Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Joel Hall

Libations, music, and conversations about art flowed freely during the Fourth Annual Mistletoe and Merlot Wine Tasting. More than 150 people gathered at Arts Clayton on Thursday to sample the latest wines and support the Southern Crescent arts community.

Organized by the Arts Clayton gallery and Highway 138 Package Store in Stockbridge, this year's wine tasting featured 43 wines from six different regional distributors. Attendees were invited to sample the various wines and shop for art, all to the backdrop of jazz standards provided by the Doug Murray Quartet of Clayton State University.

"The turnout is awesome," said Arts Clayton Gallery Manager Karen Powers. "Everything we try to do here at Arts Clayton gallery is to bring people together. Art brings the community together and wine is a perfect compliment to that.

"For us, it's a very successful event," she added. "We sell a lot of works from the artists, more so than any other night we have. It benefits the local economy as well as the local art community."

Terry Darby, general manager of Highway 138 Package Store, said that the store has recently remodeled and expanded its wine section. He said the wine tasting allows the store to share the best of its wines, as well as expose the products of less widely-known distributors.

"We've increased our portfolio," Darby said. "The diversity of our wine selection is reflected here tonight. [The store is] showcasing more of the boutique wines. It is showcasing of lot more of their [distributors'] product, that can sometimes get lost in the store."

Local elected officials, as well as other residents, brushed elbows while admiring the work of local artists. For many, it was a chance to socialize and get a head start on holiday shopping.

"I've been to every one [of the Mistletoe and Merlot wine tastings] since I moved into the city three or four years ago," said Pat Sebo, who will begin serving on the Jonesboro City Council in January. "It's just a great time for people in the city and the county to get together and kick off the holidays.

"I wouldn't consider myself a wine connoisseur," she said. "For those who purchase wine as gifts, it is certainly helpful ... It gives you a chance to pick up wines that you usually wouldn't pick up."

Jared Bryant, an Atlanta lawyer and a graduate of Jonesboro High School, said he appreciated seeing so many people appreciate art in his former stomping grounds.

"Any kind of cultural happening in Jonesboro, I'm all for it," Bryant said. "The more, the better. I try to paint a little on the side. It's great to see what other people are doing and draw inspiration from that."

Among the wine exhibitors present were: Prestige Wine Wholesale, Ltd.; Metro Premium Wines of Georgia; United Distributors, Inc.; Quality Wines & Sprits, Inc.; Georgia Crown Distributing Company, and New World Wines, LLC.

Selections at the event included wines from all four corners of America, as well as some from Spain, Portugal, Holland, Australia, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

Troy Simmons, a sales representative for Georgia Crown Distributing, said the exposure given to distributors at the event is indispensable. "It's such a diverse crowd," Simmons said. "We don't want to hit just one kind of customer. We want to hit people from different age groups, different ethic groups ... It generates a buzz about a certain wine they might want to buy.

"Art and wine is centuries old," he added. "It really goes back to the Renaissance. It's a combination of two kinds of art, because making wine is an art form, too."