If you’re yearning for a quiet winter getaway after the holiday flurry, Château Élan provides the perfect respite. Just under two hours via I-85 South, the resort is a destination in itself. Based in Braselton, Georgia, Château Élan encompasses a winery, a 275-room inn and conference center, a separate spa, and a new 95-room lodge.
As you drive up to the inn, the first sight to spy is the winery, modeled after a sixteenth-century French château. In the middle of the circular driveway, the statue Dancing in Grapes, depicting a woman joyfully stomping the famous fruit, sets the mood for your stay.
The winery embodies the vision of Donald Panoz and his wife, Nancy. In 1981, the couple visited the area in search of a distribution site for Don’s company, Élan Pharmaceuticals, the nicotine patch pioneer. En route to a friend’s home, the couple paused at a roadside fruit stand to purchase a hostess gift. The chosen basket contained local muscadine grapes, leading Panoz to wonder if vinifera, or common, grapes would also thrive in the northeast Georgia foothills.
The answer, given the region’s clay soil and hot, humid climate, was a resounding “no,” but that didn’t stop Panoz. He proceeded to purchase 3,500 acres, planting 200 acres with vinifera grapes. In 1986, he opened the 42,000-square-foot winery. Now flanked by a Parisian-style tasting patio, Panoz’s winery produces 40,000 cases a year, earning the title of largest winery in the state.
A day at Château Élan begins with an American buffet breakfast at resort restaurant Versailles, located on the inn’s lower level. A set of tennis, a round of golf on one of four courses, or a workout in the on-site gym will stoke your midday appetite for bangers and mash and Guinness on tap at Paddy’s, which Panoz—who lived in Ireland for 30 years—added to quell his nostalgia for his corner pub.
Reserve the afternoon for the spa, which hides behind the inn with 35 treatment rooms and the Fleur de Lys café. A full menu of massages and body treatments includes the HydraFacial, an advanced medical-grade skin-care treatment reported to reverse your look by 10 years. Then it’s back to your room to freshen up. A French country-estate feel pervades, whether it be a spacious inn room with Gallic-inspired furnishings or one of the 14 spa suites (no work desks here), with a custom-made soaking tub.
Before dinner, pop by the winery for a “flight” (seven) of Italian winemaker Simone Bergese’s award-winning vino. When Bergese joined the staff in 2013, he replaced all the vinifera grapes with native muscadines. Today, he sources 27 vinifera varietals from California, while his muscadine wines are vinted with Georgia grapes.
End the day at Marc, the winery’s recently rebranded restaurant. Request a seat on the heated verandah overlooking vine-covered hillsides, and tuck into a Brasstown beef bistro filet or a roasted poulet rouge from Chef Cameron Udick’s menu of locally sourced, seasonal cuisine. Polish off your meal with a glass of Château Élan’s full-bodied American Port, and you, too, may be tempted to dance in the grapes yourself.
Château Élan, 100 Rue Charlemagne, Braselton, Georgia. (678) 425-0900, chateauelan.com