NEW YORK AND VIRGINIA MOVE OVER! PENNSYLVANIA WINE HAS ARRIVED!!
The sleeping giant that is Pennsylvania wine is awakening. You can poo-poo PA wine all you want, but the fact of the matter is, Pennsylvania wineries are getting their acts together, and they could upset the balance of power on the east coast. And I am here to tell you that Pennsylvania wine has arrived. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But can you find top quality wines in the state….oh yeah! And a goodly number of them. The wines have improved dramatically over the last five to seven years.
And since 2000, when I first started writing about east coast wines, the number of wineries in Pennsylvania has almost doubled, numbering now more than 123 wineries.
Here’s eight reasons to cite that Pennsylvania wine has arrived, and 15 wines you MUST try.
1. Mark Chien and Denise Gardner - Mark Chien is one of the best university agricultural extension agents on the east coast. He has been working the Pennsylvania country side for a while now, and it’s made a difference. Great wine is made in the vineyard and Chien’s influence is evident. With the addition of enologist Denise Gardner, winemakers and vineyard managers in Pennsylvania have a lot to crow about. (Also Maryland extension staffer Joe Fiola and New Jersey extension staffer Gary Pavlis have also had a lot of influence in Pennsylvania as well – a big advantage.)
2. Wine Tourism Is Flourishing
Pennsylvania has 11 mature wine trails and growing. These trails have sophisticated and well developed marketing plans. Three trails stand out, including: Lehigh Valley Wine Trail, Brandywine Wine Trail, and Mason-Dixon Wine Trail.
3. Chambourcin - Pennsylvania has embraced Chambourcin. While other states/region struggle to find a grape (except for the Finger Lakes), Pennsylvania made a choice and stuck with it. Whether it’s a sweet red, a sophisticated dry red, or a rose’, Pennsylvania has made Chambourcin its grape…and it is working. They are making it work. The big dry reds from a number of wineries show that very good, quality Chambourcin is being produced. And if you’re not tasting them, you’re missing out.
4. Nouveau Chambourcin Weekend - On the Lehigh Valley Trail in the first weekend of November, they make nouveau from Chambourcin. It’s easily the smartest single trail event I have seen in recent memory. All the wineries participate, and the ride through the trail is easily one of the most talked about east coast wine trail events going. Numerous east coast wine writers have discussed it, and it’s only getting bigger.
5. Satellite Stores – Clover Hill, Blue Mountain, and Chaddsford all embraced the satellite store concept and ran with it. These wineries have grown substantially using the satellite tastingroom strategy. Clover Hill even had a store at the King of Prussia Mall for years until recently!
6. Bloggers/Wine Writers Community – Pennsylvania has a growing number of well respected wine writers and bloggers. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Debbie Skoblionkov was one of the first to take Pennsylvania wines under her arm. Mark Squires, first with his website, and now as a writer at The Wine Advocate is the preeminent wine scribe among the many talented Pennsylvania scribblers. Paul Vigna is a solid and consistent blogger turned reporter, and fills readers in on a consistent basis about the comings and goings of Pennsylvania wine. He is to Pennsylvania wine what Lenn Thompson is to New York. Everyone talks to Paul. And if they are not, then they should be. There's the widely published east coast wine writer David Falchek, who's reputation continues to grow. Falchek not only writes fun articles for consumers, but also follows the professioanl wine scene for numerous wine publications. And of course there is Keith Wallace and The Wine School of Philadelphia, which continues wine education in the Keystone state, while also creating great tasting events at the school promoting Pennsylvania wine.
7. Trio – A while back, three wineries announced their new wine: 2007 Trio. It is a vintage blend combining wines from Allegro Vineyards in York, Manatawny Creek Winery in Amityville and Pinnacle Ridge Winery, Kutztown. They’ve been doing this ever since. This is a sign post because only regions who understand this kind of wine, and how it promotes a region, happens in places that are up and coming.
8. Pennsylvania Winery Association – This previously sleepy, backwater organization seems to have finally woken up. New management? I don’t know. But there’s definitely a new direction over there….and it’s forward. Recipe contests. Promoting the wineries, the wines, the trails, and the state events bigger and better than ever before. Even the website is friendlier, sexier, and more vibrant. I guess kudos should be handed out to Jonathan Patrono, PWA President and Jennifer Eckinger, Executive Director. Good job, guys!
9. And finally, the most important reason - the arrival of reliable, quality, dry red wines. And here, without further ado, are 15 wines YOU MUST TRY!
Chaddsford Merican – The grand daddy of all classic Pennsylvania dry red wines. An exceptional blend from winemaker Eric Miller, who is one of the pre-emminent winemakers on the east coast.
Waltz Vineyards Cherry Tree Merlot 2009 – A lovely, mature merlot with big, dark fruit up front, and a wonderful finish. Excellent!
Ferro Lemberger 2010 – One of the best and most impressive Lembergers I have yet had. Refined, big, and well crafted.
Karamoor Estate Cabernet Franc 2008 – Karamoor, even though their distribution is small now, may possibly be the biggest thing to hit Pennsylvania wine since the establishing of Chaddsford and Penns Woods. Karamoor has the opportunity to become a truly legendary Pennsylvania estate winery. This Cabernet Franc is an impressive first step.
Karamoor Estate Meritage 2008 – The Meritage confirms the idea that Karamoor will soon be a major player and leader in quality red wine in Pennsylvania. Big, bold, impressive.
Brookmere Twisted Trio Red Private Stock 2009 – This was a pleasant surprise to this writer. Had no idea Brookmere had the chops to create such a beautiful, elegant wine. Very nice.
Buckingham Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – Buckingham is a solid producer and this Cabernet Sauvignon is proof they belong. Not only does it not have an off flavors, but instead, it had luscious fruit and a beautiful, subtle finish.
Blue Mountain Meritage – Blue Mountain came out of the gate like a horse that takes the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The rest of the story needs to be written, but the Meritage continues to show promise and maturity.
Penns Woods Chardonnay – Penns Wood is one of the best wineries in Pennsylvania, and may indeed be one of the best on the east coast. Each tasting improves over the last. I would serve this Chardonnay to even the biggest wine snobs, and expect nothing but praise. Elegant, refined, and delicious.
J. Maki sparkling – Good sparkling is also a sign a region is making a big turn. Bad sparkling is easy to make, and can be found anywhere – except at J. Maki. Since they arrived on the scene in the mid-2000s, winning a medal in a Paris tasting, J. Maki has consistently produced some of the best sparkling on the east coast.
Crossings Vineyard – Crossings has produced wonderful whites and reds for the last five years. You can try any number of their wines. Matter of fact, they have one of the best wine line ups in the state. You can taste up and down their line up with no evidence of anything but solid wines. Ask any wine writer – that’s a hard thing to accomplish…and shows your wines have arrived.
Pinnacle Ridge - Bradd Knapp and gang deliver consistent reds across their line-up of dry reds. Their Chambourcin is among some of the best on the east coast. Bordeaux in style, it’s a beautiful wine aged in oak, and treated like vinifera….and it shows….beautifully.
Paradocx Chambourcin 2010 – Paradocx is one of the small but sophisticated wineries on the Brandywine Wine Trail. With a small, lovely tastingroom, and a wonderfully solid line up of wines red and wine. My favorite is the Chambourcin, which is among the best on the east coast.
Clover Hill Winery Chambourcin 2009 – Clover Hill is among the biggest wineries in the state. And although they make a line of sweet reds for their multitude of customers, they can also make some lovely whites (off-dry and dry) and a lovely Chambourcin, again treated like a real wine should be with malolactic fermentation and aged on oak for a fine red wine.
Glade’s Pike Cabernet Franc 2008 – This multi-award winning Pennsylvania Cabernet Franc continues to scoop of medals and impress judges. It took home gold at the Indy International Wine Competition and the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
And last but certainly not least was Va La....whose Mahagony and Silk red wine blends were among the best reds on the east coast. You have not tasted the future of Pennsylvania wine unless you have tasted red wines from Va La Vineyards....end of story (my apologies for the late addition of this winery. Slipped my mind...how, I do not know, since they are one of my favorites!).