MILTON, Ga. — Painted Horse Winery at the Farm at Pamelot in Milton recently celebrated its first year in business.
Over that time, the only winery in Fulton County has packaged nearly 3,000 bottles of its wine and is staying busy with events each weekend.
Owner Pamela Jackson said business has been tremendous, but there have been headaches that come with being the first farm winery in the area.
For one, she said, state regulations on farm wineries are far more liberal than Milton’s alcohol codes. Georgia allows farm wineries, by default, to sell “foreign” wines, those manufactured beyond the state’s borders, and permits the sale of beer and liquor along with wine.
Up till recently Milton was less expansive with its alcohol regulations.
However, last month, the Milton City Council approved an update to its alcohol ordinance that will permit Jackson to sell out-of-state wines, a concession she said is vital to her business.
“I just have four varietals of my own,” she said. “We have lots of bottles but not a lot of variety, and we needed to offer something a little less expensive. Georgia wines average $45 a bottle, and for some that’s too much.”
While the city came around to the request after some prodding, officials have been generally less receptive to the idea of permitting beer and liquor sales at Painted Horse.
Jackson said she has no intention of offering liquor — except perhaps for a special event like Mint Julips during the Kentucky Derby — but she needs to be able to offer beer.
“Beer is important,” she said. “We have a lot of couples who come in, and one of them may not like wine, they want a beer. It’s just something that needs to be added for us to be a complete venue for people to visit on a Saturday or Sunday.”
Milton Economic Development Manager Sarah LaDart, who spearheaded Milton’s recent alcohol ordinance changes, said the city must be careful in allowing a provision that some could regard as allowing a bar to operate.
“We say over and over and over again we don’t allow bars,” LaDart said. “So, when we hear of a beer, wine and liquor trio together, we have to be careful, because time after time our residents have told us they do not want bars. So, we want to make sure…while Milton continues to grow, we keep Milton what our residents want us to be.”
LaDart added that while Painted Horse is the only farm winery in Milton, the city must craft its ordinances for any future vineyards within its borders without providing too much lenience.
“We have to be careful writing this,” LaDart said. “While we are absolutely getting Ms. Jackson’s input, and these decisions are benefitting her, we need to make sure it works for the second, third, fourth or 12th winery in Milton.”
Milton will consider the idea of allowing beer and liquor sales at farm wineries. LaDart said city staff is in the initial stages of creating a special-use permit that would let Painted Horse do so with the City Council’s approval.
Because the permit falls under the city’s zoning codes, Jackson’s application would have to go through the four to six-month process that includes public information meetings, going before the Planning Commission and a first presentation to the City Council before a vote could be taken.
It would also require Jackson to obtain another alcohol license and pay the associated fees.
While she waits for the special use permit to be drafted, Jackson will be staying active. She said the winery has been booked up for various events and has been “unbelievably” busy.
The vineyard has also quickly become an asset to Milton, she said.
“This is a big deal for Milton to have this,” Jackson said. “We have a whole lot of people coming from Atlanta who now don’t have to drive to Dahlonega if they want to visit a farm winery. And, we are providing entertainment, we’re very family oriented and dog friendly. And we have probably the best winemaker in the state, John Bowen.”
Jackson said there are future plans to expand the winery with more acreage dedicated to vines and a winery facility along Hopewell Road.