Saturday, September 15, 2012

WITF's Chef Donna Recommends The Vineyard at Hershey (PA)

The Changing Taste of PA Wines
Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef
Sep 12, 2012 12:01 AM

It’s not too terribly difficult to surprise me, but to get me to change my mind? That usually takes an act of divine intervention. Or, in this case, a memorable glass of wine. Yes, this is an article about a Pennsylvania winery. And, yes! You simply must keep reading.

The Vineyard at Hershey. The name almost compels the thought “destination.” I guess in a way it is. I’d be waxing poetic to say this is the ultimate destination for all those Pennsylvania wines that have tried so hard to be something other than what they are. Indeed, these wines are what I’ve always wanted them to be. But there’s more. There’s really so much more behind this uber-successful group of twenty- (almost thirty-) something guys that opened the doors to their tasting room in Hershey in February. Since then they have quadrupled their projected wine sales. That little fact alone suggests there’s something different in the way these guys craft their wine.

And there is. The Vineyard at Hershey wines have found their way onto wine lists at places like the Hilton Harrisburg, Stock’s on 2nd, and Alfred’s Victorian, and tastings being offered at places like Mt. Hill Tavern and The Accomac Inn. Pretty impressive for 4 guys that met in a bar one night.

It was winemaker and property manager Paul Vezzetti’s musings that caught the attention of Mike Wilson, now VP of marketing and outreach. Vezzetti, 28, with a strong Italian family and winemaking influence, was overheard saying that Pennsylvania wines could be world class. When Wilson pressed Vezzetti, he went even further and suggested that he was the one to handcraft such wines. One year later The Vineyard at Hershey’s four partners, Vezzetti, Wilson, Jason Reimer and Doug Gellatly, planted their first vines on 40 acres just off the Toll House Road Exit on Rt. 283 in Middletown. 3 years later Vezzetti began blending their harvest with grapes they bought up from the central PA region. His old-school Italian and fruit forward style of winemaking immediately became distinctive; Vezzetti began grafting his ideas about yeast strains and blending onto those grapes. Almost 6000 visitors and 1500 gallons of wine later, The Vineyard at Hershey might not yet have that “world-class” status, but certainly people are paying attention to these Pennsylvania wines.

The tasting room (open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) pours the standards you’d expect, like fruit wines, a Catawba, and a Niagara. But that’s pretty much where the sweet, orchard fruit-y, classic Pennsylvania wine similarities end. While visiting, I had the pleasure of tasting a light bodied, but spicy Chambourcin (unlike any Chambourcin I’ve ever tasted), and a Seyval Blanc that would stand up against most of my favorite Sauv Blanc imports. Then it got better. I indulged in Firefly, a full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and even found favor with two semi-sweet wines, their Twisted Kiss and Crimson Fox.

Then talk turned to the upcoming September 15th release of their Merlot and I was offered a taste: medium-bodied, well-oaked, and hints of plums and cherries. “Jammy,” I thought, “without losing each fruit’s nuance.” Structured with a hint of black pepper, this is a wine worthy of a Napa-style release party, complete with the first bottles arriving via helicopter to an estimated crowd of almost 1,000.

Yes. People are paying attention to The Vineyard at Hershey. With a robust Twitter following @Vineyard Hershey (#wineing) and over 1,200 followers on Facebook (The Vineyard at Hershey), the partners rely heavily on social media outlets to grow their fan base. (Who doesn’t appreciate special discounts for checking in on Foursquare, or for mentioning this article while visiting their tasting room for one Complimentary Tasting!)? Like most of Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country wineries, they have event-based entertainment on their property, indoor and outdoor tasting venues and have started offering private wine-tastings and tours for special events and groups.

As if this wasn’t enough to tempt you to try their wines and prove me wrong, I will offer one closing observation. A world-famous winemaker once told me that people will always love winemakers for their reds, but a truly talented winemaker knows how to create memorable whites. The Vineyard at Hershey’s winemaker, Vezzetti, seems to have taken this to heart and offers up a taste of something to remember in both his Unoaked Chardonnay and his complex Oaked Chardonnay.

The Vineyard at Hershey
598 Schoolhouse Road
Middletown, PA 17057

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