect name. But Charles enlightened me with the lore of the property. Back in Civil War times a local entrepreneur hit on the notion of succoring the boys in Gray with a little local refreshment—homemade peach brandy. The still was right there on the pond—Still Pond. The tradition continued. Charles says everyone in the vicinity remembers the two bachelor brothers with the magic stump. Leave $2.00 in a certain tree stump and "it'll turn to 'shine overnight."
And Still Pond continues—but in an entirely legal and lovely setting. The Cowart family welcomes visitors Monday through Saturday from 11 A.M. to 6 in the evening plus they often host private parties. But the very best time to visit Still Pond is during one of the three annual festivals when there are tours, hayrides, barbeque, local craftsmen and women displaying their wares and even a few sips of Still Pond wine. In spring, usually early April, it's the Bud Break Bash celebrating the appearance of the earliest promise of a bountiful crop. In November, the harvested crop is the focus at the Fall Festival—just in time to get folks in the mood for Thanksgiving. A good grape harvest is certainly something to be thankful for.
The third festival? Why, we are in luck! This Saturday, August 5, folks will head for Still Pond for the third annual Wine and Swine Grape Stomp Festival. Lots of swine (barbeque), some wine and grapes galore to squish and stomp, stomp, stomp.
Sound like fun? It begins at 11 and will go full tilt until late afternoon. There's no admission and lunch and crafts will be for sale and music will fill the air! The Cowarts do ask that no alcohol come onto the grounds.
If you go, don't be late. The stomping will begin just after noon. Seating is limited so bring your lawn chairs.
What can you do with muscadine grapes besides nibble on them or make a really good wine? Why cook with them—or their products. Susan Cowart is the head chef and creative cook at Still Pond. She shared two of her great recipes.
Susan's muscadine pepper jelly pork roast
3-4 pound pork roast
muscadine pepper jelly
Place the roast in a slow cooker. Brush with Dale's Sauce. Cover the top with pepper jelly—use lots. Cook until done (about 5 hours on low for my cooker, but use a thermometer, you want it tender, tender, tender). Thicken the gravy. This recipe is way too good not to be any harder than it is. It's about to become a company staple at the Pando household.
Take the pepper jelly you didn't use, put it on top of a brick of cream cheese and serve with crackers while your guests sniff the treat that is in store for them.
Charles really likes it when he finds out Susan is cooking up what is his favorite muscadine dish.
Coq au vin, Still Pond
8 chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper and dredged in flour
1 stick butter or margarine
2 beef bouillon cubes
½ cup Bob White Blush Muscadine Wine
1 8 ounce can mushrooms
Brown the floured and seasoned chicken breasts in the butter or margarine in a frying pan. Remove the chicen to a casserole dish. Dissolve the bouillon cubes in water and wine; add the mushrooms and stir well. Pour over the chicken. Bake at 325 degree for one hour. Use the wine broth and mushrooms as a gravy over rice. You may need to thicken the gravy with w tablespoons of flour dissolved in ¼ cup water during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Susan adds this is also good with quail. I'm betting it's good with almost anything. Of course you serve it with more of the Bob White Blush.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network