Sunday, March 31, 2013


So, in the little town of Niagara on the Lake and we went to a lovely little Irish Pub named The Irish Harp. And after that we walked around the town and I spotted a wine shop I wanted to visit. It only sold the wines represented by the wine giant, Peller. In it was a wine named 30 Bench Red.

According to Ontario Wine Review, “Thirty Bench is a small boutique winery owned by the Ontario wine giant Peller - but it seems that Peller does not want to mess with the boutique quality that is being outputted at this winery - and that is a feather in their cap.”

Several nights earlier my wife Dominique and I had drank a bottle of Thirty Bench 2010 with our dinner at AG at The Sterling Inn & Spa in downtown Niagara Falls. AG serves regionally and seasonally inspired cuisine. Chef Cory Linkson's menu utilizes the freshest local ingredients, and is constantly changing to offer the best of Niagara's Produce. To complement the regional menu, the wine list at AG is 100% VQA and represents the best wineries of the region. The setting was very seductive and glam, the food was fantastic and the wine list was endless. I wanted to eat there all of the nights we were in town.

Thirty Bench is a small batch, exclusively estate vineyards in the Beamsville Bench appellation, on the Niagara Peninsula.

The Beamsville Bench is a tiny sub appellation in the Niagara region. It produces a number of very, very fine wines in the Ontario region. The winery is one of the few areas where grapes are planted on a steep slope – a unique micro-climate with excellent air and water drainage.

The winemaker is Emma Garner. During her studies in the Oenology and Viticulture program at Brock University, Ms. Garner travelled to Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and British Columbia.  Her passion for wine and food grew with each trip.  After working in vineyards and cellars in the Niagara region, Emma began working at Hillebrand Winery, where she made wine in various capacities until 2005 when she began working for Thirty Bench Wine Makers.  In 2010 she garnered the desirable Thirty Bench winemaker position. 

The property grows classic red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. They are committed to 'Small Lot' winemaking. Each vine is custom grown, hand cropped and thinned to produce very low yields. Their wines are always made in small batches.

2010 Thirty Bench Red is a medium to full-bodied dry red wine. Medium and dark fruits like plums, blueberries, blackberries and cherry all come through as promises. Black tea, dark Mexican chocolate, plum, blueberry tart and pepper also come through.  The fruit was big and long lasting. The tannins were medium and well balanced. The wine was fantastic! I really loved this wine.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Cayuga Lake Wine Trail Celebrating 30 Years!

The Cayuga Wine Trail is celebrating it's 30th year in existance. It is among the most successful of trails. I thought it impotant to make sre as many folks know about it as possible. It deserves our praise and our veneration. It has provided a model for other wine regions and trails for many years, and has been emulated, but never duplicated. And it's a lot of fun to travel!!! Here's their post in it's entirety. Great job to all those folks who make the trail run, and to all the participating wineries! - C. DeVito

Mar 25, 2013

This year is a pinnacle year for us on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail as we will be celebrating 30 years as a trail here in Finger Lakes Wine Country. Thirty years ago, five wineries along Cayuga Lake knew if they wanted to increase visitation and stay prosperous they had to build the area into a destination, thus was born America's first wine trail and first destination brochure. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail today is made up of 15 wineries, 1 cidery, 1 meadery and 4 distilleries producing products made with the highest set of standards.
President Cameron Hosmer of Hosmer Winery who has previously served as President 20 years ago. states, "When I was asked how the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail has changed over the past 20 years; two things come to mind which are, bigger businesses and better wines.  As a group of cooperating wineries, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail attracted many more visitors to our wineries and with years of wine making experience, and has helped us to continually improve our wines to a world class level.  One thing that has not changed over the years is the common goal of providing a quality experience to our visitors".

Visit the wineries this year and help us observe 30 years.

Purchase two Vino Visa Coupon Books and receive two free 30th Anniversary Wine Glasses plus on the 30th of each month throughout the year each winery along the trail will feature great offers to entice you to come and visit.   

Here is a list of participating wineries for the month of March through December:

Montezuma Winery: 2 bottles of Cranberry Bog and Cayuga White with a T-shirt for $30.00
Swedsih Hill Winery: Buy 6 or more bottles of Svenska Red 750ml, Svenska White 750ml and Svenska Blush 750ml and get 30% off! (Can mix and match)
Cobblestone Farm Winery: 3 Cobblestone White, Red or Blush, 3 for $30.00 plus tax
Knapp Winery: 15% off a 3 bottle wine purchase
Goose Watch Winery: Get one bottle each of Snow Goose, Red Fox and Strawberry Splendor for just $30!
Buttonwood Grove Winery: 35% off a case of wine
Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery: 3% off one bottle, 6% off two bottles, 9% off three bottles and so forth up to 30% off ten bottles
Thirsty Owl Wine Co.: Additional 5% discount on existing wine purchase discounts
Hosmer Winery: Free samples of food
Sheldrake Point Winery: 30% off a case of wine
Lucas Vineyards: Free Tasting
Bellwether Hard Cider: 30% off case purchases
Americana Vineyards: Cayuga White Wine, 3 for $30.00 plus tax
Six Mile Creek Vineyard: Free Tasting and 10% off a wine purchase
King Ferry Winery: Buy 3 bottles of our featured wine of the month in the tasting room and receive one bottle free. Featured wine of       the month Dry Rose.
Long Point Winery: Wine and Cheese Pairing

Celebrate 30 years with us on the 30th of each month of 2013 for some great deals. 

Rich Olsen-Harbich Speaks Out on Merlot and Chardonnay in Edible East End (NY)

The Edible Blog
Great piece on the value and importance of terroir in relationship to Long Island Merlot and Chardonnay. Some absolutely fantastic wines are being made in Long Island right now. Kudos to Brian and his staff at Edible East End for giving Rich the platform for his piece! - C. DeVito

Bedell Winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich

Sticks up for Merlot and Chardonnay

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The Revenge of the Clones
March 28, 2013 | By Rich Olsen-Harbich

Back when the first vineyards were planted on Long Island, many people “in the know” didn’t believe our region could successfully grow European wine grape varieties like chardonnay and merlot. Forty years later, we have proved the critics wrong many times over. Today Long Island remains one of the most innovative and creative producers in the world of these two wines. Without these two varieties, the face of Long Island wine would be far different and in my opinion, much less successful.

Long Island has recently been criticized for producing too much chardonnay and merlot. Some have said these grapes just “aren’t sexy right now.” Although I don’t think one should need a grape to ignite his or her libido, I believe there is much to say in defense of a stable, long term varietal relationship. This is especially true when there is so much more to do, so many more clone/rootstock combinations to explore and so many more wines to make. The best is truly yet to come.
Any lover of Long Island wines will tell you that the wines we make today are better than what we made in the past. The reason?  Some of it of course is due to experience and know-how and an ever increasing understanding of our terroir. But there’s another big reason–clones.

Read the rest at:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Flat Rock Cellars Rocks! (CA)

Flat Rock was a great winery!!!
How can you not like a vineyard that starts off with this gem of a statement? “We start in the vineyard with low yields, progressive viticulture practices and hand picking and sorting the grapes. We continue inside the winery with a sexy gravity-flow design and the latest in wine making equipment from around the world.” And according to them, “…it’s no fun for us if you aren’t enjoying yourself.” I like these guys already.
One of the first things you notice about Flat Rock is about how freaking cool the location is, and about how incredibly wonderful the winery building is. Of course the drive there is unique. You drive through a series of small, winding roads so much so that you are sure you are lost...and of course, that's when you come upon it.

The rocks that are the geological foundation of the winery and are found throughout the property are the roots of Flat Rock Cellars name. Flat Rock Cellar was founded in 1999 on a spectacular piece of the Niagara Escarpment known as the Jordan Bench.
The Flat Rock winery building is a quirky, glass encased, hexagonal wine showroom that‘s incredibly distinctive. While tasting wine at their tasting bar, you can look out over their gorgeous vineyards which include breathtaking views of the Peninsula and across Lake Ontario to Toronto. 
Flat Rock Cellars is solely owned and operated by its founder - Ed Madronich Sr. Born and raised in the area, the winery is the fulfillment of a dream shared by his father and son. In 1954, his father applied for a winery license, but was denied. More recently his son, also Ed Madronich, established his career in the wine business and shared the passion for wine. Combined, father and son have worked together to create Flat Rock Cellars.
Ed Madronich Jr. is President of Flat Rock Cellars. Ed credits a summer in France and exposure to a few choice bottles of wine for his passion. Since that first foray into the vines, he knew that he wanted to make great wines. Running Inniskillin for several years helped him to define his approach to wine: one that both reflects and challenges conventional wisdom.
The winemaker is Jay Johnston. A native of Quebec, he was a student in the Niagara College Viticulture & Winemaking program. While in school he picked up jobs in the cellars and vineyards of some of the most respected producers in the region. His passions were always cool-climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sparkling… he is also passionate about terroir and English football. Through a chance meeting with Ed in August 2012, Jay quickly realized that Flat Rock Cellars was the place to be and joined the team for Harvest 2012, taking the Winemaking reins at Flat Rock Cellars.   

Flat Rock Cellars’ vineyards are comprised of 80 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, with a small patch of Gewurztraminer for good measure. They chose these varietals as an integral part of our overall winemaking strategy, because they are best suited to cooler climate of the Niagara Peninsula and more specifically the Twenty Mile Bench.
At Flat Rock they work hard to ensure low yields in the vineyard. The vineyards at Flat Rock Cellars can produces a maximum of 15,000 cases – which was reached in 2008.
The first wines we tasted from the Vin*o *lo *gy line of wines Vin*o * lo*gy is an entry level line of wines, that are fresh and bright and inexpensive.
Vinology White 2011 is a light, fruity white, with lovely tropical notes. Very easy drinking, with nice acidity and a clean, dry finish. Soft and lovely.

Vinology Red 2011 is made from Pinot Noir and is a light colored easy drinking red wine, with lovely fruit up front and low tannins. Cherry and earthy tones give way to hints of white pepper. Great long lasting finish for a light red wine. Very drinkable. A good solid food wine great for entertaining.

2009 Chardonnay is a blend of their two clones of Chardonnay, 76 and 95. The four different sites and soil types in which we grow these vines give the wine great complexity. The winemaker’s notes read: “2009 has proven to be a great year…Big, bold aromas of citrus, chalk dust and sweet oak blasts out of the glass. The palate is no more subtle, with a lime-like acidity upping the intensity even further. As a compliment to the acidity, the wine also has great texture and creaminess from the yeast stirring during its time in barrel. The oak also imparts a hint of butterscotch to the wine and there is ample chalky minerality on display.” I concur with these notes. The wine was lovely, crisp, an lean. Apple, pear, and river stone come across on the nose and palate. There is a lovely creaminess at the end. A beautiful chardonnay. The oak was a lovely, light touch. Just enough to alter the wine, but not so much it overpowered it. Beautifully balanced.

The tasting room was airy and lovely and was beautifully appointed with displays of all the families of wines produced by Flat Rock. And of course the views were tremendous. But the major portion of the tasting was now coming up...because Flat Rock Cellars excels at Pinot Noir.

For Pinot Noir Flat Rock utilizes a 5-level gravity flow system, resulting in minimal handling and no harmful pumping to help maximize the quality. The grapes are hand picked. After sorting and pressing, the juice and skins are hand-plunged every six hours to extract maximum color and tannin without over-extracting bitter character. The wines are aged in 100% French oak barrels and go through malolactic fermentation in the spring.
2010 Pinot Noir According to the winemaker’s tasting notes, “The hot start to September had us picking Pinot Noir grapes over three weeks earlier than in 2009…Each sub-block was gently destemmed and then allowed to cold soak for 4-7 days to extract colour and aromatics from the skins. Following this, the majority of the batches underwent spontaneous fermentation, which lasted up to 10 days. The batches were kept separate again as they flowed to barrel where they were left undisturbed for 10 months. Blending took place in late July of 2011….”

This light to medium bodied red was filled with raspberry and plum. Nice hints of vanilla and spice. The fruit and acid was solid up front with low tannins on the back end.  A lovely, light styled Pinot Noir. Fabulous.

The 2010 Gravity Pinot Noir “spent between 3 and 6 days cold soaking to extract color, flavors and aromatics from the skins before fermentation with predominantly wild yeast.  During the course of fermentation the tanks were hand plunged four times a day to further the extraction of colour and flavour from the skins.  Post fermentation saw the wine gravity-flow transferred off the skins into 100% French oak barrels with 30% being first fill.   Aging then took place from October through to July, at which time the Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend.  No finings were added to this wine.”

Gravity had more heft to it that the previous wine. More cherry and dark cherry with bright raspberry and spices. The color was darker and the fruits were darker than the previous wine. This had much for fruit up front and much more earth. The flavors in general were bigger, bolder, more in your face. It was in fact a lovely wine. A nice medium bodied pinot Noir with color, extraction, and flavor. With all that is was also restrained. This is not a monster California cab. It was more refined in the Burgundian sense. But is was flavorful and confident in its statement.

2009 Reserve Pinot Noir was the third of the Pinot Noirs. According to the winemaker’s notes, “The 2009 season proved to be a great year for Pinot Noir and a great year for us to make our second Reserve Pinot Noir... Eight of the best barrels from this block were selected in July 2010 as being exceptional and they were blended and then returned to barrel. They spent a total of 14 months in barrel before being re-blended and allowed to age a further five months in stainless steel tanks. The wine was then racked, gently filtered and bottled in June of 2011.”
This Reserve was the third to go to bottle of our 2009 Pinot family of wines. Dark cherry, dark berries, beats and cola all come through as promised. Nice acidity up front keeps this medium bodied, dark red, slightly purple Pinot Noir from being over bearing. The darks fruits last a long, long time as the acidity keeps the fruit going. Nice tannins keep the wine honest and give is classic backbone, but don’t over power the fruit. A big, wonderful Pinot Noir. Elegant, deep, sensual. Big cherry and pepper. Fabulous!

Here are the Pinot Noir 2010, the Pinot Noir Gravity 2010, and the Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 to see the difference between them.
Overall, after my experience I was thrilled with the Pinot Noirs I had tasted at Flat Rock and instantly catapulted it to a whole new level of wines that I love. These were the North American Pinot Noirs that I have been searching for The fruit of the west coast, and the elegance of Burgundy! Fantastic trio of Pinot Noirs! Gorgeous!!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Village Voice Posts Top 10 Finger Lakes/Niagara Escarpment (NY)

Empire State of Wine: 10 Great Bottles from the Finger Lakes and Niagara Escarpment
By Lauren Mowery Wed., Mar. 27 2013 at 1:00 PM
Village Voice

As spring continued dragging her feet last week, New Yorkers traipsed through snow flurries to drink wine. Nothing new there, except that the second annual NY Drinks NY was in town, offering imbibers a taste of local wines. I focused my efforts on the Finger Lakes and Niagara Escarpment, two regions I hadn't visited and don't regularly have a chance to taste.

Aside from the joy of discovering more great New York wine to drink, I am happy to report that bottle prices are remarkably affordable. Land in the Finger Lakes costs significantly less than in the North Fork, so vintners can sell wines at prices equivalent to the spare change in your pocket (plus a few singles). The majority of bottles were priced in the low $20s, while many hovered between $12-$16. So if you like to drink good wine at low prices, look for your New York neighbors on the shelves.

If you're a data lover, here are some regional statistics: New York is third in nationwide wine production, with 316 wineries and nine American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). There are 115 juice producers in the Finger Lakes and 17 in the Niagara Escarpment. Annually, 180,000 million bottles are produced, though can any of us really envision what that looks like? Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Fla., claims to have the largest restaurant collection in the world at 600,000 bottles. (Yes, Tampa, home of Magic Mike, has the largest wine collection, and I hear it is a damn fine one.)

The Finger Lakes are reputedly beautiful. The region lies about five hours northwest of the city and is focused around four main lakes--Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga. It is New York's largest wine-producing region, bigger than Long Island. Viewed from above, one might imagine that the lakes were formed by a celestial swipe of Ursa Major's paw, each astral nail gouging out a bed. The deep lakes store heat from summer months to warm the lakefront vineyards in the winter, providing a frost-free climate for grape-growing. As spring arrives, the region's vines awaken from their safe, warm slumber, rested and refreshed like thousands of little Snow Whites kissed by the sunshine. Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir are planted, but the region receives the most acclaim for its Riesling, and more recently, Gewürztraminer.

Two hours farther northwest of the Finger Lakes lies the Niagara Escarpment, so close to the famous falls the spray could stand in for rain. Created in 2005, this AVA only has 17 wineries; not exactly prolific, but growing. The climate in the Niagara Escarpment is one of the warmest in the state (second after the North Fork) due to the proximity of Lake Ontario. It's hard to believe good wine can be made that far north, but the limestone and gravel silt soils, along with a moderate climate, make quality grape-growing possible. Another surprise--the primary varieties grown are reds! Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Syrah are favorites, while Chardonnay stands in for the token white.

At NY Drinks NY, I tasted the offerings of nearly 20 wineries spanning both regions. Many of the finest Finger Lakes bottlings, also receiving the most attention from critics and winemakers, were the Rieslings and ice wines. But I found the Gewürztraminers extremely alluring and attractively priced. From Niagara, Cabernet Franc and Meritage blends along with a Syrah showed the most promise among reds of the AVA. The wines had a surprising sturdiness and weight, no doubt from the warmth of the micro-climate.

Here are 10 bottles to try (including one cider!):
Red Newt Cellars, Gewürztraminer 2011, Finger Lakes, $15
Sheldrake Point, Gewürztraminer 2011, Finger Lakes, $18
Lamoreaux Landing, Dry Riesling 2011, Finger Lakes, $14
Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, Syrah 2010, Niagara Escarpment, $35
Freedom Run Winery, Cabernet Franc 2011, Niagara Escarpment, $22
Standing Stone Vineyards, Gewürztraminer 2010, Finger Lakes, $14
Anthony Road, Riesling "Art Series" 2010, Finger Lakes, $28
Sheldrake Point, Riesling Ice Wine, Finger Lakes, $65
Leonard Oakes Estate, SteamPunk Cider, Niagara, $11
Hudson-Chatham Winery, Empire Reserve 2007, Hudson River Region, $22 (A blend of Finger Lakes, Long Island and Hudson Valley wines)

Lauren Mowery writes the Unscrewed column for Fork in the Road and blogs at Chasing the Vine.

Read more at:

Monday, March 25, 2013

David Wondrich Raves About Hillrock Estate Bourbon in Esquire magazine

Hillrock Estate continues to garner great press! Here spirits expert extraordinaire Dave Wondrich highlights Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey in the April issue of ESQUIRE. Fantastic write up!

Congrats to the team at Hillrock!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Albany Distilling - Rum and Whiskey With Some History (NY)

Distilleries in the Hudson Valley are popping up like mushrooms. Wow! Here’s one of the newer ones I am just getting to….Albany Distilling. They are a great outfit!
Now, I am a massive William Kennedy fan, and any business that names something after Ironweed has to have some real cajones as far as I am concerned. Kennedy's novels came out while I was in college and they are still among my favorites, and brought to live a town and an era long gone, and indelible.  So, I thought to myself this better be good.

The Albany Distilling Company is a modest operation, producing craft spirits one small batch at a time. It is located in downtown Albany, not far from the site of the city's original 18th century distillery. Owners John Curtin and Matthew Jager are proud to be a part of New York State's rich heritage of spirit production. They are located right next to the Pump Station in downtown Albany.

They have several products…but I’m only going to write about two of them today.
Recently they released Quackenbush Still House Rum. Albany has a long history of rum production which dates back to the 18th century, when the Quackenbush Still House produced rum for both local residents and wayfaring soldiers. Back then, Caribbean molasses were mixed with water from the Hudson River and allowed to ferment with wild yeasts in huge, open wooden vats (the remains of which can still be seen at the New York State Museum) before being distilled and bottled. Albany Distilling’d Original Albany rum follows this tradition, with a recipe from that era and molasses from the Caribbean - but with an updated production line (and different water).

They plan on other small-batch rums that will be similar in nature to this one, with different stylings. Something to look forward to.


Another one I like from Albany Distilling is Ironweed Whiskey. Nearly a century after Prohibition ended Albany's rich tradition of distilling spirits, Ironweed whiskey captures the both the essence of a bygone era and the spirit of modern innovation. Made exclusively from whole grain, water, and yeast, Ironweed acquires its rich color and much of its distinctive flavor from time spent aging in oak. It is produced in small batches using New York State grain, and great care is taken on every step along the way; it is truly a craft spirit, from mill to bottle.

Albany Distilling is making some killer stuff. Legs Diamond and the whole cast of characters may now stand down. Now, I think I'll pour myself a glass of Ironweed, and read some William Kennedy.

Keystone Edge: PA WILDS: Wineries Thrive Among Elk, Forests and Creeks

PA WILDS: Wineries Thrive Among Elk, Forests and Creeks
Tataboline Enos | Thursday, March 07, 2013

This story is presented in partnership with the Pennsylvania Wilds, a two million acre landscape composed of 12 distinct and beautiful counties, each with its own unique heritage, character, charm and outdoor adventure.

The Pennsylvania Wilds may be best known for its wild places and wildlife, but as more people trek to the region to explore its woods, mountains and waterways, it is driving growth of another kind of tourism asset: a robust trail of wineries.

The Pennsylvania Wilds spans two wine regions – the Groundhog and Upper Susquehanna – and has long been peppered with a few unique, family-run wineries. But several more have opened or expanded in the region in recent years, creating jobs and helping define the visitor experience in this evolving outdoor recreation destination.

Growing From Rails to Trails

At Bee Kind Winery, which opened in 2011 in Clearfield County, visitors can paddle, bike or drive to the winery – and often do. Their “Rails to Trails Red” is one of their best sellers. Business has been excellent, said owner Joseph Kendrick. Bee Kind started its first year at a 1,700-gallon capacity and ended it at 11,000 – and is still racing to meet demand, he said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

The Clarion University Small Business Development Center, which serves eight of the PA Wilds’ 12.5 counties, has worked with 12 pre-venture wineries in recent years, seven of which are now in operation, said Director Kevin Roth. The original capital infusion from the wineries totaled $750,000, he said; the most recent employment data shows the wineries created 33 full-time and 30 part-time jobs. Low interest loans available through the PA Dept. of Community & Economic Development helped a number of the businesses get off the ground, according to their owners.

Out-of-town visitors and regional efforts to bring them here are fueling growth, many of the wineries say.

Elk Mountain Majesty

Elk Mountain Winery, which opened in St Marys in 2010, said it went with an elk theme because of the new Elk Country Visitor Center, which was then about to open 20 miles away. The facility, a premier elk conservation and interpretation center on the East Coast, was built by the PA Dept of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) as part of a larger strategic effort by local and state partners to grow sustainable nature tourism in the Pennsylvania Wilds that creates jobs, diversifies rural economies, improves quality of life and inspires stewardship. A large wild elk herd lives near the center.

Elk Mountain Winery co-owner Kevin Wolfel said it was clear before the center opened it would be a major attraction. He was right. The Keystone Elk Country Alliance, the non-profit wildlife conservation group that operates the center for DCNR, estimates upwards of 200,000 people visited last year.

Wolfel said his business has had visitors from all 50 states and 14 countries so far. They leave straight pins on a map on his winery wall.  “We are shipping wine to quite a few people that were here once just to see the elk, now they are hooked on our products,” he said. “Even the non-wine drinkers still pick up a bottle or two just for the whimsical names on our labels … It just goes to show you the power of tourism.”

Elk Mountain Winery has expanded twice so far, opening outlet stores in Benezette and Benton, Pa. 

Other wineries have opened around the center as well. In Benezette, at the base of Winslow Hill where the visitor center is located, Doug and Sylvia Ruffo opened Benezette Wines in summer 2012. An elk dons their label, along with a small PA Wilds logo. One of their reds is called “Old Fred 36,” a nod to an old bull elk that frequented the area for many years before dying in 2011. Doug Ruffo said he has had customers from more than 30 states and four foreign countries – not bad for a winery in a town with fewer than 300 residents. Many families return to the area every year, he said.

“People have been very excited to see us here,” Ruffo said. “It gives them another reason to visit. We have had many people have their first elk experience while enjoying a glass of wine on our deck.”

Twenty miles south, in DuBois, Wapiti Ridge Wine Cellars also went with an elk theme (‘wapiti’ is a Native American term for elk). Owners David and Michelle Albert said their love of nature helped inspire the winery name. The business has seen a lot of out-of-town visitors since opening in December 2011, Michelle said.

“I've met people from California to Germany. They have been a large part of our business the first year. Our name is still getting out to the local area, so I'm excited to see what our second year brings,” she said.

From Hobby to Hopping

Elk aren’t the only draw in the Pennsylvania Wilds, of course. In the northwestern part of the PA Wilds, it is the Allegheny National Forest, Allegheny Reservoir and the National Wild & Scenic Allegheny River that people come for. There, Alan Chapel opened Allegheny Cellars winery after the manufacturing plant he’d worked at for many years closed.

Chapel said prior to opening in 2007, he’d visited another winery in the region – the Winery at Wilcox, about a half hour away – and spoke to the owner. “He was doing a very successful business there, so I knew that the winery business was viable in our area,” Chapel said. “We found a building right on Scenic Route 6 that was perfect for us.  We also knew that the traffic, combined with the way Route 6 and the PA Wilds were being promoted as tourist destinations, that we would have an even better chance of success.”

Allegheny Cellars expanded last year, opening an outlet store in Belle Vernon, Pa, and hopes to open two other outlets in the future. Chapel said he is also working on facility upgrades to increase efficiency, most recently purchasing a forklift to move pallets of wine and bottles; and a box van to take to festivals. Chapel said visitation plays a key role on his bottom line from July to December, “but it’s the locals that keep us afloat early in the year.” He said he initially thought locals who wanted to imbibe would prefer beer or liquor to wine. “Wow, was I wrong… and thankfully so!”

Roth, at the SBDC, said in many cases wineries have been started by people who first made wine as a hobby for family and friends. That was the case for Allegheny Cellars and for its neighbor, Flickerwood Wine Cellars, about 20 minutes away. Flickerwood co-owner Ron Zampogna made wine his entire life. After nearly four decades with the US Forest Service, he retired and his kids convinced him and Mom they should go commercial. “Our children talked us into this venture as they felt their Dad’s wine was that good,” said Sue Zampogna. 

The entire Zampogna family now works at Flickerwood. The winery opened in 2000 and has pretty much been expanding ever since, adding employees at both their main branch in Kane and at their Tasting Room in Kennett Square. They now have 8 full-timers and 10 part-timers. Sue Zampogna said tourists make up a large part of their foot traffic. In her neck of the woods, the historic Kinzua Viaduct at Kinzua Bridge State Park is a major draw. The Viaduct was once the tallest railroad bridge in the world and an important tourist attraction before a tornado ripped part of it down in 2003.

As part of the effort to grow nature and heritage tourism in the region, PA DCNR reinforced what was left of the bridge and installed a viewing deck with a glass floor where visitors can look down on the valley below. The “Sky Walk” opened in 2011 to much fanfare. “The two months after the Sky Walk opened, was amazing,” Zampogna said. “Every weekend was like a festival weekend. Fall Foliage brings many people to this region, more so now that the Sky Walk is open.”

As part of their 13th anniversary celebration this year, Flickerwood applied to use the Pennsylvania Wilds trademark logo on a new wine it is producing called “Wilderness Red.” If all goes according to plan, the wine will be unveiled at their annual FlickerFest wine festival May 25-27 – the first Pennsylvania Wilds branded wine to roll off the shelves. Zampogna said she expects it to sell out. 

Beyond the Keystone Grape

Pennsylvania has seen strong growth of its wine industry over the last 30 years, going from 27 wineries to 123, according to a 2007 report by Pennsylvania Winery Association. A 2009 study by the PA Wine Marketing and Research Program says Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for the amount of grapes grown, and seventh for the production of wine. 

Rhonda Brooks said seeing the industry’s growth inspired her to open Deer Creek Winery in Clarion County, in the southwest corner of the PA Wilds, in 2009. Named after a crick on their property, Deer Creek has grown considerably, she said; its wine is now sold in six locations.

While there is competition between wineries to capture visitor dollars, there is also power in numbers. Like antique stores or artisan shops – having several wineries creates a trail experience, which itself becomes a lure for travelers.

“Our customers love that they have more than one option,” said Kathleen Hall, owner of one of the newest wineries to open in the PA Wilds, the Red Bandana, near Cook Forest. An accomplished artist with a gallery in Pittsburgh, Hall was introduced to the PA Wilds the way many are: by coming to camp here as a kid. She later bought a camp of her own, a charming old school house, she said.

“Then my life completely changed when I took a vacation at my little school house and went out with my next door neighbor who quickly asked me to marry him,” Hall said. “So I went from total city girl -- and I mean City Girl -- to country! After crying for a few years since I missed my gallery and all those fun cultural experiences, it inspired me to start my winery and rebuild my gallery.” 

Today, people can enjoy art, music, cheese and wine at the Red Bandana, which boasts indoor and outdoor café style seating and rustic country views. Just a few miles away is a place known nationally for its stands of old growth trees. Further south, in Foxburg, visitors can enjoy the atmosphere of a river town at Foxburg Wine Cellars, which opened in 2003, just as regional tourism efforts were gaining momentum.

And that’s the beauty of the winery experience – no two places are alike.

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Virginia Pilot: Wine Festival Raises $22,000 for Charity (VA)

Kim and Dan Kowalsky taste a blueberry wine made by Mattaponi Winery, a Native-American Virginia wine, located in Spotsylvania. (Sandra J. Pennecke | For The Virginian-Pilot)

19 wineries, 1,800 wine lovers, 1 big success
Chesapeake Community News Community        
By Sandra J. Pennecke Virginian-Pilot correspondent
March 23, 2013 

The premise for the inaugural 757 Wine Expo was “Great Wines, Great Causes, Great Fun.”
It was readily apparent last Saturday that the more than 1,800 wine aficionados who gathered at the Chesapeake Conference Center made an effort to achieve that trifecta during the event.

Attendees sipped wine created by 19 Virginia wineries. In turn, $22,000 was raised for charity, according to Roland Davis, event organizer with the Chesapeake Rotary Club.
The 757 Wine Expo was organized and sponsored by the Chesapeake Rotary Club as a way to give patrons a similar experience to the Chesapeake Virginia Wine Festival held each fall at City Park, only indoors.

“We wanted a nice event in the spring that could somehow parallel the outdoor festival,” said Davis. “We think we accomplished that.”
Void of foul weather worries and kept to a much smaller scale, the event still supported two local charities: The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Virginia and the Rotary Club’s Paint Your Heart Out Chesapeake project.

In comparison, the annual outdoor wine festival at City Park sees approximately 8,000 attendees and benefits eight or nine charities.

Saturday, attendees paid $35 per person to sample wine made throughout Virginia, including Lake Anna Winery, Peaks of Otter Winery, The Williamsburg Winery, Horton Vineyards, Trump Winery and others.

Artisans were as varied as the grape varietals, such as paintings by Christopher Mize and hand-painted wine glasses by Team Spirits.

There were also vendors and wine -focused seminars by Total Wine & More. Musical entertainment was provided by Lewis McGehee and his daughter, Kaycee.

Kelli Castelloe and Mike Custer, both of Chesapeake, have attended other wine festivals in the area, but were delighted to be indoors this time around.

“It’s just nice and you don’t have to worry about the weather,” said Castelloe who had just purchased a bottle of wine from Bruce Murray, wine maker with Byrd Cellars from Goochland, Va. Murray, too, was pleased with the indoor venue and its turnout.
For Chaz Thomas, 25, of Virginia Beach, attending the 757 Wine Expo was a fun thing to get out and do with friends, but it made him feel really good when he learned where the money was going.
“I attended the Boys and Girls Club on Azalea Garden Road in Norfolk as a kid,” said Thomas. “I’m glad it goes to help such a good cause.”

Kim Kowalsky’s wine-glass holder decreed, “I love wine!” which summed up what brought her and her husband, Dan, to the expo.
“We love coming to these wine tastings,” she said.
“This is our first wine festival of the year; we’re starting it out right,” added Dan.

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Shelton Herald: Jone Farm Winery Owner Recieves Top CT Agricultural Award (CT)

Jamie Jones is the owner/farmer of Jones Farm Winery. He is also the President of the CT Vineyard and Winery Association. It's a great award, and recognition for someone who's really trying to do things right! Congrats!
Jamie Jones wins outstanding farmer award
By Shelton Herald on March 21, 2013 in Features

Jamie Jones of Jones Family Farm has been named Connecticut’s Outstanding Young Farmer of 2013.

The award is given annually by the Connecticut Agricultural Information Council (CAIC), a coalition of state farming groups, as part of the festivities surrounding Connecticut Agriculture Day at the state capitol. Candidates are selected based on their achievements in their agricultural enterprises, involvement in the agriculture industry and their community, and their work on soil and water conservation projects.

Jones is a 1998 graduate of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Today, he oversees all of the agricultural operations on the farm, maintaining more than 400 acres of pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, as well as 50 acres of hay.

In 2004, Jones added more than five acres of vineyards when he established the Jones Winery. His wines have won numerous awards, including Best Connecticut Wine 2012 from Connecticut Magazine.

Jones’ sustainable growing practices, integrated pest management techniques, and collaboration with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station on agricultural research show his commitment to the family philosophy ‘be good to the land and the land will be good to you,” according to a press release.

He and his wife Christiana represent the sixth generation of the Jones family to run the 150-year-old farm in Shelton, along with his parents, Terry and Jean Jones.

Here, Jamie and Christiana also raise Jackson, Samuel and Juliet. Jamie Jones serves as Connecticut Farm Bureau’s first vice president, as the president of the CT Vineyard and Winery Association and on the Board of the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council.

Most recently Jones was appointed by Governor Dannel Malloy to serve on the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development in 2011.

The purpose of the Outstanding Young Farmers program is to bring about a greater interest in the farmer to foster better urban-rural relations through the understanding of the farmers’ endeavors, to develop a further appreciation for their contributions and achievements, and to inform the agribusiness community of the growing urban awareness of the farmers’ importance and impact on the U.S. economy.

The state winner will be invited to compete nationally in the National Outstanding Young Farmers Program, which is sponsored nationally by John Deere. The past three Connecticut winners, Russell Holmberg of Holmberg Orchards in Gales Ferry, Matt Peckham of Elm Farm in Woodstock, and Joe Geremia of Wallingford, have been national Top 10 finalists.

The Daily Freeman: Great Wine in Pennsylvania, Maryland

A toast to the winemakers of Pennsylvania, Maryland
The Daily Freeman
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Special To The Washington Post

When tasting wine, connoisseurs hold their glasses up to the light to look at the wine's color and clarity. I don't always know what I'm supposed to see, but at Naylor Wine Cellars in Pennsylvania, I held up my white wine and it was crystal . . . No. I have to say that it was most definitely cloudy. Very clearly cloudy.

During a tank-side chat about the steps in the winemaking process, assistant winemaker Ben McIntyre quickly clarified that I wasn't imagining things. It was all part of the Tour de Tanks event held at 26 Pennsylvania and Maryland wineries in March, during which guests are invited into cellars and backrooms to learn about those various winemaking steps. It's a follow-up to the Wine Just Off the Vine event held in November. Last fall, visitors sampled these wines just days after they were put into barrels. We sipped those same wines-in-progress, aged by five months.

Using York, Pa., as our home base, my tasting companion and I made plans to spend two days visiting six wineries along the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail that surrounds the city. The wineries don't open until noon, so we spent the morning browsing through the shops in downtown York and downing a hearty breakfast at the newly renovated Central Market.

Then we set off on the trail, where interesting wine facts poured from winemakers' mouths: why some use barrels instead of steel tanks; why the region makes so many fruity and sweet wines; and how snacks ranging from brownies to beef jerky to ancho-chili chocolate are paired with Chambourcins, Traminettes and other wines. As one winery worker put it, you don't just buy a ticket to taste. You pay for an education.

At each winery, we presented our Tour de Tanks ticket -- a frequent-drinking card of sorts listing each participating winery -- for stamping. We picked up our free wine glass at the first stop and took it with us everywhere, as directed. That meant making frequent use of "rinse stations" that consisted of everything from painted ceramic pitchers to big orange plastic buckets with spigots.

Used to simple tastings of a handful of bottled wines, I found it much more intriguing to step into dark cellars and brightly lit tank rooms to learn the backstories of the vineyards and vintners, and to taste both finished and unfinished wines.

The wineries varied from a country home to a former barn to the basement of someone's house just off the interstate, and friendly winemakers answered questions about the grapes and the soil as well as about their businesses and themselves.

And really now, how could someone whose great-grandfathers were a cooper and a beer brewer not wind up in the business, as is the case with Jim Miller, the owner and winemaker at Moon Dancer Vineyards and Winery in Wrightsville, Pa.?

Moon Dancer was our first stop after setting out from our base in York, on roads that wound past stately houses and trailer homes, rising at one point for a view of one of the widest stretches of the Susquehanna River.

At the top of a gravel road, we reached a French country chateau framed by vineyards. After sampling from five bottles in a tasting room, the last one a warmed spice wine, we headed downstairs. "It's the first sobriety test of the day," said my friend Sid at the top of a steep staircase.

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