BRASELTON, Ga. – If you love golf and wine, you might want to put Chateau Elan Winery and Resort on your list, especially if making it to California isn't practical. With its terrific golf offerings and a rapidly emerging winery to go with luxury accommodations and fine dining, this is a great destination, especially for couples.
Recent improvements come with new ownership, management and renovations of both its winery and golf villas, While the Inn at Chateau Elan certainly remains the lodging centerpiece at the resort located about a half hour north of Atlanta, the recently redone golf villas are a convenient and comfortable option for families, couples and groups, offering multi-bedroom homes right on the Chateau Course at Chateau Elan.
Golf continues to improve
There are actually four golf courses at Chateau Elan, including the private Legends Course, which was designed by Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, and Kathy Whitworth (six holes each) and used to play host to a PGA Tour Champions event. For the public and resort guests, however, there are three courses, including two championship layouts: the Chateau and the Woodlands courses; as well as the par 3 "Executive Course." And now with new ownership and management on the golf side, the golf experience as well as the lodging options are even better suited for golfers these days.
Purchased in 2018 by the Greenwich, Connecticut based real estate investment firm, Wheelock Street Capital, the resort now has a new luxury management team, HEI Hotels & Resorts, as well as a new golf management company, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Troon Golf.
One of the most significant improvements in the last couple of years has been the renovation of the golf villas, located on the 15th fairway of the Chateau Course and within walking distance of the Chateau Elan Clubhouse where the golf shop and Golf Grille are located. Each villa has either two or three bedrooms featuring a large open plan, kitchen, and living room complete with a fireplace, and television. They are also equipped with multiple bathrooms, including a deep bathtub, perfect for a hot soak after a round. And since you have your own stove and microwave, you can prepare meals or snacks at the villa instead of going out to eat at a restaurant for every meal.
Packages start out at $525 per night per two-bedroom villa for two golfers and include unlimited golf.
As for the golf, the two championship courses open to the public offer two distinct layouts. The Chateau Course is a Denis Griffiths design that opened in 1989. Griffiths also oversaw a 2016 renovation that included a conversion to TifEagle greens (they're much more heat resistant and painted in the winter).
The course has wider fairways than the Woodlands Course, but still has plenty of challenge. From the back tees, this par-71 plays more than 7,000 yards and there's plenty of water to negotiate.
The Woodlands Course is tighter and longer and has more elevation change than the Chateau Course. Also designed by Griffiths, it opened in 1996, but retained its bentgrass greens, giving members and guests two distinct putting surfaces.
Not be overlooked, however, is the par-3 course at Chateau Elan. The day I played it there were just two other twosomes on the course, which is a shame. Another Griffiths design with holes that range from 91 to 165 yards, this is real hidden gem. Resort guests don't even have to pay a green fee to play it (this wasn't always the case). You simply show up and carry your bag or take a pull cart that might be available. It's plenty challenging and great for your iron play and short game.
The piece of property for these nine holes also is magnificent, with a central lake, waterfalls, elevated tees and bentgrass greens. With a growing trend of short courses making their debut recently (think the Cradle at Pinehurst), perhaps Chateau Elan should put more emphasis on this layout.
And after golf, Chateau Elan offers something very few golf resorts can match: a world-class winery.
Chateau Elan Winery – a Georgia institution
First, a little history: Growing grapes and developing a winery in Georgia isn't easy, but that's just what Donald and Nancy Panoz (who were in the pharmaceutical industry) did more than three decades ago when they founded the resort. The first of its kind in the region since Prohibition, the 3,500-acre retreat has its own vineyard, but that comes with limitations, of course. The climate in the South really isn't suited for growing wine grapes. So in order to improve, changes needed to be made.
The biggest came in 2012 when they hired Executive Winemaker Simone Bergese, who oversaw a $2.5 million renovation to the winery. With more than 250 awards won since his first harvests in 2013, including multiple best-of-class, double gold and gold medals, Chateau Elan has is quickly gaining a reputation for producing quality wines.
Originally from Alba, Italy, Bergese began the winery’s transformation by first replanting the vineyards with disease-resistant native Muscadine grapes, which is suitable for Muscadine wine, but not the classic European varieties. For that, Bergese tours vineyards in California seasonally and hand-selects about 15 locations with the highest quality grapes.
His first harvests were bottled in 2013, and they've been winning awards ever since, Bergese's first 2013 vintages of the double gold-winning Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and Muscadry sold out within a year. As a result, the popularity and production of Chateau Elan wines has dramatically increased. Since then, production has increased to more than 35,000 cases a year, more than five times what it was in 2012.
I recently attended one of Chateau Elan's wine tastings. And while I'm not exactly a sommelier, I know what I like and was impressed with several of the winery's offerings, including one I purchased, a bottle of 2015 Velvet Reserve, which comes from a blend of Zinfandel and Barbera grapes grown at Chateau Elan's Davis vineyards in California. Of course, Chateau Elan still offers a variety of Muscadine wines as well as other reds, cabs, Pinot noirs, ports and its super "Fingerprint" edition of wines, which includes a premium white wine, "Nancy," named after the resort's co-founder.
The winery also offers its newly-renovated restaurant called Marc, which is perfect for those who want to do a wine tasting and follow it with dinner. One of six restaurants at the resort, Marc (Marc is a French fiery spirit from the heart of the grape, mostly consumed by farmers) prepares a regularly-changing lunch and dinner menu focusing on Southern classics and regional highlights featuring small plates, large butcher cuts and house-made desserts. Chef Cameron Udick’s brussel sprouts & Brasstown Beef filet made the 2018 list for “100 Plates Locals Love” featured on ExploreGeorgia.org.
The dining experience at Marc is just one of many you can enjoy at this resort, but being located in the winery makes it the perfect topper for anyone attending a wine tasting, which, of course, is an ideal way to top off a round of golf.