Scene & Herd - Life is a Cabernet

from Château elan

Braselton will always be best known to the rest of the country as the answer to the trivia question "Which Georgia town did actress Kim Basinger buy in 1989?" To Atlantans, however, Braselton is so much more. It's a booming exurb with a population that has tripled over the past decade-and-a-half. It's home to some of the largest, busiest industrial real estate developments in the state. It has a Kroger and a Publix. Most importantly, it's also home to Atlanta's biggest wine-themed resort, Château Élan.

I spent a couple of hours there Saturday afternoon (I was in the neighborhood) and took the $5 winery "tour" and tasting. The tour was a bit of a letdown. It consisted of standing on a balcony overlooking the wine factory floor while a tour guide talked about how wine is made. It's educational, but there's no fun stuff like wandering through vineyards or watching peasant women (or even machines) crush grapes. I guess that letting tourists get too close to the actual winemaking might affect the taste of the wine. Nobody wants their Chardonnay to taste "crisp and oaky, with a hint of family of four visiting for the weekend from Spartanburg."

The tasting immediately followed the tour. The first two wines I tasted were Château Élan's American Chardonnay and American Essence de Cabernet. Honestly, I was expecting them to be horrible. It's not that I'm a wine snob (to my palette, "great wine" means that I paid more than $10 for it), but I've had a lot of foul-tasting Georgia wine before, so I was expecting the worst. Château Élan's Chardonnay and Essence de Cabernet don't taste bad. They just didn't have a lot of flavor. They were very, very bland (they called it "light" and "dry"). You know how Norah Jones is marketed as jazz to people who don't know what real jazz sounds like? Château Élan's wine is the same way. I get the feeling that it's wine made for people whose idea of good beer is Budweiser and whose idea of great beer is Budweiser Select.

Altogether, I paid extra and sampled about nine wines (hey, when in Braselton ...), including Château Élan's best-seller, the super sweet and peachy Summer Wine. It tastes like something that thrill-seeking Welch's grape juice assembly line workers came up with to make the night shift pass quicker.

After the tastings, I exited the main building. Lured by the sound of gunfire, I hopped in my car and headed down to the Château Élan equestrian center where I saw, of all things, pistol-wielding cowboys riding horses through a slalom course and shooting their pistols at the sworn enemy of all good cowboys, balloons. I accidentally wandered into one of the Georgia Mounted Cowboy Shooting Association's competitive cowboy shootouts. The object of competitive cowboy shooting is to navigate the slalom fastest and shoot the most balloons, and maybe say "yee-haw" a few times for fun. I don't know who won. I couldn't find the score keeper and, honestly, I wasn't in a chasing mood. By that point, I had a pounding headache from all the wine.

Reality 1, Art 0: The Art in Freedom Park public art exhibit opened last Sunday. Silly me, though, I marked it wrong on my calendar and went on Saturday. It wasn't all bad. Except for a brief encounter with Max the border collie, I had the park to myself.The art is spread over a large area (in fact, I probably missed some). On one end was a giant yellow metal piece by Phil Proctor called "Split." It looks like something from a Windows screen saver. Charlie Smith's "Tunnel of Transformation" is a rusted steel arch that looks like a bow-legged cartoon cowboy's pants. I walked through, but was not transformed.

My favorite piece was something that I assumed was part of the show as I walked up to it, but actually wasn't. Someone hung a sign and plastic bags on a tree near Druid Place. The sign originally read: "Please think about the big picture. Scoop and bag your dog's poop." However, someone crossed out the original message and wrote in with marker: "Dear Sign Nazi - You have no authority here. The real problem is arrogant yuppies with too much time on their hands."

Look at me: Last weekend, Stone Mountain Park hosted the Cool Car Festival. It was an opportunity to ogle beautifully maintained and restored muscle cars from the '50s, '60s and '70s, as well as more elegant fare, such as a spectacular two-toned '55 Oldsmobile Holiday Coupe and a beautiful silver 2002 Volvo S60. Wait, that's my car.In keeping with the car theme, there was a large stage in the middle of it all where I saw a two men (Danny and Kenicke) and three women (Sandy, Frenchy and Rizzo) perform a shortened but fun version of Grease. I kind of have a crush on the girl who played Rizzo. That's OK, since it balances out the crush I get for John Travolta every time I catch a glimpse of the movie.

The Two Jakes: This next item begins with a segue that has never been used before and will likely never be used again.Speaking of Frenchies and cowboys, Atlanta singer/songwriter Berné Poliakoff, better known as Frenchy Berné of the harmony group Cowboy Envy, has just released her first solo CD. To mark the release of Language of Dreams, Berné played an early show Sunday at Jake's Toadhouse in Decatur.

The large audience of Berné's adult friends and fans, as well as several of her fidgety elementary school-aged music students, were treated to selections from her new solo album along with Cowboy Envy favorites. Berné's new songs, backed by a revolving cast that included an English drummer (Sam Kelly) and an Australian blues guitarist (Geoff Achison), are more introspective and singer/songwritery than her winking retro work with Cowboy Envy. As a solo artist, she's also a shameless genre-slut (that's a compliment). She darts from contemporary country ("Dixie Moon") to Joni Mitchell-esque maudlin introspection ("Looks Like My Childhood's Being Sold") to jaunty and romantic ("A Man Who Can Dance"). She also did a lovely high-harmony backing vocal when one of her bandmates, Mora Nelligan, sang Dolly Parton's classic "Jolene." All in all, a lovely way to spend an early evening.


For more about Andy's recent outings, visit Scene & Herd at www.andy2000.org.??

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