Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reading Eagle Highlights Blair Vineyards (PA)

4/8/13 photo Ryan McFadden Blair Vinyards wine bottle closeups; 
from left is a 2010 Pinot Gris Reserve, 2009 Pinot Noir, 2011 Riesling, 2009 Chardonnay

Berks County winemaker focuses on marrying the right food with the right wine
By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes
Reading Eagle correspondent
Originally Published: 4/10/2013

Richard Blair's interest in making wine comes from a deep appreciation of how wine and food work together.

"It is one of those things where food and wine was always the center of our meals at home," said Blair, who began making wine in 2002. "Our kids learned young about pairing wine and food."

The belief that wine can enhance the dining experience when paired with the right food is not a foreign concept, but it can still be an intimidating approach to entertaining at home.

You might be afraid to move away from your go-to vineyards and vintages, but if you want to venture out to give some perfect pairings a try without any risk, you don't have to travel any farther than Kutztown.

Blair Vineyards, the family owned and operated winery in Kutztown, hosts a Winemaker's Dinner almost monthly. It gives diners the opportunity to taste wines perfectly suited to pair with each of the four-course dishes that make up the evening's menu.

Richard, 63, grows 13 varietals between his 22-acre vineyard in Kutztown and 8-acre vineyard in Rockland Township, where he lives with his wife, Carol, 59.

"I always loved the way wine and food went together," Richard said. "If you can find the right pairing, it just blows up the senses, so each one is amplified."

Richard relates to the idea of having a glass of wine before dinner, but he has some strong views on what he believes is the primary purpose of wine.

"It's not really meant to drink by itself," he said.

His love of food and wine led to the monthly dinners held in the tasting room at his winery.

There are no wine substitutions available at the dinners; the night is specifically devoted to the four different wines that each complement a course on the set menu.

Missy (Blair) Wilson, 33, one of Richard's five children who manages the vineyard, discussed some special attributes of their wine that make it unique.

"Our wines are very food friendly," she said. "They are more of the European-style wines. They have more acid content, so they pair fabulously with foods."

Chefs Kevin Spiegler, 31; Justin Bortz, 31; and Rob Lopez, 31, owners of Divine Dining, Easton, Northampton County, work with the Blairs to devise a menu that will provide an opportunity to showcase their wine.

"We take into account what the seasonal vegetables and the feel of the season is," Missy said, adding that local trout is one of the courses on the menu for this month's dinner. "We use more white wine in the summer instead of reds since it is softer and lighter, and reds in the winter since they are heavier and warmer."

Spiegler discussed what drives diners to the dinners.

"People come there specifically for the wine and for the food," he said. "People buy these tickets because they know what they are going to eat that night versus a restaurant."

"If you go out to dinner, and you are buying a bottle or a glass (of wine), you can't really pair with everything you are trying," Missy said. "You would have a one-note meal if you paired the same wine with each course.

"The great part about our dinner is you actually get to experience a different flavor and taste throughout the meal. When you pair the right wine and food together, it takes on a new life."

Diners come from as close as Kutztown and Wyomissing and as far away as New Jersey.

Robert Ziegenfus, Ph.D., 69, and his wife Susan, 70, who live in Kutztown, have attended a few of the Winemaker's Dinners. They are members of the American Wine Society and are active with the Lehigh Valley Chapter.

"We have been to Italy and Spain to taste grapes, on vacation," Ziegenfus said. "We have a healthy appreciation for wine."

They also infuse their hobby into entertaining guests at their home.

"When it comes to our own entertaining, we try to introduce our guests to different types of wines," he said. "We don't mind challenging our guests."

When they heard about the food pairing evening at Blair Vineyards, they were intrigued and discussed some of the highlights of their visits.

"All of the dishes that we've been served there have been very well-prepared," he said. "The added bonus is the tour of the winery, to get to see behind the scenes."

The vineyard, surrounded by scenic farmland, enhances the entire experience, particularly during the warm months when you can sit outdoors at the pavilion.

"It's a destination dinner," Spiegler said. "People come there because it's not a restaurant. It's a beautiful location, especially in the summer."

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