Monday, June 30, 2008

Chardonnays run deep at Elk Run

In terms of history, you’d be hard-pressed to find a winery in Maryland with more history than Elk Run in Mt. Airy. It's one of six members of the Frederick Wine Trail. Among the links on their recently redesigned Web site is a timeline that appears under the heading of About Us. In 1980, it became the first all vinifera vineyard in the state. Ten years later it was making news again, working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to sell both to destinations in Canada and Great Britain.

Sprinkled amid the key dates are references to the winery’s two Chardonnays, including the Liberty Tavern Reserve that is being produced off the original vines that were planted in 1980. The other Chardonnay, called
Cold Friday, is using grapes coming off vines planted in 1995. and as you would figure, there’s a distinctness between the two, said winemaker and vineyard manager Fred Wilson.

“The wines are quite different from each other,” he said Sunday, the sounds of bustling and a ringing phone occasionally drowning out the conversation. “There’s more complexity, more depth of flavor . . . a slight mineral type of aspect to the Liberty Tavern. And the other one is more tropical fruit-oriented. We do the same thing to both of them except the the Cold Friday does not go thru
malolactic [fermentation], so it turns out a little bit crisper, and that probably influences the oak flavors. Both are in the same aged oak for the same length of time, but the Liberty Tavern seems to accept that much better.”

Wilson said they are producing on the average of 300 cases of the Cold Friday and 200 cases of the Liberty Tavern Reserve. They also sell around 300 cases of their award-winning ice wine, called Vin de Jus Glace. Theirs has nabbed a pile of awards, including two Maryland Governor’s Cups and a silver medal in this year’s World Wine Championship. It is as the name describes, wine made from grapes that had been left to freeze on the vine. For someone who craves dry wines, even tasting the ice wine seems like a jump into the abyss. But it’s a wine that, as Wilson said, “by its very nature it’s hard to make it unbalanced because by freezing all of the acids . . . it doesn’t turn out to be cloyingly sweet.

“The way we make it . . . we purchase the juice from [New York’s] Finger Lakes and we freeze it, and then separate the ice from the juice. So it kind of doubles the sugar. And then [we] ferment it, so it gets down to about 20 percent sweetness.”

Just as an aside, friends of ours headed up to northern New York for the
Niagara Ice Wine Festival, which ran this year from Jan. 18 to Feb. 3. They not only raved about the wines they tasted but the people they met from all over the world.

Elk Run will be closed July 4, but will resume its
weekend events on July 11 and July 12. Asked about anything special happening in the vineyard, Wilson noted that they’ve
been experimenting with denser plantings and smaller yields per vine. The result has had some interesting effects on, among other wines, the 2005 Merlot. “It’s quite an interesting difference,” Wilson said. “More concentrated.”

One of the pioneers in the wine industry in Maryland, he can survey the landscape now and see 33 “competitors” trying to make a go of it. There’s growth, he noted, but he remains bearish on what’s ahead because of the current state laws that impact distribution.

“There certainly some minute changes,” he said, “but the legislature . . . does not view winemaking as an industry. So they’re not very open to improving the situations where we can do things that will increase revenue, which of course increases their taxes, but maybe they don’t feel it’s enough to do anything extraordinary for us.”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Doing my part for the economy: buying wine

Haven't seen my buddy Ralph since going into the wine and spirits store more than a month ago, but he walked right up and asked me how I liked that Spanish red he recommended last time. Huh? I didn't remember that, until I got home and typed my new purchases into my wine log and realized that, heyyyyyyyy, he did suggest a red that was de-lish. It's
Mad dogs & Englishmen, a blend of Monastrell, Cab Sauv and Shiraz that's made out of a winery in the Jumilla region of Spain. The alcohol content (14 percent) was a bit higher than many of my Spanish favorites, but it's still nowhere near the vicinity of, say, a Zinfandel. It was really good, as was a bottle of Pillar Box Red from Australia that neatly blends Shiraz (53 percent), Cab and Merlot.

Anyway, Ralph, your memory is better than mine. Definitely a good recommendation.

Obviously I couldn't leave the store this time (or any other) without some bottles in hand. Picked up one bottle of my favorite inexpensive Tempranillo, an '03 Hoya de Cadenas Reserva that I've seen some online reviewers diss for being too shallow, too leathery, too .. oh, who cares? It's one I always enjoy. Also picked up another Spanish red, a Higueruela Cosecha 2005, which is a blend of primarily Garancha. Opened it last night and ... oh my, this one needs to go back even with legs that would be comparable to Jessica Simpson's. Supposed to taste blackberry, blackcurrant, raspberry and strawberry. Instead, got gamey and a whiff of manure and olives. Hey, it happens. Hopefully someone at the store will agree. And pilfered from the clearance section was a Greek white called Santorini Argyros Atlantis, which I'm expecting to make today's crab feast sing. Will let you know.
P.S.: Syrah, I'm told, will give off the scent of black olives. Didn't know that. And there's 12 percent syrah that's blended with the Garancha in that Spanish red I tried. But I returned the bottle and brought home another of the same. We'll give it a whirl tonight and see if it was the wine or just my taste buds.
And finally: That new bottle? More like I expected, with the aromas of fruit evident from the moment the cork pops off. That's much better. As for that Greek white, go find a bottle or two. A steal for $6.99.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Trip West gains "biggest purchase ever" for LCB

Another buying trip down; more than 100,000 cases of largely Chairman’s Selection wine on its way to Pennsylvania between now and the end of the year.

Tony Jones, the chief of product management and pricing division for the state’s Liquor Control Board, said by phone earlier this week that it was the largest purchase that he and director of marketing Jim Short have ever made on one of these trips out West. They make two a year: one in June and another one in January.

But it wasn’t the trip per se that made this newsworthy. They were accompanied a couple of weeks ago by consultants from several of the state’s premium collection stores: Patty Meckley (my wine guru from the East Market Street store in York), Robert Skelly from the Pittsburgh area and Rian Poltrone from the east region, basically the area in and around Philly. It’s the first time that they’ve brought along the consultants, and this first trip was so successful that Jones said they’re going to be accompanied by a new group of consultants every time they head to California.

“They were definitely an asset on the trip,” Jones said. “Myself and Jim, we know what sells in stores, but to hear them kind of reinforce that; when we can turn to them and say, ‘Can you sell this?’ and all three nod their heads yes, that instantly certifies what our thoughts are.”

They spent the first three days in Napa, welcoming around 25 suppliers that represented more than 100 wineries. Jones then took them through
Paso Robles and Napa and Santa Rita Hills to other wineries. If he’d change anything for next time it might be the route, perhaps setting up shop in Paso Robles and welcoming suppliers before heading to Napa and possibly to Lodi and Monterey. “Down there,” he said of Paso Robles, “we ran across some real good wineries and got a lot of real good insight into that region. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us there in the future.

Jones said they tasted wines from just about all the world’s major producers. “I would say about 40 percent of those cases are being ordered now, and then the reminder will be ordered in August, which will put them in stores for the October, November and December holiday season.” He said about 80 percent of the brands are recognizable. “We had a couple of brands that may be a little more obscure.”

Many of those will show up at what are called Chairman’s Selections luncheons for the store specialists in mid-August, one in Harrisburg and another the next day in Philly. “We’ll have about 20 or 30 of the wines and they’ll get to sample them, see what is coming into the stores that can help them with the sell-through. It’s something we always do after every trip.” Jones said the trio who headed to California will be invited. “At these two events, I’m going to ask them to stand up and just share their experience with everybody that’s there. And then that way hopefully their enthusiasm will kind of rub of on everybody else, get people motivated to sell these wines that come in.”

Hopefully no one will ask for every details of the tastings; Jones said they “had to suffer through” about 450 wines to come up with those 162. It gets a little laborious,” he said, the emphasis on “a little.” And his one piece of advice for the next crew that heads out? “You also learn to wear dark shirts when you go on these trips,” he said. “Wine splash back and all that kind of stuff.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Easy does it for Pinot Noir at Moondancer

Caught up during the middle of the week with Jim Miller, winemaker and owner of Moondancer Vineyards & Winery in Wrightsville, Pa., and broached the idea of talking about a special bottling he had mentioned to me in a previous conversation of a wine he called Driagra.

Nothing wrong with the wine, Miller noted, but not what he'd call one of his signature products. "That’s not a typical wine for us," he said, then continued, "Our specialty really is a premium dry red. That’s what we really focus on. You know we do other wines and we do a nice job with dry whites, but we focus really on more of a European dry style wine, something that would be more typical of a winery in California or a winery in Europe, not necessarily what you’re typically finding on the East Coast."

Located no more than a 10-minute ride off the Wrightsville exit of Route 30, half the fun is winding up the driveway and taking in the spectacular view of the Susquehanna River as it makes its way south toward Peach Bottom and the Chesapeake Bay. While the entire plot covers a bit more than 30 acres, Miller said about 12 acres are planted with eight varieties of grapes: Chardonnary, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

"The oldest part of the vineyard is 10 years old," Miller said, "so the wines are really starting to develop nicely."

One in particular is the Pinot Noir, which just won a double gold in the dry red category at the Keystone Wine Competition that was held in Cromwell, Conn., on March 1.

"I don’t really put the wines in many competitions simply because I don’t have the time and we miss the deadlines, but once in awhile we’ll put them in there and we’ve always done well with our reds and our dryer whites," said Miller, who spent the last weekend showing off his collection of wines at the Tastes of PA Wine & Food Festival at Split Rock Resort. "At Split Rock, I think we were one of the only wineries to take [Pinot Noir] up there. I think other wineries make it; in fact, I know they do, but we took it and a lot of people were amazed that you could even grow that grape here, and it actually does pretty well."

Primarily a grape you see on the West Coast in northern California and up into Oregon and Washington, it can be difficult to master on the East Coast because it ripens earlier than most reds, a process called
verasion. "So the birds immediately flock to the Pinot Noir," Miller said. "It almost goes from green to black, and that attracts the birds even though they aren’t ripe, so the birds will get after it if you don’t net it right away. So you have to net it, you have to protect it from the birds early in the season, which is just one more management step in the vineyard, which can be difficult."

It's also grows in a tighter cluster than most, he noted, meaning it’s more susceptible to disease pressure. "When that cluster closes you can’t get spray around the berries," he said.

Still, he said, the wine has increasingly developed more characteristics as it heads toward another harvest. "The third year you get a little bit of fruit," he said. "The fourth year you get almost a full crop, but it’s about that fifth or sixth year where it starts to comes into its own , and . . . this harvest will be eight years. But is a difficult grape to grow. You don’t get a huge yield out of it."

That yield will come out of six barrels this year, filling about 150 cases, Miller said, then without a pause added, "We’ll drink half of those and sell the other half."

Cheers to that.

Hauser Estate takes its spot on the Web

We've previewed Hauser Estate Winery that's essentially located in historic Cashtown, Pa., talking to owner Jonathan Patrono and winemaker Michelle Oakes in recent posts. Patrono was working toward a July 1 opening for the winery, located about seven miles west of Gettysburg, but he said Sunday that the middle of July seems like a more likely date.

But they are getting close, obvious by the creation of the Web site. This includes a bit of the background info, including the fact that the winery will have a sales location at 17 on the Square in Gettysburg. But it seems most of the buzz about this family-owned winery will be the view from the glass-enclosed tasting room, which you can get a glimpse of in this photo that we "borrowed" from the Web site. Other construction photos also appear on the site. That tasting room will sit atop the underground winery.

According to the ad posted some months ago for a winemaker, the winery expects to produce 6,000 gallons the first year and quickly expand to 10,000 gallons/year. Both apple and grape wines will be mainstays.

Two acres of hybrid vineyard were in the ground at the time of the posting, with another eight acres of vinifera and two additional hybrid acres expected to go into the ground this year.

Patrono said in the original posting that the planning and work toward next month's opening began in 2006, and it has been a substantial investment of time and money. "Two years ago," he said, "I wouldn't have guessed that as much planning as we've done would have gone into it."

Terrapin Station one of Grapes! big hits

No one is more articulate about the wine industry in general and the Maryland landscape in particular as director of the state's winery association. Reached Wednesday, he talks in this taped segment about how well Great Grapes! did at Oregon Ridge Park last weekend and the impact that one as-yet unopened premium winery (Black Ankle) and one innovative winery (Terrapin Station) figure to have on the industry. Atticks calls Black Ankle "a new breed of East Coast wineries" and says it has been "interesting to see how the public has reacted" to Terrapin Station, which is boxing its wine. "It's an interesting idea that you're selling the wine on taste," he says, "which, frankly, is how it should be selling, not package and label design, which is how most wine is sold."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Marcus files: Part 2

I set up this blog as an opportunity in part for people to sound off. Not viciously, mind you, and not to incite fights, but not to get people thinking and prompt discussion. So I invite the opinion and get it on the record. In this case, Doug Marcus of Towson Wines & Spirits has his problems, he says, with a majority of Maryland wines, primarily that so many are sweet nad lacking in quality. He says as much in his recent monthly newsletter, posted previously, as he was touting the wines of Black Ankle that he’s now carrying. That winery, located in Mt. Airy, is scheduled to open by the end of July.

We talked a bit last week and he went on the record a bit more in-depth about why he says he’s frustrated with Maryland wines, in general, and why Black Ankle will raise the bar in the state. These are just some snippets of what he said:

“What happens is, people don’t drink a lot of wine. And so there’s a parallel thing going on. The wineries in Maryland are not making the effort. Some are, most aren’t, because it started out as a hobby, you know, it’s like grandma’s apple pie. She doesn't care where the apples come from, she just wants to make an apple pie . . . so she lucks out and the first couple pies are made with good apples, and after that she has to make 10 pies instead of one, so she wants to cut back on her cost so she buys substandard apples, and all of a sudden the quality goes down. This is kinda what happens because people don’t know how to run a business or ramp up a business. And you end up with substandard wine, partly because of soil chemistry and partly because of wherever the source of the juice is if you’re not growing your own grapes. And you end up with really crummy wine. So what you do is put sugar in it . . . it’s like me and salt . . .salt makes everything taste better. And the same thing with sugar . . . so you end up with 20 of 22 wineries who make almost predominantly sweet wine because it covers all the ills of the wine.”

“When Black Ankle started . . . everybody said, ‘no, no, no, you gotta go sweet, sweet, sweet.' And what they did is they did some soil samples and did chemistries and hired consultants; they spent an absolute fortune. If you’ve not been out there . . .when you go out there you have to think California, not Maryland. They’ve got . . . if I were to guess $20 million, I think I’d be pretty close. They weren’t kidding around. I tasted their wines. To put it in perspective, they have 250 brand new French oak barrels and they cost a thousand dollars apiece. That’s a quarter million dollars in barrels. So before you get started, you’re talking about a lot of money . . . They’re doing the right things in that they’re planting the right vines and going through the chemistries of the soil and they’re doing everything they need to do, knowing full well that ultimately they’re going to be able to turn a profit at the same time they’re making good wine, whereas everybody starts off altruistically wanting to make good wine and they realize, ‘aw crap, this stuff isn’t any good, let’s throw some sugar in it.’ And there are enough people out there that buy wine without fail once a year that you can fool some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, and that’s enough.”

“. . . People will climb up a tree to get a nice product it doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant or an ice cream store or wine. So it’s really a matter of finding a product and being able to stand behind it. Most people are in the business of making money, and unfortunately with wine, you gotta make the wine first and then the money comes."

“. . . Black Ankle, and another winery -- I forget the name -- apparently they’re both doing it right, and by doing it right they’re going to put Maryland wineries on the map and set a standard that other wineries just can’t meet.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Making friends with the Marietta folks

Walked into a nearby state store a couple of weeks ago and followed my normal course of action, perusing the shelves for something I haven’t tried that fits my budget. Grabbed an Old Vine Red from
Marietta Cellars in Geyserville, Calif., in Sonoma County, and was happy I did from the moment I pulled out the cork. According to the Web site, the blend is primarily comprised of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignane as well as smaller amounts of Cabernet and Syrah. Other Italian varietals round it out.

Curious, I checked their Web site and felt immediately at home. In addition to all the information you’d expect to find, they add a splash of extra personality by listing their top 10 things. Not wines. Their top 10 things, like trips to Montana and Alaska and a recipe for Minestrone soup. It’s a clever special touch that introduces newcomers to owner and winemaker Chris Bilbro and his family.

Sending along four questions that I hoped would give me a little more insight into the winery, which does not have a tasting room, I received this response from Jake, one of Chris’ sons, in under 24 hours, far faster than it took me to polish off the bottle of Old Vine. That one I slowly savored for a few days.

Q, What one or two issues are of most concern to wineries where you are located?
A. I don't think there are any specific concerns in Sonoma County that wouldn't be industry wide concerns… more competition globally, rising production costs etc. I don't think there's anything astronomical however.
Q, How much is NOT having a tasting room an asset and a detriment?
A. Not having a tasting room hurts us from the aspect that we can't sell direct to consumers and we don't have a large local following but having a wide distribution gives us market share in a lot of different states which as a small winery insulates us from regional trends.
Q, Have you updated that top 10 since it was originally written. I love that. Not seen that on any other site I've been to.
A. We've updated it a few times but not consistently, it is pretty much our staple favorites.
Q, Really, really liked the Old Vine. How has that one evolved over the years?
A.I think OVR has the following that it does because it hasn't evolved over the years… It is the same wine we started making 30 years ago and our consumers know that and trust the corresponding consistency level in it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Back & forth with Twin Brook's Jobe

One thing I’d like to do more of as this blog evolves is actually get out to the winery and sit and have a conversation. I did that at Twin Brook in Gap, Pa., a few weeks ago, and winemaker Tim Jobe and his wife Melissa were gracious hosts. I’d prefer to place these as podcasts, but I’m being told by too many people that they prefer to read the transcript rather than click and just listen. Part of the conversation was previously posted; this is the remainder of the discussion that essentially followed the subject of East Coast wines and how little most people know about them.

Tim: “We’re having to educate people on wines along the East.Coast, and I think it’s the same all the way from Virginia to New York, how every far they are doing it. You can’t just say, ‘this is great wine, buy it,’ because they’re not going to, because people just know a few words. They know Merlot. They know Chardonnay. And they know a few others. And if it doesn’t come from Europe or California, then they’re not going to try it. And if they come into our tasting room; as John said one time, the people came into one of our tasting rooms, and when the lady found out that it was all Pennsylvania wines, he said that she reacted as if she had walked into a porn shop unknowingly. She grabbed the kid and said, ‘Oh my god, let’s get out of here.’”

Question: So you’re still teaching a lot of folks who stop in about Eastern wines?

Tim: “Certainly. There is a stigma associated with Pennsylvania, well not only Pennsylvania but Eastern wines, that we have to try to educate the public. And the real shame of it is that everybody is buying what they know.. they know Merlot .. they know Syrah now because of Australia. And that’s what they’re buying.”

Melissa: “And Niagara. They like sweet.”

Tim: “That’s great, and it’s the only place you can get the Niagara and Concord.”

Melissa: “And they know them.”

Tim: “They know them and they buy them. That’s our highest-selling wines . . . [the wines that are sweet].”

Q: Is that fondness for sweet wine particular to the East Coast?

Tim: “I would say the majority come in for the sweet wines. The real jewel about our area is that there’s more diversity here. There’s so many different types of grapes being grown. So many different flavors in the wines that that’s our saving grace is that we get people in they can taste 14 different wines. They’re going to find something they like. It’s not like we have one Chard, one Cab and a Merlot. And I think you can probably do OK at that. But the Eastern United States is not like that yet. It’s not like California. It’s just not like California. But that’s what we’re trying to do is get them in the mindset that, yes, you can go into any Eastern winery and find a good Chard, a good Cab, a good Merlot, but you also might find some other things you like: the Chambourcin, the Vignoles is absolutely gorgeous. I like it better than Viognier, and you can only find it in the Northeast pretty much.”

Q: What do people want to know when they stop by?

Tim: “Occasionally we do get people in who want to know what they can eat with this certain type of wine.”

Melissa: “We get two types. Those that know wines who come in to taste to see if they can find some kind of jewel.”

“And those people are pleasantly surprised.”

“And then you have others who walk in who have never been to a winery before, who really don’t know what they want, who really don’t know what we have”

Q: But they do know what they like and don’t like?

Tim: “That’s the real key there is that you buy what you like, and I think that’s one of the greatest things about the tasting room and having people in here that talk to you about wines and find out what you like and what you don’t like.

Tim: “If it was up to me, I would produce three wines, three or four wines, instead of 14. But we have such a diversity of grapes here -- when they first planted the place they didn’t really know what they wanted to plant, and so they planted a little bit of everything [30 acres planted, 12 different varieties]. That’s pretty normal for Eastern wineries, but you know in California you have those wineries that just grow Chard, Cab, Merlot, or they grow Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot so they can make a meritage. They’re very specialized. In the East you don’t have that very much, and I think one of the reasons is that no one has really figured out what is the specialty of the East. What is the specialty of the east yet? No one really knows. We’re trying to define that now.”

Q: Is it Chambourcin?

Tim: “Well, Chambourcin, yes, I would think so. I would think that’s definitely one of the ones . . .”

Q: It seems most if not all the regional wineries have a good Chambourcin and a good Vidal Blanc.

Tim: “But you see, those are both hybrids, and that’s a stigma. You can’t . . . nobody else in the world knows what that is except for people who come into the Northeast. So it’s kind of hard to say, yes, we specialize in Chambourcin when nobody knows what it is. In fact, that’s the reason when this one was named, the Consiglieri, nobody knew what Chambourcin was. That was back in 1985, nobody knew. And that’s why they name it Consiglieri, because nobody knew what Chambourcin was. A lot of the names we have on our private wines, like Traminette; the
Clocktower White we make is made from Traminette, but we don’t call it Traminette because when we planted it . . . it was called NY65.533.13. So nobody knew what that was and so you had to call it something, and then when they did eventually name it, by that time you had a clientele for Clocktower Whites and you gotta go back to that. Same way with Vignoles. It was a Ravat 51 for many years. And the only person I know of that still calls it that is Bully Hill [Vineyards in Hammondsport, N.Y.]. One of the girls that works for me actually, she goes to New York a lot and she’s like, talking about how she likes the wines and everything. And I said something one day about the Ravat 51 and she’s like, ahhh, that’s a wine myth. And, I said, well, it Vignoles. They named it . . . eventually. So I think that the East Coast is still so young that we don’t have a, I guess, a signature. There’s really no signature wines. We can produce Chards just as good as anybody else, in my opinion. Especially on the good years, when it hasn’t been raining.”

Q: Is it a goal here to shoot for new blends every year, just to diversify more?

Tim: “At Twin Brook, we’re kind of maxed out on what we can do. And one thing we don’t do is, we don’t throw the Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and the Merlot into a meritage. I don’t believe in that. I have a few customers come in and a whole lot of winemakers that say, ‘It’s great to see that you’re still producing a Cab Franc instead of throwing it in.a meritage. And I like that. I like keeping them all separate. I could be doing that, and that would cut down on my winemaking a lot just to make a blend from those. But it’s just something that I like. I like having the different wines and, if you go to [France] or there’s actually a couple of places in California still doing Cab Franc, that you can still get good Cab Franc. I think that’s great, you know. And nobody knows what that is. Everybody comes in and say, ‘Cab Franc?’ Well, it’s the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, but nobody knows what it is.”

Tim: “I do try to tailor what I make to what will sell. We all have to do that. That’s why I have six or seven wines that are sweet, but also, I have my own opinions about like the Cab Franc and the meritage. I like to keep mine separate.”

Q: How much of what you make is an expression of why you’re in the business?

Tim: “You have to do a little bit of that, but the majority of it has to be what is going to sell.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A letter from (wine) camp: Day 3

The campers gather for a goodbye pic.

Courtesy of Nina Kelly, the director of communications for the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau, here's a summation of the third and final day of the inaugural Brandywine Valley Wine Camp. You can check out this site and the Brandywine Valley site for a followup on the camp and a list of other activities and events scheduled for that area in Chester County.

It is hard to believe that we are at the last day of our first Wine Camp - time does indeed fly when you are having fun. Our last winery visit is to Stargazers Vineyard & Winery in beautiful Chester County, just north of Unionville. John and Alice Weygant began growing grapes on 30 beautiful acres in 1979 and sold them to other winemakers. In 1996 they began to produce their own vintages and today specialize in sparkling wines. John spoke to the campers about the chemistry of winemaking. It really is a science at the start of the process and an art at the finish, he states. Use of sulfur dioxide (to inhibit bacteria growth) and types of yeasts used were discussed. Champagnes have become Stargazers' niche market - they produce it for themselves as well as some other area wineries. John explained that the process for making a sparkling wine included a double fermentation process. A tour of their winery ended with the tasting of several sparkling wines. Ones made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (a blush/sparkling wine) were simply delicious. John had a great thought to describe the effect of champagne as we were tasting: "Champagne should feel like you need to keep your mouth closed or it will float out." Indeed it did, and as all good things must come to a close so ended our wine camp.

Part of the Wine Camp package included Brandywine Sampler coupons (admission to eight area attractions including Longwood Gardens, Brandywine River Museum, QVC and more.) Many participants were going to one of the attractions and since the coupons are valid through 2008, several were planning a return visit also.

As we said goodbye, kudos were given to all the hosts at the Bed and Breakfast (their hospitality was exceptional, stated our campers; "We felt like family," was exclaimed more than once.) Staff and owners of each of the wineries were commended also. "What a unique experience to meet the owner/operators and hear their stories," said one of the camping couples who have been to wineries in California and New York. Finally, something must be said about the campers themselves. Had we been able to hand-pick a group of participants ourselves, we could not have come up with a nicer, more fun group of people. Many thanks to them for participating in our inaugural camp. Look for the second annual Brandywine Valley Wine Camp, June 12-14, 2009, and visit for upcoming events and camps.

A letter from (wine) camp: Day 2

Photos courtesy of Nina Kelly: from left, the vineyard tour at Kreutz Creek, co-owner Mark Harris addresses the group at Paradocx, where campers also take a hayride.
Courtesy of Nina Kelly, the director of communications for the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau, here's a second-day summation of the Brandywine Valley Wine Camp. We plan to continue these posts throughout the weekend for the filled-to-capacity event, which runs through Sunday:

The first full day of the Brandywine Valley Wine Camp on Saturday was really a FULL day! Camp started out at Kreutz Creek Winery in West Grove with a walk through the vineyards. Campers were greeted by owners Jim and Carole Kirkpatrick on a deck overlooking the vineyard. Jim tells the story that this all started with Carole giving him a wine-making kit for Christmas several years ago. They purchased the land in West Grove, planted vines and began making wine in 1989. Today they grow 13 varieties on 8 of their 20 acres.

It was a beautiful day (albeit hot) for a walk through the vineyard, with Jim pointing out lovingly his varieties of grapes. During the walk Jim highlighted the processes of pruning, showing us the "sappers" that would sap the nutrients out of the fruit. Questions of irrigation came up and Jim answered that is all by mother nature - no artificial means is used to irrigate the vines. This seemed unusual until we learned the incredible depth of the roots (some can reach as far as 20 feet). Finally we tasted the fruits of this beautiful vineyard in the custom basement winery in their home. Kreutz Creek currently produces 18 wines including Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Niagra, Steuben, Port and more. Like
Chaddsford Winery, Kreutz Creek also has an evening concert series and serves unique wine "slushies" as a signiture drink.

We left Kreutz Creek for the short drive to
Paradocx Winery. It was opening day of their new winery and we were met by co-owner Mark Harris. After a glass of wine, he took us off on a hay-ride to the vineyard. There under the cypress trees lay a magnificent spread of Italian delights from Carlino's in West Chester accompanied by various delicious Paradocx wines. Mark's wife Joann and two beautiful daughters greeted us as Mark told the story of he and his partner (both doctors with wives who were doctors- hence the name Paradocx) on a handshake purchased 80 acres in Landenberg and began their dream of becoming wine-makers. Mark credits Eric Miller of Chaddsford Winery with being an inspiration and a great help to the budding winemakers. Paradocx produces 15 varieties of grapes. Mark and Joann poured wines throughout the lunch and explained the process of making the wine as well as what foods might pair best with them. A favorite packaging technique at Paradocx is their unique "paint cans" of "White Wash" and "Barn Red." Several campers purchased these as well as other of their favorite wines to sample at home.

Finally the last winery of the day was beautiful
Twin Brook Winery in Gap. Twin Brook is on 30 acres and produces about 100 to 140 tons of grapes. We were met by General Manager Tim Jobe, who took the group on a tour of where grapes are captured to be crushed, stored and fermented. Plastic holding tanks were seen for the first time in the wine camp and Tim expained that much like barrels, plastic tanks can aid in the oxidation process. He also explained the importance of yeast in the fermenting process. He showed us where 50,000 bottles are filled and corked by hand! A retreat to the loft tasting room where Tim poured Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, to name a few. Tim spoke of the positive relationship with other winemakers in the region and how the area was a natural for growing and producing. Visitors were already gathering for a concert on the grounds as we were leaving.

A weary (but happy) group retreated to their B&B's for some R&R before dinner. We later met at
Brandywine Prime, where general manager and co-owner Michael Majewski escorted us to a private room for wonderful hors d'oeuvres and Stargazers Sparkling Chardonnay (we'll see Stargazers on Sunday. Blair Mahoney, executive director of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, greeted the campers and got caught up on the activities thus far and some ideas for other camps. "I couldn't be more thrilled with the outcome of our first Wine Camp effort" says Mahoney. "This group could not be better and from all accounts they are having a great time! Wine Camp will become an annual event and we are in the process of developing other camp programs." A fabulous dinner followed - served with Brandywine region wines of course! The first full day was indeed full - full of fun, food, wine and great memories. Still to come, our last day together . . .

Saturday, June 21, 2008

H.B. 2165 tough to swallow in present form

Anyone living in Pennsylvania interested in buying wine from outside the state and having it shipped directly to their home should be following with interest House Bill 2165. Introduced by Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny, it would provide for the direct shipment of wine by both in-state and out-of-state wineries through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, or PLCB. In order to ship products directly to customers, wineries would need to obtain a limited winery license and direct shipper license from the PLCB.

It’s already meeting opposition, including
this editorial that ran in the May 10 issue of the Pittsburgh Post –Gazette. Bob Mazza, president of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, said he missed the first hearing on June 9 in Harrisburg, but that one and perhaps two others are planned once the state budget in approved. Those could occur in Philly and/or Allegheny County, although Mazza said he’s planning to write and request that one of the meetings is held in Eric County, where 95 percent of the state’s grapes of produced.

Where ever the meetings take place, Mazza said, there needs to be changes made in the legislation.

“In its current form, we’re dead against it. It does a lot of negative things,” he said Thursday night. “One of the things addressed in there is that currently a Pennsylvania winery is permitted to produce up to 200,000 gallons of wine. They want to reduce that down to 80,000 gallons, and the purpose for that is to keep wineries that are larger than 80,000 gallons from shipping to customers in Pennsylvania, to keep parity in keeping with the Supreme Court ruling. Well, I mean, that’s silly, as far as I’m concerned. So we’re going to limit our industry now so that we can limit the size of wineries that ship into Pennsylvania. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in my book.”

Mazza said he missed the first hearing, but did work beforehand with the association’s lobbyist, who spoke along with a representative from one other winery. Saying that “hopefully we’ll resolved this because it’s something that needs to be resolved,” he added that there are enough parties in the discussion sensitive to what the association wants to give him confidence that both sides can find some common ground.

“We have a lot of respect within the legislature,” Mazza said. “The PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board] has vowed to work with us to reach a compromise. We’re not out to eliminate the PLCB. We want to work within the system, but we truly feel that the consumer in Pennsylvania is certainly entitled to purchase wines from another state and have them shipped directly to his or her home, as they do in many other states. They don’t have to go through the state store system.

“But appropriate taxes, if they need to be collected; that can be accomplished. We have no problems with that. But we certainly are on the side of consumer now in terms of their getting the royal shaft right now in terms of their ability to purchase wines from out of state.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mazza: Growth has been a 'mixed bag'

The wine caucus at the Pennsylvania Winery Association on June 4 followed the unveiling of “Vintage 2012,” a five-year plan to double the impact of the Pennsylvania wine industry that was launched last year. Association president Bob Mazza said during a wide-ranging chat Thursday night that both the plan and the caucus are essential to fulfilling long-term goals as production increases and wineries continue to multiply.

“What [Vintage 2012] really means,” said Mazza, “is basically developing a funding steam that’s going to be consistent and something we can count on year after year so that we can begin to do some of the long-term marketing and some of the long-term quality initiatives to develop a reputation for Pennsylvania wines. It can be done to a certain extent, by individual wineries, but that’s very, very difficult. And we don’t have the size and scope of wineries in this state to accomplish that. Certainly if we had a Robert Mondavi located in Harrisburg or Adams County or something like that, Pennsylvania would get noticed. But we don’t have that type of producer. There’s a couple that kind of think they are, but they’re a long way from it. But, you know, we just don’t have the notoriety. I always say, boy, it’s a darn shame that Mario Andretti had to go to California to open up a winery when he was basically from Pennsylvania. It’s a darn shame he didn’t open up his winery in Pennsylvania. That would have been a real boost for our industry to have someone with that name recognition to be in our industry.”

Mazza Vineyards is
located in North East, Pa., smack up by Lake Erie, with New York a hop, skip and a jump to the east and Ohio a bit farther away on the western horizon. Welch’s is the major employer, and it’s one of only a couple of towns in the United States that has more than five wineries. Six currently are in operation there. Mazza said his was the seventh winery to be established in the state, back in 1973. He noted that while there has been plenty of growth across the state, “in certain areas we probably have not met our expectations and in other areas we’ve probably exceeded them, so its kind of a mixed bag.”

He continued: “To be honest with you, I didn’t envision as many wineries as we have in Pennsylvania, but I also had expected that he the wineries that would be in business would be considerably larger than they are. I guess I expected fewer wineries and larger producers, but in fact we have the numbers greater but they’re tending to be smaller operations. . . . I guess I just expected the growth curve to be a little bit different.

“Some of them start fairly small and very conservative, and others are starting out almost California-style, investing millions of dollars in their facilities . . . and, you know, I don’t know what their expectations are. But often times I see a lot of money being spent and I look at wineries that have been around 20, 25 years and those wineries could barely justify that type of investment. But everybody gets into the business for different reasons, I guess. Some folks, as I say, [it’s] California style. They’re looking to make a statement. Put up a facility perhaps that’s very prestigious and that’s fine. That’s good for the industry. But if I take a look at what their return will be, it will never be an operation that . . .will give a decent return on their investment.”

This recent caucus was encouraging, Mazza said, not only because it’s the first of what hopefully will be many but that so many legislators participated. More than 25 attended along with members of the wine association and the state Department of Agriculture. No doubt, Mazza agreed, part of the lure is how much making and drinking wine are in vogue these days.

“I firmly believe that it’s a type of business that’s exciting and its growing and there’s a lot of interest in it,” he said, “and people want to be involved and they want to be associated with it.

“It’s definitely a very sexy business, there’s a certain amount of romance and sizzle . . . to the wine business. It’s got a certain amount of cachet in the business world. I see it in different events that I attend. I’m sitting at a dinner. It s a diverse group of people, and as soon as they figure out you’re in the wine business, boy, the attention and the conversation just kind of swings over to the wine. You maybe have people in the construction business, whatever else they’re in, but it just seems like wine just kinda like, boy, it’s something people want to talk about, they want to learn more about it. It just has that kind of draw, I guess.”

A letter from (wine) camp: Day 1

Photos courtesy of Nina Kelly: from left, Jim Osborne, Cellar Master at Chaddsford, takes aim at a barrel, and campers relax during their official welcome.

Courtesy of Nina Kelly, the director of communications for the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau, here's a first-day summation of the Brandywine Valley Wine Camp. We plan to continue these posts throughout the weekend for the filled-to-capacity event, which runs through Sunday:

The Brandywine Valley Wine Camp got off to a rousing start this Friday evening (more details to follow). What is this wine camp, you ask? It is the brain-child of Greg Edevane, director of sales and marketing at the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau. The three-day, two-night weekend "camp" is dedicated to fun, food, wine and winemaking in the Brandywine Valley area of PA. The schedule is as follows: Friday starts at the Chaddsford Winery with a "Barrel Tasting in the Cellar" followed by a picnic dinner and concert under the stars. Overnights are at guests choice of cozy Bed & Breakfasts in the area. Saturday starts with a great breakfast at said B&B's - then to Kreutz Creek Vineyard in West Grove for "A Walk through the Vineyards" - off to lunch and a wine paring at Paradocz Vineyard, then "Vines to Wines the Crush" at Twin Brook Winery. Dinner Saturday evening is at the wonderful Brandywine Prime in Chadds Ford. Sunday starts off with another hearty breakfast and off to learn about "The Chemistry of Winemaking" at Stargazers Vineyard in Coastesville. Guests are then free to explore area treasures such as Longwood Gardens, Brandywine River Museum, QVC Studios and much more with the Brandywine Sampler coupon books that are included in their welcome package. But I digress - back to the beginning and how much fun Friday night was . . .

Campers arrived at Chaddsford Winery at about 4:30 p.m. The Chaddsford Winery is a magical place where a 17th century Colonial barn has been transformed into one of Pennsylvania's premier wineries. Here they were greeted with at refreshing glass of Spring Wine, a light delightful light wine that has become a favorite at Chaddsford during the warm weather season. After a welcome reception (name tags included) the group was escorted by Jim Osborne, the Cellar Master at Chaddsford for a very entertaining tour through the barrel aging process. Types of oak barrels used at Chaddsford are American, French and Hungarian, according to Jim and each add a subtle difference to the wine. Some wines which are not aged in barrels are known as "unoaked" and one such wine at Chaddsford is their famous "Naked Chardonnay". Campers compared oak-aged Chardonnay to the "Naked" version as well as several red wines in various stages of the aging process. After the cellar tour the group enjoyed adelicious picnic dinner of chilled salmon, steak and grilled vegetables with their favorite Chaddsford Wines. Pastries and fresh fruits followed as the air was filled with the sounds of the City Rhythm Orchestra, a fabulous band that played big band favorites while guests danced under the stars. It was truly a glorious night and a great kickoff to this inaugural (but destined to be annual) event. Look for an update on the rest of the "Camp" and don't miss the "Summer Nights Under the Stars" concerts at Chaddsford Winery Friday nights during the summer.

Wine caucus indicative of change that's ahead

Bob Mazza’s winery was the seventh in the state when it opened in 1973. Now in his fourth term as president of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, he has seen the industry in this state and elesewhere do more than take root. It’s developed a sexiness that didn’t exist when he and his wife Kathie put in their first vines.

“No question about it,” he said during a phone conversation Thursday night. “We kind of have a saying that years ago, you know, we were kind of lumped in with the drug dealers and the criminals, being in the wine business. It wasn’t the type of business that commanded any amount of respect. It was like, you were, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, it sounded like you had a problem because you were governed by this particular governmental agency. Today, with all the positives that come out, from the wine business, in terms of the health benefits, in terms of the lifestyle, in terms of other neat things that are associated with wine in terms of agritourism and land conservation and maintaining green space and vineyards … it’s very, very well received now.”

He and others participated on June 4 with more than 25 members of the state legislature in a one-day wine caucus, according to a
story on the Pennsylvania Winery Association (PWA) Web site. It was held at PWA's headquarters in Harrisburg. This was the first, and Mazza said assuredly that it won’t be the last. “We’ll certainly have, let s just call them get-togethers, in order to keep caucus members apprised of what’s going on in our industry and what some of the challenges are that we face and some of the good things that we’re doing as well. Just have this core nucleus of legislators that are generally interested in this business to really be our ambassadors in the rest of the legislature.”

Mazzza said it’s “imperative to build this core group of legislators” that are interested in the wine industry and seeing it grow. The state’s wine association notes that Pennsylvania is the fifth largest wine grape producer in the nation and ranks eighth in wine output, amounting to about 340,000 cases in 2005. There are more than 150 wine grape growers and over 120 wineries. More will open this year; Hauser Estate, located west of Gettysburg, is schedule to open next month. “You know, when legislation comes down the pike," Mazza continued, "we’ll have a core group of legislators that are really going to go to bat for us and help our industry where and when it needs help.”

As for how residents of the Commonwealth might interpret this meeting and the push toward developing the industry -- the goals of that initiative in a recently released plan entitled "Vintage 2012" -- Mazza was frank. “I suspect the average person might just regard it as another special interest group,” he said. “And let’s call a spade a spade; yes, we are a special interest group, but by the same token we do generate quite a bit of economic impact for the Commonwealth and we create jobs and we pay taxes. So yes, bottom line is, we are a special-interest group, but I think our interest is certainly in keeping with the average citizen, too.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The event grapevine: June 20-22


Great Grapes Festival
Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Oregon Ridge Park, Cockeysville, Md.
Advance and group tickets available, call 800.830.3976

So where to go this weekend? If you’re looking for wine, art and food, head to Cockeysville, Md., for the sixth annual Great Grapes! Festival. Moorea Marketing, which puts together this and several other major festivals along the East Coast, said that 13 Maryland wineries will be pouring out around 150 wines. That amounts to a couple more wineries than participated last year.

On-site admission is $22, and that cost decreases depending on whether you buy in advance or enter as a designated driver. You can find some of the specifics
at this link. Among the wineries will be Boordy, Elk Run, Fridays Creek and Sugarloaf.

What sets this one apart are the numerous
workshops and instructional sessions
that balance out the wine, food and entertainment that will be offered throughout the day. Highlighting Saturday’s schedule will be Juan-Carlos Cruz, the Food Network’s “Calorie Commando.” He plans on making paninis and salads as part of his initiative to prepare heart-healthy foods that still satisfy. Local cookbook author and food columnist Kerry Dunnington will headline Sunday’s schedule of seminars, discussing the nutritious benefits of eating foods in their growing season and incorporating foods that represent color, balance, variety and texture into the dishes you make. Her presentation is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.


Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Summer Night Under the Stars ($$), Friday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., reservations requested, 610-388-6221; Reserve Tasting ($$), Saturday, sittings at 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m.,

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: “Summer Under the Stars” Outdoor Concert Series ($$), Friday, 7 p.m.,

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: music Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons; Summer Concert series Saturday night ($$),

Naylor Wine Cellars, Stewartstown: “Summer Sounds” outdoor concert series ($$), Saturday, 7 to 10 p.m.,

Paradocz Vineyards, Landenberg: Opening of new tasting room, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.;

Twin Brook Winery, Gap: Gazebo Concert series (SS), Saturday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.,


Cygnus Wine Cellars, Manchester: Solstice at the Cellar, Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.,

Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars, Mt. Airy: Jazzed in June Wine Festival ($$), Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m., rain or shine,

Woodhall Wine Cellars, Parkton: Rockin’ Summer Concert, Saturday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. ($$),


You can find all the events for this weekend at wineries around that state
at this link.

($$) – Admission charge

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A blend of imagination at Va La

Safe to say there are few wineries nationally, let alone regionally, as unique as Va La Vineyards in Avondale, Pa. For one, they grow their own grapes over a modest seven acres, producing between 1200 to 1400 cases per vintage. And you won’t find a varietal in the house. They’re all blends, with names that range from Cedar to Patina to Silk to Cristallo. You won’t find any name you recognize in this place, except the foods they put out to accompany the drink.

Anthony Vietri, the winemaker and owner, said recently that there’s no science to naming these wines. “They usually name themselves,” he said. “Our philosophy, I guess, at Va La, the whole idea of what we’re trying to do there is just take this little piece of dirt and discover what the ingredients are to do the best that we can and make something really unique, and hopefully, eventually, make something a little bit special from the little piece of dirt. To us, the varieties are not very important and it’s the wines, you know, I kind of have in my head that I want to make, and whatever it takes to do that that’s what it ends up being.

“So, the names, it’s just, um, I don’t know where they come from,” he said, then breaking out into a laugh, “They just come out of the sky.”

That’s from being beneath the sky, working the vines and grapes with a zest throughout the spring and summer. It led Vietri into telling a story about one particular vine that has a beginning but no end, at least at this point.

“You know, you work with a wine for a couple of years before you even put it out,” he said. “And it’s more than that because . . . I can give you an example: We grow certain things and one of them I can’t actually tell you what it is because I signed [an agreement]. Those little guys, I was just in those rows today, as a matter of fact. Like with something like that, there was a variety that I had really wanted to see how it would work with what we were trying to do. All the varieties are selected that way, that’s how we selected them, kind of like cooking. The varieties are, simply, to us, ingredients, and you have an idea of what each ingredient will bring to the table, or to the pan, so to speak, but you don’t know that until you get it in the ground for sure, but you have an idea. And, so, there was this one variety that I was interested in and it did not exist in the United States. So it took me two years to come to the conclusion that it was an impossible thing to get. . . . so long story short, I had made some contacts with people across the Internet. Heard a rumor that [University of California] - Davis had this vine, but they weren’t saying it was this vine. That it was a misidentified variety and an expert was walking through their vineyard and they said, ‘Oh that’s not what you’re calling it, I think it’s this other variety,’ and it was the variety I was looking for.

“So then I called UC Davis. I tracked down what clone it was and what variety and then I called UC Davis and made friends with somebody on the phone. I said, ‘Listen I’d really like to get some of that wood.’ And they’re like, ‘Well, it’s on hold, you can’t have it’ and I’m like, “Look, I’m not going to hold you responsible. I’ll sign whatever documents you want. I know its not the variety you have in your documentation so I’m going into this completely eyes wide open.’ And they said, eventually, ‘OK,’ and I got it, got it grafted and then, anyway, that’s 10 years, and we still haven’t made a drop of wine out of it yet. And there’s a very good chance that, in three years, if I’m able to pick some of it this year that I’ll taste it and go, no, it doesn’t work.” He chuckled, then paused. “So that’s kind like just the way things go, just the way the kind of path that we’ve chosen and so we accept that, and so every year I’m pulling things out and adding new ones in because we only have the seven acres, so there’s not much room there.”

Vietri said that, in general, the grapes they use in their wines come from their own vineyard, going into a bit more detail on the reasons for that in the following short
recorded segment. To summarize, they rely on their own grapes because “the ingredients that we are seeking most of the time are not out there yet.”

Chat with him for a few minutes and you understand why the Web site provides lessons sprinkled with humor. It parallels our conversation: A serious explanation followed by a self-deprecating comment. According to the site . . .”The barrel cellar is constructed underground in order to obtain the optimum temperature and humidity for aging our wines. Plus it makes a wonderful bomb shelter.”

No question they’ve needed that humor as well as patience, not only to fashion these blends but welcome an audience that is used to sampling Chardonnay and Chambourcin, not Sirenetta and La Prima Donna. “We just kind of knew,” Vietri explained in this
second recorded segment, “that the public perception thing was going to be a difficult task and that we would just have to work at it with them one on one.

“It’s exciting to have somebody say, ‘Oh, I never of that variety, I really like that,’” Vietri said. “’Or I’ve never heard of such a blend, I really think that’s interesting.’ That’s a, god, just gives you goose bumps sometimes. It’s very fun and exciting to see that.”

An Allegro update

Ideally I'll get to the point with this blog where I reach out to wineries and receive a response within 24 hours. That would enhance my ability to get news out to you and give you a better feel of everyday life at the winery. Oh, well. That obviously will take some time.

So it makes me more appreciative when the turnaround does occur quickly. Carl Helrich, my first blog interviewee and a valued supporter of what I'm trying to do, chimed in with an answer to my question about how things were going at his Allegro Vineyards in The Brogue, in southcentral Pennsylvania.

Wrote Helrich:

Our vineyard is in the best shape it's ever been. Things are really moving along with the rain from two weeks ago and the subsequent heat. Crop levels look good. We're going through bloom right now, and we have more than enough clusters to work with. In a week or so we'll start pulling leaves. From there we'll assess the crop load and start to drop clusters.

In the winery, we're moving wines through, getting tanks empty before harvest. We'll start pulling wines from barrels in a couple weeks and start making blends. We have numerous barrels that are of a quality level that we can take them a second year in barrel. Sometime this summer, we'll bottle our 2006 Cadenza (our flagship reserve red). We'll also release our Dry Rose (from Cab Franc from Twin Brook). We already have our Riesling out. Later this fall we'll release our first Sangiovese and our second Pinot Noir.

We've opted out of the entertainment business as well. We used to run a hugely successful Chef Series (for about 15 years.) I found that it really interfered with my real raison d'etre, which is winemaking, from vine to glass. We are doing the Split Rock wine Festival this weekend. There'll be about 25 wineries there, I think.

Paradocx set to open new tasting room

Paradocx Vineyard in Landenberg, Pa., will be having a grand opening celebration of its Flint Hill Road Winery & Tasting Room. The celebration will begin this Friday and extend through Sunday. Hours Saturday and Sunday are scheduled to be noon to 8. Admission is free and you'll receive a complimentary glass of wine.

Food by Brandywine Prime or Carlino’s Market plus wine by the glass and bottle will be available for purchase Saturday and Sunday, along with live music and hayrides through the vineyard.

That tasting room also will be used for wine and accessory sales, special events, concerts, private parties and weddings. You can find directions to the tasting room at this link.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Times grades Argentine Malbecs

One of my favorite red wines is Malbec, one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine. Obviously, it's a wine that has found roots in Argentina, Chile, southern Bolivia and here in the State on Long Island and a few part of California. So when I read the recent New York Times piece on a panel tasting some relatively inexpensive Malbecs and giving their assessment, I wanted to share it with you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The event grapevine: June 13-15


Summer Nights Under the Stars
Tonight, Chaddsford Winery, Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa. 19317, 610.388.6821

Co-owner Lee Miller said a lot of the fun of playing the host for what’s now the 15th year of the summer concerts at her Chaddsford Winery is just listening and . . . looking.

“There was a birthday party [at the event last week] and they had balloons and a cake; there must have been 20 of them,” she said last night, on the eve of another concert that you can find outlined on
this schedule. The cost is $20 and reservations are recommended. “Then we had one group that was the local dental society that had actually reserved a tent we have [for a party]. And then we had a little nonprofit group here, about 20 people, that were doing something. Then we had groups of two, we had groups of eight. It’s a lot of fun.”

And profitable. These might not be the most creative events, compared say to the wine- blending party I just attended at Maryland’s Woodhall Winery, or next week’s sold out the
Brandywine Valley Wine Camp, or last week’s Day in the Vineyard at Kutztown, Pa.’s Pinnacle Ridge, but Miller said that they definitely have evolved into events that have become woven into the fabric of their wineries and others..

“In the beginning we just did a few and then we kind of developed [it] to be a whole program that starts at Memorial Day and goes to Labor Day,” she said, “because it’s easier to promote that way, like come out every Friday night, we have a concert. It’s been just a wonderful program because it’s all the right connections. People come out, there’s music, there’s food, wine, you’re relaxing. It just gives them the right atmosphere so they walk away thinking good things about the wine.

“So they bring the picnic and they get wines here. It’s amazing. We get everything from these elaborate picnics where people will come and out here, a group of 15 people, and they all bring something and they have fabulous picnics. And then some people will come in here with their hoagies from Wawa. Sit down, bottle of wine, have their hoagie and potato chips. It kind of covers the gamut, but it works for people because then they don’t have the cost of selling of food.”

Chaddford’s program starts with the Brandywine River Blues Festival on Memorial Day and ends with the Labor Day Weekend Jazz Festival. In between, Friday’s “Summer Nights Under the Stars” includes everything from jazz and swing to big band.

Asked if the concerts are strictly an East Coast phenomenon, Miller said the majority probably exist on this coast “although it’s changing out there. But one of the things I always tell people,” she continued, “about the difference between East Coast wineries and West Coast wineries is that on the East Coast we’re all pretty much in the retail business instead of the wholesale business, and you know why, because we can. We have the population, so why not sell it for full price and entertain people, you know, so that’s kind of what it takes -- bring people out, have a great time, and then you don’t have to sell to wholesalers.”


Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Summer Night Under the Stars ($$), Friday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., reservations requested, 610-388-6221; Reserve Tasting ($$), Saturday, sittings at 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m.,

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: “Summer Under the Stars” Outdoor Concert Series ($$), Friday, 7 p.m.,
Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: music Friday night and Saturday afternoon; Summer Concert series Saturday night ($$),

Paradocz Vineyards, Kenneth Square: Free tastings for fathers, Sunday,

Twin Brook Winery, Gap: Gazebo Concert series (SS), Saturday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.,


Basignani Winery, Sparks: TGIF Movie Night, Friday, 8 to 1 p.m. under the stars ($$), Father’s Day party, RSVP needed, Sunday, noon to 5 ($$), grilled Italian sausage, wine tasting and a day in the vineyard,

Cygnus Wine Cellars, Manchester: Solstice at the Cellar, Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.,

Woodhall Wine Cellars, Parkton: Rockin’ Summer Concert, Saturday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. ($$); Summer Sangria and Spritzers and Coolers and You ($$), Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; explore the mysteries of mixology. Music by Rockfish. On Sunday, fathers are toasted with a glass of their favorite wine and a flower for mom,

Elk Run Vineyards, Mt. Airy: Music in the Vineyard ($$), Saturday, 6 to 9
Fiore Winery, Pylesville: Italian Celebration ($$), Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.,
Linganore Winecellars, Mt. Airy: Fathers Day Weekend ($$), Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.,
($$) – Admission charge

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Schmidt's 548 Zin a round-tripper for charity

Mike Schmidt spent his "first career" hitting 548 balls of of major league ballparks, making him among baseball's all-time home run leaders and eventually a Hall of Famer. Now he bustles around the country pursuing a number of other interests. One of those is wine, thanks to an opportunity provided by

They put together a select collection called the 500 Home Run Club that include Schmidt, Ernie Banks and Eddie Murray, with 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale going to charity. Schmidt chose the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as the destination for his philanthropy. It supplements the support he already has been giving the foundation through, mong other things, the Florida Chapter Palm Beach Office’s celebrated annual fishing tournament.

According to a release announcing the new wine (Mike Schmidt 548 Zin), Schmidt’s partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation began in 1999, when Brett Weinstein, the son of a close friend, passed away after a courageous 20-year battle with CF. Schmidt, then-retired and living in South Florida, established the fishing tournament in memory of Brett and in support of the search for a cure. The tournament celebrated its eighth year in May and has raised nearly $2 million for cystic fibrosis.

“I just really believe in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and in this cause,” says Schmidt. “Thousands of families with young children fight this disease every single day. And I believe it is our challenge and our duty to contribute as much as possible to the ongoing fight to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.”

The wine is selling for $18.99. The tasting notes on the 2006 Paso Robles (Calif.) Zin include the following: "Aromas of earth, cedar and black cherries backed up by soft, smoky notes of leather lead to rich smoke on the palate ith bright fruit flavors of black cherries and plums, and hints of raspberries. The wine finishes with lingering annin, earthiness and spice."

Through Brett Rudy of Charity, we sent a couple of questions Schmitty's way and got these responses back within 24 hours. Here's to many sales and more proceeds flowing into the Cystic Fibrosis Foundaiton to aid its work.

Q. Such a great idea, this unique way to raise money for CysticFibrosis. Is that why you threw so much energy into this arrangement? Brett had mentioned to me that you were in contact with him more often about the wine than any of the other sluggers.

A. I heard of this charity wine idea through Liz Banks, Ernie's wife,who does some marketing on behalf of the 500 HR club. Several Red Soxwere in the program the previous year, and it was reported that each raised 6 figures for their charities. This is serious money tied towhat seemed to be a cool opportunity. I set a few parameters for my involvement, one being my need to sample several wines until I was satisfied. Also, CF, my adopted fundraising cause was perfect as the benefactor, so we went forward.

Q. Were you much of a Zin drinker before this came along? I'm trying to recall if I read anywhere how you landed on Zin as "your wine."

A. No, I never knew there was a "red" Zin, I only knew of "white" andwas not a fan. We held a tasting dinner in Cooperstown with 10 people and we all picked this bottle out of 6 different reds and later found out it was a Red Zin. I'm very fond of it because its easy to drink, any time, with dinner, or socially.

Q. As someone who covered you for years and listened to you break down the art of hitting longer than any other baseball player I've met -- sort of curious if this is a bottle that I might have seen atop Steve Carlton's locker? Is he getting a bottle to sample? If I recall he was the acknowledged connoisseur of the locker room.

A. Yes Steve Carlton was our resident wine guru, taught me how to drink and appreciate. I don't see him very much but will quiz him on the Zin for sure.