Writer, Vintner, Fund Raiser

In wine LINGO, Martha Ezzard could be described as “rounded,” a term defined as “well-balanced and complete,” but how does Ezzard describe herself? “By profession I’m a writer and lawyer,” she says, “Both [husband] John and I are risk-takers that like new challenges.”

In addition to writing, law and politics, she’s worn an assortment of other hats including wife, mother of three and grandmother of six. In 1999, she added another hat to her collection, vintner, when she, John and neighbors Bill and Leckie Stack, whom they’ve since bought out, started Tiger Mountain Vineyards located in Rabun County.

Not only have Tiger Mountain Vineyards’ unique wines garnered national awards, they’re benefiting from the “buy local” trend. Tiger Mountain wines are found in some of Georgia’s finest restaurants, including Quinones at Bacchanalia in Atlanta, The Cloister on Sea Island, and the Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis hotels in Buckhead.

And now the Ezzards, along with friends Donna Masinter and Carla Fackler, are taking on the cause of raising the $250,000 necessary to fund a professorship in oenology, the study of wine and winemaking, at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. “John and others in the [wine making] industry often send samples to Cornell University or Virginia Tech labs for analysis,” Ezzard says. “It seemed like that was something the premier state university could do in support of the industry.”

The professorship would be an outgrowth of the university’s popular “May-mester” viticulture course taught in Cortona, Italy. A student internship program, placing interested students in north Georgia vineyards for hands-on learning was begun two years ago. Analysts at UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government estimate that North Georgia’s wine industry contribution to the state’s economy will top $585 million by 2024.

Advocating comes naturally for Ezzard, an Atlanta native who graduated from the Grady College of Journalism at UGA. She met John at college and, after his graduation from medical school, they relocated to Colorado where John did his internship and residency and built a urology practice while she worked in newspapers and television. They put down roots, started their family and fell in love with the West.

Though the timing wasn’t ideal with three children at home, Ezzard went to law school and became involved in state politics. “John was always supportive of my crazy moves,” she says. But the Ezzards always knew the day would come when they’d move back to Georgia, which they did after 23 years in Colorado.

“John was born and raised on a farm that’s been in his family for five generations,” Ezzard says. “We were fortunate to be in a position to be able to work the land and keep the farm in the family.” Ezzard took a position on the editorial board of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1993, and for two years John continued to work his practice while “commuting” to the farm from Colorado. He continues to practice, part-time, in Clayton and Toccoa.

In 1995 John decided he’d try growing wine grapes, studying with Virginia wine maker Dennis Norton. They focused their attention on a small number of varieties suited to the southern Blue Ridge Mountain climate: the American Norton, the vinifera red grapes of the Loire and Rhone River valleys of France, the white Viognier and the Portuguese Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao. John planted 1,500 vines by hand on nine acres of land and three years later harvested his first grapes for wine, which they sold to Norton in Virginia. In 1999 they opened the winery.

The first Tiger Mountain wines were sold in 2001; the output is now about 3,000 cases of wine each year, placing Tiger Mountain squarely in the “boutique winery” category.

A writer at heart, Ezzard is working on a book about the couple’s experiences. “It’s called The Second Bud,” she says, referring to what happens when early buds are killed by a late frost. “Even if the first bud freezes, the second bud gives you the second chance for a harvest. It’s a metaphor for our lives. The book is about changing our lives to save the family farm and how the venture changed us as well.”

Categories: Influential Georgians