Hidden away near the intersection of Cobb, Paulding, and Bartow Counties lies the expected fields and greenery of the countryside. But what passersby might not know is on that beautiful land lies a beautiful and tasty vineyard, Qualusi Vineyards. Acres of grapevines and a newly-opened tasting room give customers a way to relax while enjoying locally-grown wine. Located in Acworth, off Dabbs Bridge Road, this little taste of wine heaven sits peacefully, still only minutes away from the hustle and bustle of US-41 and I-75.
Qualusi Vineyards is a family-run business, operated by Bob and Jenny Gilbert, along with their daughter and her husband, Emilee and Derik Gilbert. Emilee coincidentally married another Gilbert, so her married and maiden names are the same.
Each of the four owners brings their own expertise. Bob and Jenny, who at one time operated a flower farm on the property, work in the vineyard and help in the tasting room. Emilee, with a background in food and beverage, is in charge of marketing and events. Derik will be the full-time winemaker once the winery is complete. Like many small businesses, their job titles overlap and everyone helps out wherever needed. “Everyone has their own skillset and everyone’s skillset works well together,” Emilee said.
In 2017, the Gilberts planted vines on this land that have been in the family for more than 50 years. In 1963, Emilee’s grandmother, Betty Gilbert, bought 500 acres of land. “She actually bought it and didn’t tell my grandfather about it. She showed up one day and was like ‘Hey, I bought 500 acres today.’ She paid $50 an acre for it,” said Emilee. Over the years, the family sold many acres, but the family still owns 80 acres, with 20 of it devoted to the vineyard. “I live on the property - me and my husband and our kids have a house, as well as my parents and my 90-year-old grandmother,” said Emilee. The family land has a rich Cherokee heritage. Over the years, the family has found artifacts on the property.
“You couldn’t take two steps without finding some,” said Emilee. “We’re located right along Pumpkinvine Creek, so the area was a great place for the Native Americans to inhabit. The land itself has a lot of Cherokee history.” This abundant culture is the inspiration for the vineyard’s name, Qualusi (pronounced Kwa-loo-see), which means grapes in the Cherokee language.
The tribute continues in many of the names chosen for the wines. The vineyard’s most popular wine, Fire Keeper, recalls the important person in the Cherokee tribe who was in charge of keeping the village fire going at all times. Algoma, Cherokee for valley of flowers, is a wine name that unites the Cherokee heritage with the flowers that the Gilberts farmed here.
Qualusi grows three different grape varieties. “We have a Norton grape, which is a native grape - it’s disease resistant and grows well in this area; a Blanc du Bois and a Crimson Cab,” explained Emilee. The Crimson cab is a Norton grape rootstock on which a Cabernet Sauvignon is grafted. Grafting grape cultivars onto a native rootstock increases the viability of non-native species. “There are a lot of different grapes that are able to be grown now at this elevation and they are coming out with new ones every year,” said Emilee.
The Gilberts have completed two phases of their three-phase plan. Phase one included planting two-and-a-half acres of vines. Phase two opened this year as a tasting room and phase three will be a winery. “It allows us to focus on one thing at a time. We really got an understanding of what it took to have the vineyard running, what we needed to do,” said Emilee.
The goal is to have a winery on property in two to three years. “Right now, we are making our wine at Chateau Meichtry in Ellijay. We bring our grapes up there as well as the grapes we source from other vineyards,” said Emilee. “We go up there when any big decisions on the wine have to be made. We are learning from their winemaker anything we need to know about the winemaking process.”
Today, the focus is on the tasting room. The 4,000-square-foot building holds a large main space for people to gather, listen to live music, have wine tastings and buy bottles of wine. Cozy seating creates a comfortable atmosphere. “We feel like we are bringing people into our home to drink wine,” said Emilee.
A large patio offers a place to enjoy wine with a view of the vineyards. “Our vines are about 50 feet from the building. So you are really sitting between the vines,” said Emilee.
Qualusi offers ten wines on its tasting sheet. Every wine except for one is grown in Georgia. A wine tasting course includes five wines for $10. “Often a couple will come in, one will get all the reds, one will get all the whites and they’ll manage to taste all our wines. Then from there, most people will pick a bottle that they want to go sit down and enjoy.”
The vineyard is family-friendly and allows leashed dogs. “We see a lot of kids. You’ll see my 3-year-old and 1-year-old here often,” said Emilee. Customers are also encouraged to bring lawn chairs or a picnic blanket and sit among the vines while enjoying a glass of wine.
When the grape harvest rolls around, the Gilberts plan on offering immersive activities, including a wine-stomping festival and grape picking. “There’s something romantic about being in the vines picking the grapes,” Emilee said.
The Gilbert’s will ask for volunteers to help pick grapes at harvest time. “The first year we tried to do it all ourselves and it’s a lot of work. But when you have a lot of people out here and everyone picks about ten vines, then it’s fun,” said Emilee. “We typically pay in wine for the people that come out and volunteer.” When that wine is released, the vineyards give the volunteer a bottle of wine made with the grapes they picked.
Since the tasting room opened only weeks before the pandemic, a Grand Re-Opening is planned for July. “It’s so pretty during the summer when the vines are full,” said Emilee.