Chateau Elan unveils a $25 million renovation at the European-style resort and winery.
by Michael J. Solender
Charlotteans looking for a luxe wine-country mini-escape can postpone their California or southern France journeys for another time — Chateau Elan in Braselton, Ga., is calling, and the Europe-inspired winery and resort is less than a four-hour drive from the Queen City.
Here, guests are greeted with intriguing specialty varietals, a surprising blend of fine and upscale-casual dining, a pampering spa, and plenty of quiet corners to curl up with a book inside the newly refreshed accommodations. There are plenty of sporting diversions, too, including 45 holes of championship golf, tennis and hiking, plus cooking classes and Segway tours within the heavily forested 3,500-acre property.
And if the big-city allure of shopping, museums or theater are part of the escape plan, the Big Peach of Atlanta is 40 miles down the road, making Chateau Elan a stay-and-play destination with plenty of appeal.
Former owners Donald and Nancy Panoz are to thank for the vision and enthusiasm to create this equestrian-country retreat, inspired by their visits to French wine regions and extended stays in Irish villages and hill country. In the late ’60s, the American couple lived in Ireland, where Don formed Elan Corp., a biotech company. Frequent visits back to the U.S. often found the couple in Gainesville, Ga., not far from Braselton, where the company had a research facility. During one visit, the couple enjoyed locally made muscadine wine. When they asked why the wine wasn’t being produced commercially, they were informed it couldn’t be done.
That proved all the challenge they needed, and by 1985, they established the first winery in the region since Prohibition. The resort expanded over the years, the most prominent addition being the main chateau, inspired by a 16th-century French Loire Valley great home, with a full-service tasting room and 35 acres under vine. Under new ownership since 2018, the resort underwent a $25 million renovation that was completed in December.
Cabernet, merlot, Norton, Seyval, Edelweiss, syrah, chambourcin, sangiovese, and muscadine are grown on property, supplemented by additional varietals grown under special relationships with California growers. Chateau Elan-produced wines have received more than 350 awards from national and international wine competitions.
“Mother Nature dictates what we can best produce,” says Simone Bergese, Chateau Elan’s executive winemaker. “What thrives here is muscadine — the Southeast is the perfect place for this variety. Muscadine was born here, stayed here, never moved and represents a tradition in not only winemaking, but grape growing in the South. Collectively in the South, we produce almost 20 million bottles of muscadine wine.”
Bergese hails from Alba, Italy, and brings classic European techniques to his craft. He’s on a singular mission to surprise and delight visitors to the winery, especially with regards to muscadine. “My hope is to introduce people to the unexpected and [allow them to] experience the true treasure of our wines,” he says.
The expansive tasting bar in the chateau offers guests just that opportunity. Trained sommeliers assist both novices and oenophiles, with a genuine interest in sharing their extensive knowledge. And while there are as many as eight muscadines to try, there are many other varietals to explore, from whites such as the crisp Pinot Grigio Reserve to the highly rated Tempranillo, a complex red aged two years in new French oak. There’s even an oddly delicious sparkler, Brut d’Ananas, made with queen Tahiti pineapples. A family connection brought Bergese to Tahiti, where he was struck with the idea of crafting the fun and playful bubbly.
Accommodations at the resort blend Southern influence and French styling. Men are equally comfortable in khakis and a polo shirt or a blazer and dress pants. Just steps from the winery, the inn shines after the renovation that included an overhaul of 275 rooms and suites. A warming fireplace greets guests at check-in, and the rooms are handsomely appointed. Small touches such as leather desk blotters, backlit bathroom mirrors and crisp, high-thread-count linens add up to big comfort. There’s an equestrian influence in the artwork, with earth tones and soft gray accents throughout the common spaces.
Dining & libations
Kicking back can make one awfully hungry, especially after playing a round of golf or hiking on some of Chateau Elan’s serene nature trails. Marc, the resort’s signature bar and restaurant, occupies space opposite the wine bar in the chalet. A Southern-inspired chophouse with an inventive cocktail menu (of course, all of Chateau Elan’s wines also are available) offers a broad menu of hand-cut steaks, pasta dishes such as a house-made pappardelle and braised short rib sugo, and lighter fare like a watermelon and roasted peach salad.
Versailles serves breakfast, lunch and dinner under a soaring glass-topped atriumat the inn. The space is anchored at one end by a massive, multilayered wooden art installation representing the topography of the Georgia piedmont. Indigenous hardwoods were used in fashioning the side-by-side mounted ridges, each hand-sanded and stained, with the overall effect giving off a warm glow and creating a sense of intimacy in this otherwise expansive space. Dining here is unhurried, with both an extensive buffet and an a la carte menu available.
Guests shouldn’t overlook the spa dining at Chateau Elan. Fleur-de-Lis, a sunny bistro overlooking the pond outside the spa, offers healthy indulgences at breakfast and lunch. The pumpkin brioche French toast is a hands-down winner and a treat after one of the daily morning classes such as yoga flow, water exercise, barre and balance, or strength training.
Louis’ House of Bourbon offers pub fare alongside a vast selection of Kentucky’s finest spirits. For the Irish-leaning guests, Paddy’s delivers a truly authentic Emerald Isle experience. The pub was built in Ireland according to the specifications of Panoz and fully equipped down to the taps behind the bar and the Guinness signage throughout. In 1997, it was disassembled and shipped across the pond to Chateau Elan, where it stands today. Guests enjoy a pint (or two) and authentic fish & chips made crisp with a secret beer-batter recipe.
With so many diversions at this European-style resort, you might want to schedule an extra day — a weekend visit may not be enough. SP