Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Anthony Vietri at Va La Vineyards: A Poet Whos Uses Grapes

I once had an English teacher who tried to explain to us students the difference between a novelist and a poet. Novelists were like painters who used huge canvases, and painted in broad strokes.  She said that really good novelists pushed ideas across a page. On the other hand poets worked on much smaller canvases, and in fact, might be considered miniaturists. She said that poets set words on a page like a jeweler works with stones. I always thought that an apt analogy.

And it is particularly so with Va La Vineyards. Va La is not the biggest vineyard you will ever see. It is not the most beautiful vineyard you will ever see. But Va La is a jewel, not just in Pennsylvania, but on the east coast. One gets the impression that Anthony Vietri, The Farmer Va La as he is affectionately known, could in fact make wine anywhere. The northeast is no easy friend of the grape, like say California. One can only imagine the wines he might make there, or in Rioja, or say Tuscany.

The first time I went to Va La Vineyards, I didn't really know what to expect. We were driving through the Brandywine wine trail, and we had spent the night before in Kennett Square. From there, we wandered down to Avondale, PA, to try this place we knew very little of at the time, Va La Vineyards.
Va La was an eye opening experience. Their tastingroom experience was one of the best I'd ever had, bar none. I had been up and down California and the east coast, Chile, France and Spain, an their tastingroom experience far surpassed any I had yet seen.

Foods were offered. Attention to detail was thorough. Shop presentation was excellent. And it was all at the highest quality. Subsequent tastings of their wines have only improved upon my initial impressions.

Currently, Va La makes four wines: la prima donna (a white blend), silk (a rosato), mahogany, cedar (two very impressive big red blends). The estate grown grapes come from the “home vineyard.” In a recent conversation, I asked him why he no longer made an older blend, and he wrote me that “the vineyard wants to make four wines right now so that's what we're doing.”
That goes to every winemaker’s heart. Making what the vineyard gives you. Owners don’t usually talk like that. Owners talk like boastful novelists. People who make big boasts, and talk wildly with their hands. Winemakers talk quietly, confidently, knowingly. They talk about their piece of land. The talk like farmers. They talk about what goes on in this block, or that ridge. They talk like people who work in small rooms, setting diamonds, or turning a hunk of metal and a rock into something beautiful.
“There are essentially two main kinds of wine in the world, and we should consider them differently. The vast majority of wines in the world are now being made as industrial beverages. All methods of mechanical, chemical, biological techniques are employed to create a stable, inert product that will safely taste the same way all the time — and throughout time. Much of the philosophy is borrowed from the soda industry. The constant critical demand for products without imperfections has created this world; unfortunately it is lacking in interest,” Anthony once told food and wine blogger, Krista Baker at

 “Artisanal wines attempt to provide a closer relationship between the land and the drink. These are wines based on the belief that it is important or of value to have a sense of the person and place — “who” makes the wines and where the wines come from are of interest. Risks are taken – in winemaking and growing – to step outside the box, in the hope of discovering and providing the audience with a unique or perhaps profound experience,” continued Anthony.
“The field we farm contains approx 6.73 acres (2.7 hectares). Within this field there are four separate soils. Each soil produces one wine,” said Anthony. An example of Anthony’s fanaticism was on display when he talked about harvest, telling Krista, “Each wine is made from a compendium of smaller batches, that is, each wine is made from several passes through the vineyard that produce many separate small batches which are then blended together to form a single wine.” That’s an intense winemaker.

So I have three of the four wines, and a singular wine (four wines in all), but I didn't want to gulp down all four just to write a review. These are wines to savor!!! But I did pour two for a mixed grill dinner we had about two or three weeks ago, before someone turned the thermostat up to 100 freakin' degrees!

First we had Silk 2009. According to Anthony's notes, "This dry rosato was produced from the soils
of the eastern slopes of the hill." The wine is a blend of C
orvina Veronese, Barbera, Nebbiolo,
Carmine, and Petit Verdot. I brought the bottle up straight from the cellar, so it was a touch cool, but not cold, which was perfect. After all this is rosato, and it is summer. But we had it at about 55 to 60 degrees. The wine was beautiful! A lovely, light, light red wine. The color of a light re wine. Purple and red, but translucent. Big deep flavors of dark raspberry and plum. Wonderful acidity kept it bright and lively on the palate, which made the cool aspect of it just perfect. A great way to start the dinner.

Next came Siranetta. According to Anthony, "The Siranetta vintage was 07; it is not mentioned on the site as it was just a small side project to our four wines that we make ... that we did while awaiting for the vineyard to mature -- the last vintage was the 08." Mahogany and Cedar are two of my favorite east coast wines, but Siranetta was an experience! This was a big, huge red blend, with dark cherry, dark blackberry, and cassis on the nose and palate with hints of mocha, vanilla, spices, and fallen leaves. The tannins were nice but not too strong, and the acidity was not as big as one sometimes expects from an east coast red. This was very much a big red wine, more rich and intense like California, but with a very heavy French/Italian, European influence. Very reminiscent of Boxwood or Black Ankle vineyards further to the south! An incredible wine.

A testament to the evening, there were only three adults at the table on a Friday night, but the two bottles were drained, with nary a drop left. Absolutely amazing.

And that was the poetic touch at the end too. The beautiful night, with a lovely sunset, and the glass of wine to watch the pink/orange/yellow/blue sky. Nature was almost as pretty in the sky as what she had put in the glass. Anthony had taken something as simple as a grape, and made two things, so beautifully, that we were sad when they were gone. He had set those grapes like jewels. That's what he does. He's a poet that works with grapes. Amazing!

Strongly recommend reading Krista Baker’s incredible interview with Anthony Vietri and Va La Vineyards: