Thursday, July 31, 2008

Couple squishes a lot of trips onto wine site

Terry and Kathy Sullivan (center)
and some photos from their recent
trip to Colorado wineries, all of
which you can find on their site.
He wrote: "We were totally amazed with Colorado and the wines. Vineyards were between 4000 and 6500 feet high and I expected cold climate grapes. However they have more degree days in some of their areas than Napa. Many of the wines we tasted were in the 14 to 15+ % alcohol area. Although they have their challenges, they do not have the humidity, diseases and insects that we have on the East Coast. I don't believe that I ever had a 15% alcohol wine from anywhere on the East Coast."
Terry Sullivan said earlier this week that he and his wife Kathy created back in 2006 to educate others. But it also has taught them a thing or two about wine as they’ve traipsed around the country reviewing wineries.

“I would have to say my tastes have broadened,” said Terry. “Definitely. I now really enjoy dry reds, but on a day like today give me really pretty cold Pinot Grigio, and I’m happy with that. When we were in Canada earlier this year we tried so many different ice wines. I’m not a Cab Franc fan [not as a varietal], but the Cabernet Franc ice wines were just some of the most delicious things I’ve had the experience of trying. [And] I like my sparkling wines. I think sparkling wines probably are the best food-pairing wines that are out there because of the cleansing. They go with any kind of food you can think of.”

Their site and subsequent blog leaped up at me earlier this week as I was doing some research. Terry said both of them were wine aficionados for years before bringing their knowledge and passion to the Internet; they would take day trips to various wine festivals within a day’s drive of their home in Maryland and stop at various wineries. Then came the tipping point; it took place at a doctor’s visit in the fall of 2006. Hearing what they do, he blanched. “He mentioned that he would be scared to death of doing that,” Terry recalled. “It took me by surprise. I know my wife and I look at each other. [It was like] the light bulb went on.”

Having both recently retired from careers in education, they were searching for the next chapter in their lives. Securing a loan, they were off on their mission.

“Our site to me is significantly different,” Terry said, “because we’re talking about the experience of going to wineries. There’s not a lot of that out there; oh, maybe a few that are localized. But not a lot that have the scope that ours has.”

Originally they would write one article that feature several wineries, but soon noticed that they received better reaction from the wineries if they focused on one per article. All told, they’ve been to 233 wineries, including a recent all-paid trip to Colorado that netted a number of stories and some gorgeous pictures, some of which have been uploaded to accompany this story.

“It’s a full time job,” Terry noted. “We try to spend a week or two a month traveling to the wineries and writing about the experience. We try to spend the other two weeks working on marketing, trying to get people to advertise on our site. The blog we just added in January of this year. It’s a newer kind of experience for us, but people seem to like it. The blog has been viewed 1500 times this month.”

On these trips they’ll hit two to three wineries, spending about two to three hours in each. It all has become a routine; they’ll check into a hotel around 5 in the afternoon, write until 11, then get up the next morning and write a couple more hours before getting back on their wine trail. “It’s a lot of work,” Terry noted. “I constantly hear people tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to have your job.’ The people who don’t write don’t know what’s involved. They think all you are doing is drinking wine all day.”

Oh, maybe that day will come down the line, when they move their business into the black and just feel like spending 24 hours celebrating. “We not making enough to support what we’re doing, but we do have some wineries advertising. Different lodgings. And as of June of ’08 we equaled all of what we made last year. So, yes, it’s showing progress. I’m happy about that. If we end up doubling each year, eventually we’ll make enough money to pay for all of our expenses.”

One issue that seemed worth raising is this whole sweet/dry debate, one ythat already has fueled a number of stories on this site. Do they see the predominance of sweet wines in this region as unique? No, Terry said.

“I think its very prevalent,” he said. “America talks dry and drinks sweet. The diehard dry fans would argue that statement, but there are a lot of people new to wine, moreso now than ever before, who start by drinking sweet. You still have a lot of beer drinkers, and they normally go to a sweet wine if they have to rink a wine.

“Wineries realize even if they personally like dry reds that, in order to be economically viable, you’ve got to put some sweet wines in the portfolio. You don’t have a nonsweet portfolio anywhere in the United States. Pretty bottles are the other thing,” noting that statistics show women buy more of the wine than men. “Oft-times they’ll buy a wine because of the color of the bottle or how pretty the label is. Some wineries have picked up on that. And they market to reach the women out there who do that. [For instance], blue bottles outsell any other bottle. It almost doesn’t matter what’s in it.”

Ice wine making debut at Pinnacle Ridge

Noticed on the Web site of Pinnacle Ridge Winery in Kutztown, Pa., that the folks there will be introducing their 2007 Late Harvest Vidal next week on what they refer to as Wine Wednesday. Sent proprietor Brad Knapp an e-mail inquiring about both and received this almost immediate response:

We have made true ice wine in two vintages (2004 and 2005). In 2006 we kept waiting to get appropriate temperatures (15 degrees F or lower) and we lost our fruit while waiting (til mid January). The wine we are releasing on Aug. 6 is a 2007 late harvest Vidal Blanc. In 2007 we, again, were waiting for cold enough temperatures but finally decided on Dec. 27 to pick the fruit in an unfrozen state since the forecast was not showing any weather cold enough to harvest ice wine and we did not want to lose our fruit again. The fruit begins to dehydrate (rainsin) once the canopy of the vine shuts down and the leaves fall off. The vine no longer "talk to" the grapes.

There is no movement of nutrients, sugar, or water to the fruit from the vine. In essence the vine becomes a holding mechanism for the fruit. So if you let the fruit hang it will slowly dehydrate and raisin. The flavors also begin to change. A very distinct honeyed, tropical fruit character will emerge with time. The fruit looks horrible (brown, wrinkly), but tastes great and unique. It is from this type of fruit that we made our late harvest. It displays a lot of the flavors of ice wine but without the intensity of ice wine. Residual sugar is 7% (instead of the more typical 15-20% for ice wines). Price is $15/375 ml instead of $30-$80 more typical of ice wines.

Wine Wednesday is a new approach we have been using to releasing new wines. We are typically very busy on weekends and much slower during the week. So we decided to try and release our new wines on "Wine Wednesday" in order to allow our regular customers (those who get our newsletter) an opportunity to get the new releases without dealing with the crowds on weekends. We have only done it once thus far (2006 Cabernet Franc) and we got a nice group of folks who showed up to check out the new release and are going to continue the "Wine Wednesday" program.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pouring out sound advice for new proprietors

This could have worked as simply a podcast, but with no confidence yet that readers will take the time to click the link, it made more sense to type out Rob Deford’s answer to the advice he’d give anyone going into the wine biz.

“A lot of people come in and talk to me before they start a winery,” the owner of Boordy Vineyards said a few days ago, “but I can see when they come through the door that they already have their mind made up and very little I say is going to change anything. I mean on the wine side, I would say, don’t do anything unless you’ve got the perfect site, and the vineyards come first. And then after that, I would say tread lightly in your community.”

Asked what he meant by that, Deford said: “Well, wineries are on that leading edge of agriculture going direct to consumers, and as such we represent the new ag, the so-called value-added ag where you are taking a product, a raw material and converting it on your farm and then selling it direct. And that’s a buzz word, value-added agriculture. It’s a known term in the federal government, there are actually grants directed toward that and so forth. But also on the community level it represents both a sort of local hero quality but also possibly a huge nuisance factor as you start to hold weddings and helicopter rides and, you know, loud concerts where there’s a half-hour traffic jam on your little country road. People being to look at wineries differently; in fact, I was really surprised on one of my trips to California to hear that in Napa Valley you can’t hold an event without a permit.

“I thought, woah, we take it for granted here that seven days a week that, if I want to, I can hold an event here. I don’t have to ask permission from anybody. I suddenly thought, if you get enough of us together and the guy down the road figures out that with a couple of well-placed ads he can have 2,000 people on his farm, and he thinks that’s just the greatest thing in the world, then the neighbors are going to go bonkers. So treading lightly means that remember you are part of the community and can be a huge contributor to the community. But from the very conception of your business plan, when you enter that first bureaucratic office and want to announce your intentions to the zoning people or the building code people or the community association, tread lightly and be very sensitive to the concerns of the community. Because that’s where I see most of the pain occurring is when someone hasn’t fully done their homework and understands human nature well enough that you often aren’t God’s gift to the neighborhood the way you might think you are but you really are viewed as perhaps a threat.

"And so there are many, many positive things to tell, and that’s the story we have to emphasize and the story we have to live out is the positive side. Land preservation . . . sustainable agriculture. Local food. Good wine. Family-style responsible entertainment. There are many, many good stories to tell and we have to make sure to define ourselves in a positive light going forward. That would be my little bit.”

Boordy's Deford 'bullish' on new competitors

Rob Deford calls them the old school, the wineries that were among the first sprouting up in Maryland. Talking a few days ago by phone, he recalled the seven of them that served as pioneers as the 1970s moved into the ’80s. That's about the time the Deford family bought Boordy, Maryland's first commercial winery when it was established in 1945. One by one he ticked off their name and their ultimate fate. Most went out of business. Only two remain: his
Boordy Vineyards and Linganore Winecellers/Berrywine Plantations.

That story seemed particularly poignant amid today’s rapid growth in the state, which is only the matter of some paperwork away from its 34th winery. Deford, both articulate and introspective, barely needed to hear the beginning of the question regarding his feelings about this spurt before the answer just spilled out of him.

“I love it, I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m completely bullish on it, and have befriended a number of the new wineries already and what I really want tare good competitors. It’s been lonely out there for a long time. A few of us, you know, met in the same little group for 15 years and got to know way too much about each other. It just isn’t healthy. Not that it wasn’t a good group, but there’s just only so far you can go.”

It was in the mid to late 1980s that the next wave swept over the Maryland landscape, a group that included wineries called
Basignani, Elk Run, Fiore, Loew and Woodhall. Deford noted their talent and commitment, but in some ways even this group fought to do anything more than tread water.

“That group, we were all kind of condemned to be in a room together for another 15 years scratching our heads on how we could grow our industry,” he said, “and things were pretty bad for a long time. We were all groping around trying to sort out how to grow grapes the best and there was no research money, there was no state marketing money. Virginia was dancing circles around us, and then finally the tables started to turn, and I think it was aided by an improving economy. I think regional foods and wines started to gain a real cachet in the marketplace, and we were starting to really get our act together, the core group that I mentioned to you, and we started to get some positive word out about the wine industry and the wines were getting better and people inevitably started to get attracted to this industry.”

Deford was president of the winery association when it hired Kevin Atticks, who’s still the executive director of the Maryland Wine Association. “He’s a wonderful guy, top drawer,” Deford said. “When we did that I’ve never felt prouder of an accomplishment in my life because he has been fantastic to work with and the updraft created by having a really tight association. A very telling moment occurred in 2006 when we had to fight for our lives over the distribution thing, and Virginia, who we always looked at as the perfect state, had their heads handed to them because they couldn’t coordinate. And Maryland won and so that was quite a realization that maybe we’ve come of age a little bit.

“Virginia lost in a smoke-filled back committee room, they lost the right to self distribute, while we were able to keep ours out in the light of day and it grew and prospered and the bill actually passed and the wholesalers lost, which was the first time they had ever lost. So that was a real turning point and that got us ironically a lot of publicity. We’ve had literally a flood of wineries coming in. I think we’ll have over 40 pretty soon. It’s real exciting and some of them are turning out to be real wonderful operations, great people to deal with. Smart. Their investment is in the right place. And what doesn’t surprise me but does surprise a lot of people is that with this . . . much more crowded neighborhood during this period of rapid, rapid growth of number of wineries, we continue to prosper like never before, and it just proves the old point that clusters are good for everybody, the business cluster is good for everybody.”

Va. wine sales growth busted out by month

Posted figures the other day that showed the amount of Virginia wines sold by distributor and sold at the winery through the first five months of 2008. Here's the rest of the story, so to speak, some numbers from the five previous years that give those '08 numbers some additional context. No numbers were available in 2008 for Total Virginia Wine Sold and Total Wines Sold in Virginia. Our thanks to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office.

Year ---------Va. Wine/---Va. Wine/-Total Va. --- Total Wines
--------------- Distributor-Wineries --Wines Sold--Sold

Jan. 2003-----7,097---------4,381--------12,621-------482,300
Jan. 2004-----8,569---------4,520--------14,285-------491,003
Jan. 2005-----6,341---------5,331---------12,727-------487,765
Jan. 2006-----5,215---------6,934---------12,289------538,596
Jan. 2007-----8,870---------6,280---------15,582------591,582
Jan. 2008-----9,437---------6,156---------n/a----------n/a

Feb. 2003-----7,650--------4,234---------13,097-------505,623
Feb. 2004-----8,859--------7,128---------17,204-------553,727
Feb. 2005-----9,002--------7,148---------17,302-------572,350
Feb. 2006-----8,289--------7,892---------16,313-------553,043
Feb. 2007-----9,086--------6,263---------15,898-------605,756
Feb. 2008-----9,332--------9,782---------n/a-----------n/a

March 2003---7,471--------6,522---------15,235--------514,724
March 2004---9,445--------7,759---------18,474--------591,841
March 2005---11,018-------8,288---------20,629-------635,491
March 2006---11,257------11,153---------22,533-------678,175
March 2007---11,771------ 9,293----------21,790-------684,200
March 2008---11,100------10,161---------n/a-----------n/a

April 2003----10,879------10,305---------22,520--------581,310
April 2004----10,316------12,799---------24,573---------598,717
April 2005----11,428------13,468---------26,215---------591,290
April 2006----15,075------15,202--------30,381----------589,296
April 2007----11,453------15,034-------- 27,262--------- 658,901
April 2008----12,374------16,685---------n/a-------------n/a

May 2003-----9,875--------11,542-------22,807---------581,330
May 2004-----9,519--------13,059-------23,890---------572,909
May 2005-----12,383-------15,222-------28,859---------623,797
May 2006-----13,240-------17,630-------30,963---------684,191
May 2007-----13,601-------18,694--------33,081---------735,960
May 2008-----14,848-------22,043--------n/a------------n/a

Year---- Va. Wine/---Va. Wine/----Total Va.---- Total
----------Distributor--by Wineries--Wines Sold--Wines Sold

This 'n' that from the Brandywine trail

A note from Karen Cline, who assists with handling activities surrounding the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail:

Other than our individual winery events (I see you already know about Chaddsford’s Jazz Fest), we have some great things happening. Wine author and News Journal writer Roger Morris has selected 12 wines from our wine trail members to represent the variety that our members offer. The case is called Case of the Brandywine 2008. We have a limited number of these cases for sale via our Web site and they are going fast. It is a great way for individuals to “taste our Trail!” In addition to the case, we added four of our passports (more on these below) as a bonus value of $100.

The annual Harvest Fest is coming up too. Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 4-5 will offer a grape-stomping good time to those visiting our members. Each winery offers something different on those weekends in the form of harvest entertainment. I’ll be posting something on our website soon with more details. This is a “passport” event. Our passports will go on sale in early August and can be obtained by calling us or visiting our Web site. The good thing is, the passport is a great value -- $25 for all winery tastings, as opposed to our regular $40+ tasting fees. And, it is good from Sept. 27 through Dec. 30, so people can take their time in visiting our locations.
Also in the works is our annual Vintner’s Dinner, planned for November. Our winemakers attend this dinner, sit with the attendees, and discuss wine and winemaking. The dinner is held at Longwood Gardens and is a terrific night out. This event is still in the planning stages; more information will follow in the ocming weeks.

We currently have seven members in our Trail, with six operational and selling wines. The seventh, Black Walnut Winery, has pushed its opening date back to late fall.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sweet rules at Adams County Winery

I liked John Kramb’s sense of humor from the time the co-owner of Adams County Winery
spoke into the receiver. “We are the number one winery in the state, alphabetically,” he said, a “boast” I had seen on another post after a couple had visited his winery.

And, indeed, he’s right. First on the alphabetical list, and likely among the tops on the list of state wineries that sell the most sweet and off-dry wines. “It’s a conscientious decision we made,” said John, whose other half -- Kathy – handles most of the business end while he tends to the wine. “Ninety percent of Americans drink a sweet wine. All the other wineries in the United States are trying to make nice dry wines. I like a dry wine, but I’m also a businessman. So do I go after the 10 percent of the market or 90 percent of the market? It’s a pretty easy decision.

“So basically we have introductory wines and then the wines for people who like sweet wines, which is most Americans.” John said they have expanded their line; they used to have one fruit wine, for instance, now they have several. Asked to recommend two wines on this year’s shelf, John mentioned a blackberry wine that’s soon to be bottled and a peach wine. A spiced called Adams Apple is another fruit wine on the list; it's a reflection of the fact that they are located in the heart of apple country in Adams County.

They’ll reach 10 years in business on Oct. 1. And they’ve learned as they've gone along, like never hold Saturday concerts in the evening there. Instead, theirs are 1 to 5 every Saturday afternoon during the summer months. "Number one, after 6 I shut down,” he said dryly. “And number two, we tried it for two years and we learned that the eight-mile distance from here [Orrtanna] to Gettysburg is evidently psychologically longer than we thought.”

This year, to date, has brought a little too much rain (“We’ve had to monitor our diseases in the vineyard more closely”) and not quite as much growth (“Our numbers this year are up, but not a much as in previous years. We’ve had 10 years of steady growth, but this year the growth has been slower,” he said).

Among the activities they offer at the winery is home wine-making. Hearing that brought a smile to my face, only a day or two removed from Ashby Everhart at
Legends Vineyards in Maryland that a wine-making kit is what lured he and his wife into the business. Adams County will hold two classes the remainder of the year: at 1 p.m. on Aug. 10 and Oct. 18. The cost is $25 per person.

Event coordinator Gavin Green said the classes usually fill up; they cap attendance at around 25. Kramb provides instruction on the basics, ending the two-hour class by bottling wine that he made in a previous class. “It’s kind of a continuing cycle,” Green said. They recommend using the juice from the kit on the first try before branching out and actually purchasing and blending the ingredients.

Do they ever see the fruits of that labor? Green said they do. “A lot of them come back in to buy yeast, things like that,” he said. “A lot of times they’ll bring in the wine to let us see how it tastes. One guy brought in mead that he had made. It was pretty good.”

Chaddsford announces Labor Day festival

And one more bit of new on an upcoming event:

Jazz lovers and wine lovers alike will be delighted by the Labor Day Weekend Jazz Festival at Chaddsford Winery (632 Baltimore Pike, 610.388.6221). On Aug. 30, 31 and Sept. 1, from noon until 6 p.m., the winery will host live jazz acts and offer tastings of their award-winning wines throughout the grounds.

“Labor Day weekend is the end of the official ‘summer season,’ and we like to celebrate with great music and great wine,” says proprietor Lee Miller. “It’s a fun way to cap off summer in a beautiful country setting – no extensive travel, no high gas prices, just a relaxing day of wine, music, food and friends.”

Tickets are $20 per person for the day, and include wine tasting, a souvenir wine glass, and two concerts. Foods will be available for purchase from Pace One Restaurant, or guests can bring their own picnic. No other alcoholic beverages will be permitted on the grounds.

The Featured performers are as follows:

Saturday, Aug. 30 –
Brian Betz (12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.)
Emerging star of jazz guitar, backed by a quartet
The Budesa Brothers (3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.)
High-energy players with a knack for exciting showmanship

Sunday, Aug. 31 – The Sermon (12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.)
A funky quintet, playing everything from old soul to disco
Annie Sciolla (3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.)
Legendary local vocalist with a powerhouse band

Monday, Sept. 1 –
E. J. Yellen (12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.)
Local saxophonist, playing contemporary jazz from a historical perspective
Bobby Newton (3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.)
Veteran performer who was entertained alongside Stevie Wonder and the Delfonics

At Sugarloaf, there's a new patio to peruse

Though not intentionally in the promotions business, the e-letter from Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard in Montgomery County, Md., contained some information that's worth getting out there, minus a bit of the fluff.

New patio and perennial garden Open: Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard has expanded! Our new 1,200 foot flagstone patio is now open. Flanked by a perennial garden and sitting wall, it is the perfect place to sit in the shade and enjoy a glass of wine and the cool mountain breezes. Our new tasting room is in final stages of construction and and is targeted to open in October.

Our summer hours are extended: SMV has extended its summer hours through August, staying open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. We will be scheduling live music and other amenities on these evenings, so make sure and check the calendar on and watch for additional email announcements. Hours on other weekdays remain the same: Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, noon until 6 p.m.

New SMV Wines released: Six new wines have now been released and are available at the vineyard: Our first vintages from the 2007 harvest, the 2007 Pinot Grigio, and 2007 Circe, a new offering we’ve named Stomp! from our fall 2007 Grape Stomp event, and our 2006 vintages of Chardonnay and Merlot. These wines were bottled at the end of May, along with our 16-month barrel aged 2006 Maryland Chardonnay Reserve and 15-month barrel aged 2006 Maryland Comus Reserve. These two Reserves will not be available until October.

Volunteer for the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard festival team: Come join us for festival season! We are smart, attractive and fun to work with. Our volunteers enjoy free admission to the festivals, a complimentary bottle of Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard wine and a great time. For the most part, volunteers pour wine samples. Training is provided. If you are interested in joining the SMV team for three or more hours at any of the upcoming festivals, contact Kathy O'Donoghue at or 301.365.5044 or call Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard at 301.605.0130.

SMV's off-site retail program expands: Sugarloaf Mountain wine is now available in over 80 locations in six Maryland counties and the District of Columbia. Recently we’ve come to Annapolis at Bay Ridge, Bellas, and Pinky's in Charles County; Grape Expectations in Gaithersburg, and Nick's of Calvert in Prince Frederick Co., and Nick's of Clinton in Waldorf. For a complete listing of all our locations, go to our website at

Live Music at Sugarloaf: Saturday, Aug. 2, 2 to 5 p.m., Shane Gamble, a talented contemporary acoustical guitarist, will perform on the SMV Patio. For a preview of Shane's music, visit Free.

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's 25 years and counting for Woodhall

While I was immersed in my journalism workshop at the paper, I somehow overlooked a 25th birthday celebration at one of our favorite wineries in the region: Woodhall Wine Cellars, in Parkton, Md. The party ran the past two weekend and included impressive discounts on cases, free tastings and a lot of fun. They also released a Vintner's Prestige line of wines. Maybe give Debbie or Chris a call (410.357.8644) and see if they'll extend the party another weekend because your trusted wine blogger fell down on the job. As if dropping my name would get anybody anything except grief, but give it a whirl anyway.

Meanwhile, they report on their Web site that three Woodhall wines -- Seyval, Riesling, and Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon -- have been selected as Best of Show at the Maryland Governor's Cup Wine Judging. Woodhall Riesling was selected by the Goddard Space Center as one of three "40th anniversary" wines. Maryland Public Television selected Woodhall's Cabernet Sauvignon as its "30th anniversary" wine. Woodhall Seyval was the "Aquarium White" of the National Aquarium in Baltimore and most recently, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon was selected by the National Federation for the Blind as the dedication wine for it's new training center in Baltimore.

To Debbie. Al. Chris. Chris. And the rest of the Woodhall staff that has treated us so well through the years, congratulations and here's to many, many more. We'll be down soon for a bett-erlate-than-never toast.

Trezise provides a taste of life as a judge

While I didn't create this blog to steal from others, I don't mind sharing original content. Again, thanks to Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, here's a rather comprehensive look into the world of wine judging. You can sign up for the e-letter at the foundation's Web site.

Each year, I judge in about a dozen different wine competitions throughout the United States, but mostly in California. I also get many questions from consumers about wine competitions: What are they? How are they run? Who are the judges? What do the results mean?

This special edition of the Wine Press will answer those questions, and probably raise more. In most cases, I’ll be referring to the competitions in which I serve as a judge, but may also note what we do in our own “New York Wine & Food Classic,” which has attempted to adopt the “best practices” of other competitions.

What is a wine competition? It is a “blind” tasting by wine experts of large numbers of wines to determine their relative quality on that day.

What’s a “blind” tasting? No, we don’t wear blindfolds, or even Lone Ranger masks. A blind tasting simply means we have no idea what specific wines we are tasting. We usually know the varietal (or type of wine) and the vintage (year the grapes were harvested), and a few (but not most) competitions include the price category as well. But we never know the brand, rarely the country or region of origin; and we never see a bottle, even in a brown paper bag (because the capsule could give away the winery’s identity).

Instead, all of the wine samples are poured in a separate room by the “back room staff” into identical glasses that are coded by number or letter, then brought to the judges’ tables—usually about 10 glasses at a time. By the way, the back room staff is just as important as the judges; without either group, there would be no competition.

Which wines are judged? The ones that are entered. This may sound obvious, but it really depends on the scope of the competition, and especially on which wineries choose to enter. The competitions where I judge are mostly international in scope, inviting wines from around the world. There are a few regional competitions (e.g., Great Lakes or Atlantic Seaboard), and many state competitions (e.g., California, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and our own New York Wine & Food Classic) which are limited to wines produced in that state. There are also a few competitions which are limited to one type of wine, like the Canberra Riesling Challenge in Australia or Chardonnays du Monde in France.

Within the parameters of each competition, it is really the wineries themselves which determine the wines that are tasted. Some wineries submit many wines in many competitions; others just a few wines in a few competitions; and still others none at all. The decision may depend on the winery’s size, marketing strategy, or opinion about the value of wine competitions in its overall business plan or philosophy. One highly successful California winery publicly admitted spending $20,000 annually in entry fees, and said it got that back in spades in terms of tasting room sales and trade support. A successful New York winery has chosen not to enter any competitions at all. Obviously, if you don’t enter, you can’t win, but that may simply not matter to some.

Who are the judges? They are a diverse group of “wine experts” from many different professional areas—wine makers, wine educators, wine writers, sommeliers, wine retailers, and more—who all have two things in common: a passion for wine, and daily exposure to it. In most competitions, the judges also represent many states and countries, which provides broader perspectives and protects against “viticultural racism”. Some judges have specific academic credentials like Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, but most do not. They are simply immersed in the world of wine, with regular tastings of many wines as an integral part of their professional life. Ideally, the panels have judges from different aspects of wine’s professional life because they bring different perspectives to the table, which is how we learn from one another. For example, a wine maker might evaluate a wine on the basis of technical aspects, a restaurateur on how well it would pair with food, and a wine educator on how typical it is of its varietal type.

How are the wines judged? Most competitions have two basic phases: the medal round, and the “sweepstakes”. For the initial, medal round, the judges are split into panels of 3, 4 or 5 people. Some competitions prefer the odd numbers because it’s easier to get a decision by a simple majority. Others (including ours) prefer panels of 4 because when there is a split, it must resolved by discussion and consensus.

Each wine is judged on its own merits—color, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, aftertaste, and overall quality—rather than as part of a ranking. In other words, 10 wines will not be ranked 1 to 10, but rather recommended for specific medals. In a particular flight, there might be 1 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze medals, for example, and 4 receiving no award; but there are no predetermined numbers or percentages of medals. Normally, sparkling wines and white wines are tasted first, followed by Rosé and red, and finally dessert wines. When there are different levels of sweetness, with Riesling for example, the wines are tasted from dry to sweet, because tasting the sweeter wines first would make the dry wines taste bitter. Palate cleansers include lots of water (still or sparkling), unsalted crackers or French bread, mild cheese, rare roast beef (for red wines), and Graber olives from southern California—a soft, fruity olive like none you’ve ever tasted that is the best overall palate cleanser of all (as well as being addictive).

The back room staff brings out “flights” of about 10 wines of the same type (like Chardonnay) in coded glasses which each judge separately tastes in silence, making notes (if desired) and deciding on the appropriate medal for each wine on its own merits—Gold, Silver, Bronze, or No Award. Some competitions, like ours, also have a “Double Gold” category, which requires unanimity among panelists that the wine deserves a Gold medal, whereas a Gold medal just requires a majority. Simplistically, you might consider Double Gold as “exceptional”, Gold as “excellent”, Silver as “very good”, and Bronze as “good”.
When all judges have finished tasting, they compare notes to decide on a final, group medal for each wine. When there is agreement on their individual scores (80-90% of the time in most cases), no discussion is needed and the medal is assigned. When there is significant disagreement, the judges discuss and often retaste the wine to arrive at a consensus. (NOTE: In most competitions, judges will taste 100-120 wines per day, and sometimes more, beginning at 9 am. With appropriate palate cleansers and an efficient backroom staff, this is eminently manageable, but long discussions hold up the process.)

(But don’t you get drunk?! No, not even tipsy. When you’re judging wines, you didn’t swallow the samples, you spit them into a container. By the end of the day, you want a beer. During my 20 years of judging, I have only encountered a handful of judges who don’t spit, and they don’t last long. They fall asleep at the table, start slurring their words and are dismissed, but in any case are never invited back.)

In addition to the medals given to each wine, the panels normally determine which Gold medal wines advance to the “sweepstakes” round to determine the Best of Class (like Chancellor, Chardonnay, or Catawba), Best of Category (Red, White, Rosé, etc.), and at some competitions Best of Show (that is, the single best wine of any type) like our “Governor’s Cup” trophy. The “sweepstakes” round is the grand finale of the competition,
with all judges (not just a panel) tasting all the wines that have been advanced.

How does the “sweepstakes” round work? This is definitely the most fun for the judges, because all of the wines to be tasted are the best wines of the competition. Dan Berger, a prominent California wine journalist who chairs the Riverside and Long Beach Grand Cru competitions, introduced “acclamation voting” as the fairest way to determine the best wines in large categories (like white, or red) when there are often 20 or more different types of wine. Each judge may vote as many times as he or she likes, since the wines are of different types (e.g., Chardonnay, Riesling, Seyval, Catawba), with the knowledge that the more one votes, the less each vote means. This system has been adopted by many competitions, including ours.

Many competitions end with a Best of Category (e.g., Red, White, Rosé), but ours also elects a “Best of Show” among them as well, which is known as the “Governor’s Cup” trophy.

What do the results mean? Basically, a wine competition is one moment in time. The results reflect the collective opinions of expert judges about a specific group of wines on a particular day. But there is a lot of consistency among different competitions held in different places at different times, so wine competitions really do provide good guidance for purchasing wines. On our Web site (, the “New York Gold” section lists all Gold medal wines which you may sort by competition or type of wine—and you’ll see lots of the same winners in different competitions.

Wine competitions are a unique blend of objective and subjective. The objectivity involves several people in a blind tasting process which eliminates personal bias for a region or winery. The subjectivity involves the personal taste sensitivities and preferences of different people. If everyone tasted the same, and preferred the same nuances in wine, there would be no need for more than one person.

Over the years I have judged in about 200 wine competitions and tasted about 50,000 wines. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also hard work if you’re conscientious about being fair to every wine, which requires a day’s worth of concentration. You can also get “palate fatigue”, just like an athlete can get muscle fatigue, so you need to learn when you can no longer be fair, which means it’s time to stop. And after tasting lots of red wines, you end up with purple teeth!
It has also become harder over the years, for the wonderful reason that wines from everywhere have become so much better. There used to be much more variation in quality, but research into grape growing and winemaking, plus the commitment to quality by producers worldwide, has raised the bar, making it harder to discern a Gold from a Silver, or a Silver from a Bronze. This is good for consumers, and it’s good for producers because consumers are more likely to see wine as a positive experience.
Another major trend has been the increasing acceptance and respect for non-traditional grape varieties and wines, even in California where they’re not produced. Years ago, entering a Concord, Catawba or Seyval in most competitions guaranteed no medals for those wines because the judges were either unfamiliar with the taste characteristics or outright biased. Thanks to the efforts of many people, and to the ever-increasing quality in the bottle, those wines new often win major medals.

I’ve judged in over 200 competitions, and every time I learn something new—about wine, wine making, taste perceptions, and more. Judging has also been a very valuable experience for me in my role of promoting New York wines. I have come to know my own tastes, how others may differ and why, and especially to have a better understanding of the competition we face and the trends in the big world of wine that we live in.

IRF announces 'Riesling Taste Scale'

Courtesy of Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, this report arived in my mailbox today from the International Riesling Foundation, of which he is president. Trezise has been dificult to nab over the past 30 days, but reading this release explains part of the reason. Obviously he's been doing some serious traveling. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie tops my "most wanted" list at my regular job as an editor at the Philly Daily News; I'd say Trezise holds the similar honor atop the list of folks I'd like to reach for this blog. We'll see who I manage to reach first.

The International Riesling Foundation (IRF) has completed the first phase of a “Riesling Taste Scale” designed to make it easier for consumers to predict the taste they can expect from a particular bottle of Riesling. The first phase involves voluntary technical guidelines for wine makers and winery owners in describing their wines for consumers.

Riesling is the fastest growing white wine in the United States, and second only to Pinot Noir of any wine, yet market research has shown that many consumers think of Riesling only as “a sweet white wine” despite the wide range of tastes it can represent.

“Riesling may be made in many styles from bone dry to sweet, and this versatility can be both a strength and a weakness,” said California wine journalist Dan Berger who spearheaded the IRF project in consultation with many Riesling wine makers. “Riesling’s many styles can fit almost any taste preference, but consumers may be put off if they are expecting one taste and get another. The taste scale will enhance Riesling’s strength by letting consumers know the basic taste before they open or even buy the bottle.”

The first stage of the project was to identify appropriate terms for describing the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine. After extensive deliberations, the five categories selected are: Dry, Off-Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet.

To help wine makers consider which terms to use for various wines, the committee developed a technical chart of parameters involving the interplay of sugar, acid, and pH which helps determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine.

“It is important to understand that these are simply recommended guidelines which we think may be helpful, but the program is entirely voluntary,” said Berger. “We hope that over time many Riesling producers will use the system because it will help consumers, and therefore help the wineries as well.”

The next step is to develop a simple graphic design showing the five levels from Dry to Sweet, and a simple indication of where a particular wine falls. This design may be used on back labels, merchandising materials, web sites and elsewhere. The goal is to have a common, simple, consumer-friendly system for identifying Riesling tastes.

“This is a very important project, and we’re grateful to Dan Berger and others who have spent many hours on this,” said Jim Trezise, the current President of the IRF. “With Riesling’s surging popularity, making this versatile wine more understandable for consumers could accelerate its growth.”

The Riesling Taste Scale was first announced publicly on July 27 at the Riesling Rendezvous at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Washington to Riesling producers from around the world. Full details of the taste scale will be made public when the other steps are completed in the near future.

Market research on consumer perceptions of Riesling, conducted for the IRF by Wine Opinions, was also presented at the July 27 meeting. The next major project is to create a web site portal to guide consumers to the best information on Riesling.

A small luncheon meeting of industry leaders at the first Riesling Rendezvous a year ago created the concept for the IRF, which was officially formed in November 2007 and now includes a Board of Directors of more than 30 major Riesling producers from around the world.

The IRF’s mission is: “To increase awareness, understanding, trial and sales of Riesling wines through a comprehensive, integrated system of industry cooperation, research, trade education, and consumer communication.” At this time, the IRF is based entirely on voluntary efforts by its Board members.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

No easy route to opening for Legends' Everharts

Some photos from Legends Vineyard, courtesy of the winery, including one of owners Greg O'Hare and Ashby and Carrie Everhart.

Ashby Everhart says he tells friends that this vineyard taking root by his house in Harford County, Md., is a hobby that has gotten out of control. As it turns out, so is the process for officially putting Legends Vineyard on Maryland’s winery map.

Originally they thought they’d be pouring wine when the 25th annual
Maryland Wine Festival takes places in mid-September at the Carroll County Wine Museum in Westminster. Now it seems certain they’ll be watching rather than participating. An August opening date has been pushed back to the end of spring 2009. He expects the first bottling to finally occur in September.

So what’s nipped all these plans in the bud? Primarily satisfying Harford County’s requirements.

“You talk about hurdles, our biggest hurdle has actually been locally,” he says by phone Sunday afternoon. “Going thru the federal permit process [there’s] a lot of paperwork, a lot of repetition, but you know once you go through and jump through those hoops.[you’re finished with it]. Locally,” adds Ashby, who grew up in the Cub Hill area north of Baltimore, “there’s a lot of repeat of what you do with the feds, but some of the issues we’re having is just county support in what we want to do and the regulations and everything they put on it. Granted we’re in a different position than a lot of guys because my wife and I purchased the property [we were told] that ‘You buy that piece of property, we know it’s only seven acres. Don’t worry about it. You’ll get your tasting room, you’ll get all that.”

Blind faith, Ashby calls it, then adds, “Never a good thing to do. We did that, and then quickly found out through zoning and permits that we’re not going to be able to do the things we want to do there because their requirement was a 20-acre minimum. And they basically, said, here’s where we are. There was only one other winery in Harford County at the time when we were talking to them, and they said, ‘We really don’t have any regulations written regarding requirements involving a winery or a vineyard, you know. What are the capabilities? Where are we going to put you as far as zoning? So initially they put us in the industrial category, and they wanted us to meet all those things. And after meeting with zoning, they said, ‘Well, you know what, you’re right. It takes more equipment to process milk from a cow than it does to make wine.

“So we’ll allow you to have a winery, we’ll consider that building agricultural, but the second building is going to be considered commercial because you want to do retail sales from that building, so we set up our September date when we were going to be open, and I think that was the glass-half-full mentality, because we spent most of the summer .playing the political game through anyone involved -- council, zoning, through the permit department. So we’re getting to where we need to be, but I think we’re looking [at opening] more like March.

He expected the obvious red tape with the feds and state, he continues, but not from his own county. “[We figured our] local government will support you because it’s agri-tourism and my wife and I purchased the farm, we’re only five miles from 95. And as you know, millions of people are on 95 every day. And we figured that would be one more opportunity for someone from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware what have you, would stop off, take a break, come into the winery, support a local business . . . [Instead],
it was really our county, our jurisdiction where we were having the most issues.”

The couple has planted 2,100 vines so far – including merlot, viognier, pinot gris and Chardonnay – and plan to put another 1,500 into the soil next year. Over time, he says, they’d like to plant two more acres a year for the next five years. “Eventually we’d like to be in that 16 to 18 acres planted that we own,” he says, “and go about the venture that way.”

While they seem to taking the long way around to get to their opening, they found a shortcut to a bottomless pool of support. And it turned out to be their future competitors.

“We wouldn’t be half as far down the road without someone like Mike Fiori, of
Fiori Winery. He’s been incredible,” says Ashby. “He’s taken us under his wing, and helped us a long with the entire process. Any aspect of the business from dirt to bottle to you name it, he’s been there supporting us. He’s allowed us to buy into some of his larger quantities, like if he was going to buy barrels, he’d attach our orders to his, because we’re so much smaller and we’re able to get his pricing. There couldn’t have been a bigger supporter from an industry standpoint for us than Mike Fiori . . . And [Maryland Wine Association director] Kevin Atticks, I wasn’t familiar with anyone in the association before … but he has been just a huge supporter of ours.” Indeed, that willingness to help the couple has come from other wineries and from Dr. Joseph Fiola, a University of Maryland viticulturist. “I’ve even packaged up leaves and sent them down, and he’ll look at them and just say, ‘You know what, you guys are overbabying them, relax.’

“From an industry,” continues Everhart, “because I came from the circuit board industry, and I still am with the day job, it’s amazing to me. I viewed competition totally different until I got into the Maryland Wine Association, where this is a group that has come together to realize that we are bigger as one than as independents and that we can also make a success with the wine trails and everything that Kevin has put together. To be together with all of these issues, it has just been a huge awakening for me, and I love to see that in industry where I can go over and see Rob Deford at
Boordy Vineyards and say, ‘Taste this wine, something is not right with this,’ and get his opinion. And he would pass it off to his winemaker or take it up to Mike Fiori. The cooperation. The industry as a whole has been awesome.”

He talks about the interaction with Bill Boniface, of horse racing and
Bonita Farm
fame, who has planted grapes and taken an interest in what the Everharts are doing. And the invitation from St. Michaels (Md.) Winery to use their bottling line. “And they’ll not only lease it to you, but Mark, one of the owners, said, ‘I’m going to be there to help you bottle the first day or two.’ Support in the industry has just been incredible. It’s incredible to me, realizing my product is going to the same place as theirs, yet they are willing to help, and the reason they are is they feel if I sell six bottles, they’ll sell three more because another Maryland winery is on board.”

Everhart says the whole idea started with a make-it-at-home wine kit “which was awful, but once we got that we got the bug then. We’d go to the brewery shop and talk to them.” Since then he says, they’ve produced small batches “for five or six years; 50 bottles here, 50 bottles there. Much bigger batches await. “It literally is,” he says, “we went from a beach house to where a beach house is planted in the side yard.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

Virginia wine sales numbers steadily climbing

Thanks to the Virginia Wine Marketing Office -- through figures made available by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) , here are the figures on sales from the first five months of 2008. This actually was in response to a question about how much the economny might be affecting wine sales in the state. What I don't have is a comparison, say, to the past two years at the same time.

Month VA Wine Sold VA Wine Sold
by Distributor by Wineries
January 9,437 6,156

February 9,332 9,782
March 11,100 10,161
April 12,374 16,685
May 14,848 22,043

Visitors welcome, but Paradocx tours on horizon

Work continues on putting the finishing touches on the new tasting room at Paradocx Vineyard in Landenberg, Pa. Melinda Sebastian, working in the tasting room at The Shoppes at Longwood Village, in Kennett Square, said yesterday she expects at some point that tours will begin at the winery. The room opened June 20.

Sebastian said it’s too early to tell how much more business the first tasting room on the grounds of the winery is bringing in, but added that she has received a number of calls while working in Kennett Square asking for directions and times. Located at 1833 Flint Hill Road, the winery expects to use the room for other activities, including weddings, concerts and private parties. Hours currently are noon to 5, Saturday and Sunday. The winery is a member of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail.

Commercially selling since 2004, Paradocx lists a mix of the expected (Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio) and the less expected (Viognier and a blend called Leverage, a blend of Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot). Eight wines are featured on the winery’s PDX label; two others under the Fruit 52 label, along with a small supply of
Muscat Ottonel dessert wine. A total of 15 varieties are grown in the vineyard. It firsts tasting room was located on Route 52 in Fairville. That has since closed with the opening of the one at the winery.

You could write about its signature wine with a broad brush; its premium wine in a paint can was introduced last September and the uniqueness, sort of a takeoff on boxed wine, has made it an instant hit. The red and white table wine come in 3-liter bags that come housed inside a can. One hitch is duly noted on the winery’s
home page, asking customers who bought can of Barn Red prior to last Dec. 19 to inspect the bag and make sure it hasn’t expanded. Some apparently have caused bulges in the sides and lid of the fan. Customers are asked to return any bad ones for replacements.

Sebastian said one of her favorites is the viognier, which is fermented in stainless steel and rolls onto the tongue hints of apricots, peaches and blossoms. Finally, she doesn’t expect the 2006 Pinot Grigio to stay on the shelves very long. “Judging by the way people reacted to it last year, it should sell real well,” she said. “They really liked it.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Finding spot on wine list can be a tough sell

News of the designation as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) certainly was easy for members of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail to digest. But that doesn’t mean that the word of pushing the brand is over, particularly when it comes to that region’s restaurants.

As co-owner Vickie Greff of
Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars pointed out, the wineries are looking forward to “the restaurants in our area really supporting us. In other states they do,” she continued, “like in New York State. You can go in and a lot of the restaurants have New York state wines on the menu and they promote them, and they promote them to the point that they are a little less the California ones. We are starting to make some inroads . . . but it’s a tough road to hoe.”

Kevin Atticks, the director of the Maryland Wine Association, can relate.

“I think we’ve had fairly good luck with restaurants carrying Maryland wines,” he said earlier this week, “but it comes after significant effort on the part of the winery.” Every slot on a restaurant’s wine list, he said, “is extremely valuable, and for a winery to have to overcome all of the prejudices against everything but the top 20 or 30 brands that any restaurant knows will sell [is tough]. Other than through a hand sell, where a waiter would say, ‘Tonight we have a special, it’s a Sugarloaf Cabernet Franc and it’s local and it just won a double gold in the San Francisco wine competition, beating out the likes of bippity boppity, boo, it’s just not going to sell. And so that’s the problem that I think any winery but the top 50 brands have.”

When you have restaurants, he added, that are more interested in simply slotting the top 40 or 50 best sellers rather than showing any passion at all for surrounding wineries, they’re more than likely to “hand their list over to a national distributing company and say ‘make me a list,’ and if your winery’s not on a national catalogue then you’re not getting on. You’re just never getting on.”

There are exceptions. Atticks noted Corks Restaurant in downtown Baltimore carries several Maryland wines. That jogged my memory. One of the wines offered a couple of years ago in a library sale at
Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md., was a 2001 Chardonnay bottled special for Corks; the winemaker and his friends had a little fun by decorating each bottle with their handprints. Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops in Chadds Ford, Pa., is another restaurant featured recently on this blog that makes a similar commitment to not on carrying wines from its region on the wine list but pushing them.

Greff would like to see the same attitude at more eateries in their area.

“They really have to make the commitment that they’re going to give up a little part of their profit but they are supporting a local winery and people like that,” she said. “So they’re going to make some goodwill there with customers. But it’s tough. I mean we’re in several restaurants around the area, but it’s not easy.

“And that’s kinda where we’re coming from with the wine trail, too. I mean, we’re getting to the point where if you want to be part of our Web site and stuff like that, then you need to support us. In order to be part of our wine trail book, you need to have Pennsylvania wine on it, Lehigh valley wine on it. Things like that. You know, we just feel that we’re really getting some recognition for our wines as a whole. For the trail we deserve that respect.

“There are restaurants that are starting to do that, and I think that’s going to happen more and more as people need a little niche to draw people to their restaurants, because there’s a lot of competition out there. People are looking for different things.”

AVA tastes great to Lehigh Valley wineries

The good news out of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail?

After five years of pushing for it, the trail received the official designation on April 10 as the state’s fifth American Viticultural Area (AVA). That makes Lehigh Valley one of around 200 wine grape-growing regions in the country and the fifth in Pennsylvania.

The others include Lancaster Valley, Cumberland Valley (which combines parts of Washington County in Maryland and Franklin and Cumberland counties in Pennsylvania), Central Delaware Valley (which covers parts of Southeastern Pa.) and Lake Erie. These boundaries are defined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

In the Lehigh Valley it covers nine wineries, 13 vineyards and over 220 acres that have been set aside for viticulture. All told, it’s an area that amounts to 1,888 square miles and It means, essentially, that the area is officially recognized as a wine region and can label its wines accordingly, said Vickie Greff, co-owner of Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars. “At least 75 percent must come from the appellation in order to say Lehigh Valley wine [on the label],” she said, “which in the majority of cases our wines are from the Lehigh Valley. It’s pretty exciting, and it has really opened a lot of doors.”

How many doors it opens could well depend on how well the wine trail promotes its distinction. In a story written around the time of the announcement on, the outgoing president of the Pennsylvania Wine Association said educating the consumer about the meaning and importance of the designation must accompany any of these AVAs that are awarded.

“We are in the trenches, introducing people to wine,” said John Kramb. “If we use an AVA on our labels, we have to educate consumers as to why we are doing it and how it makes a difference in what they are drinking. The average consumer doesn’t understand that. We need to make sure our customers do.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Learning never ends for Boordy's Deford

Our only trip from York to Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Md., happened to be a Saturday late last spring that coincided with what we were told was going to be the final wedding that the winery was planning to host.

Who could blame anyone wanting to bring their ceremony and subsequent reception to the 230-acre farm, with its rolling hills and fences and vines as far as the eye can see? But Rob Deford, owner of the oldest family-owner winery in the state, said earlier today that the marriage with the wineries facilities just presented too many hurdles to overcome.

“We’re trying to get out of the wedding business, well, you know, we just want to redirect our energies, that’s all,” he said. “There is an infinite demand, it seems, for wedding venues, and we could make money that way, but it’s not really what we want to be doing. We do an awful lot of public outreach and we’ve found that weddings are just a little too far out on a . . . they’re one generation removed for why people should be here.. It’s because maybe it’s a pretty barn, I mean, you can draw the dotted lines and say it makes for great marketing and you’ll win lots of customers, but unless you’re really, really set up for it, you just plain don’t want to be in that business. What I mean is turnkey perfect. Otherwise it reflects poorly upon you, and I just don’t want to be doing things where each time we have to worry that it’s not going to be right. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to make the winery right for casual visitors and for the events that we hold that are more wine and music focused.”

Those will continue, Deford said, including the continuation of the Good Life Thursday concerts tomorrow at 4 and 8 p.m., and then the next installment of the Summer Evening Concerts on Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m. The gates open at 5:45. By the way, check out the Web site to acquaint yourself with the detour you might have to take because of a bridge that’s closed for the summer. “The real sufferer is the hardware store down the street,” Deford said. “People find their way to get our wines, but they don’t seem to think they have to go there to get that lag screw they need. Now they’re going to Home Depot. Poor guy. He’s suffering.”

Boordy perhaps would be if it didn’t supplement its wines with the entertainment. Told I’ve encountered several wineries this year that have ditched its activities altogether with the intent instead of focusing on making wine, Deford sang out with a “don’t we all wish we could do that,” then expounded on the thought. “There are three aspects to sustainability, there’s the human aspect, the environmental aspect and then there’s that economic bit you got to sort out. For the first 10 years of my existence I . . . had two of the three figured out, but the economic part just kept haunting me in the wee hours of the morning. I have a lot of respect for people who can make a living out of farming generally but winemaking in particular. I think right next to being a playwright . . . it’s… tough. Everyone assumes that you’ve come in with a lot of capital and that you’re there to do the old thing of turning a large fortune into a small one. That doesn’t necessarily apply to all of us. So I feel what we’re really trying to do is learn as we go along what works and what doesn’t . . . continue to have a viable business while getting better and better at the things you really want to do.”

Still learning, he was asked? “Still earning, and this is why it’s multigenerational, why it’s so important. My son [Phineas], he’s 30 years old, and he’s going to come back and join the business, and that’s the future. It’s refining and passing along and then you start to feel more like a carrier of a message instead of the end user of it.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blue Mountain icewine takes some sting off heat

It’s mid-evening and still feeling like a blast furnace when you take a step out the door. That’s the perfect cue to begin a discussion on icewine, an ultraweet specialty that a few wineries in the region produce, including up at Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellar in New Tripoli, Pa. The winery is a member of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail.

Blue Mountain’s icewine was just bottled, and owner Vicki Greff said that the demand for their nectar has kept her ear glued to the receiver ever since. “We’ve had it less than a week, and I’ve already sold several cases just at our stores with people making reservations,” she said. “I spent the whole evening the other night at our Coventry Mall store just calling people that were on the list. ‘I want eight bottles, I want five bottles, I want three bottles.' It’s the kind of thing that it’s very, very popular and high in demand.”

Blue Mountain imports its juice from Canada. Greff said that her husband Joe, the winemaker, adds his own touch to the production on the icewine, which sells for $44.50 for a small bottle. “I’m not a sweet wine person,” Vicki said, “but our icewine is very special. My husband uses a certain yeast, it almost has a little bit of dryness in the finish. Like a lot of icewines are all honey. Ours has a lot of apricot in the finish, so when you have it the way I was telling you, it’s just excellent.”

She suggested a variation on what’s generally considered a dessert wine. “How I love it is not even with dessert,” she said. “You can have it as a dessert wine. Some people rave about it over ice cream, and it is very good over ice cream. I’ve heard of an ice wine martini, and I’ve also done desserts with it, done it with some sort of pear and put some Gorgonzola cheese in it, and then like walnuts on top and then bake it in the oven kind of thing. But how I love ice wine is very cold, in the proper glass, an aperitif, and I love it with a very strong blue cheese, bosc pears, very crisp, very cold, and I like to take walnuts and put some nutmeg and cinnamon and cayenne and put them in the oven with a little olive oil, and toss them in the olive oil and just bake them off a little bit, and then just chomp on that for dessert, and that is my dessert. I love it.

“And that’s actually [what we’ll serve with it] if we ever [have it for a tasting]. We can’t do the pears because they get all brown, but we do the walnuts and the blue cheese, and we’re kind of known for that.”

Certain about what would accompany the icewine, Vicki was less certain about whether they’ll even put the 2007 vintage out to be tasted. “The demand is so high and we go through it so fast that we’re not sure what we’re going to do yet, whether or not we’re going to taste it," she said. "We’re just kind of kicking it around, how much we’ve already run through just form people reserving it. The stores are already calling in for replenishment. So it’s like, ‘OK, maybe we won’t taste it.' We don’t want to be out before the word really gets out there. If we do, we’ll have to charge $3 a taste, but you know what, people will pay it. But that’s what we’re going to have to charge.”

Black Ankle pushes opening back a month or so

We've written at length about Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., a winery that has made a lot of news despite not even opening its doors to the public as yet. As one who checks as many Web sites as possible of wineries throughout the region, I noticed this note on the Black Ankle home page that I wanted to share with you:

"Our Tasting Room Construction is progressing steadily, but not quite as fast as we had hoped. Although we had hoped to be open by late July, our current best estimate for when we will be able to open our doors for sales and tastings, is mid-August. We will post opening days and hours here once we have them! If you would like to be notified by email when we open, and receive our occasional updates and news please join our Friends of Black Ankle email list."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Adding a bit of sweet to Sugarloaf Mountain

You’ll get some passionate back-and-forths about the wineries in Pennsylvania and Maryland and how they can’t be serious about making good wine if they produce anything sweet. So I felt like my conversation with Jim McKenna, one of the principles of
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard took a surprise turn when he said the young and award-winning winery was heading in that direction.

“We’ve come up with another thing an oddball kind of a thing,” McKennsa said a few days ago, after talking about their Cabernet Franc and a couple of their other enticing reds. “We’ve discovered at a lot of these [festivals] that we go to that the overwhelming majority of the people of the state of Maryland who go to a wine festival are interested I one thing – sweet. And sugar. Sweet slash sugar. You know, three out of five people come up and say, let me have your really best sweet wine. So, you know, here we’ve spent so much time trying to put out a first-class wine.

“And so last year we had a stomp,
and this year we’re going to have it again,” he continued. “We had attendance of well over 1000 people, and I expect as many if not as twice as many this year, and when we bought grapes from Pennsylvania and Virginia, not [real] good grapes . . . but just use for people to stomp. Because then we had the grapes left over at the end of the day after we had the stomp, so we said, ‘Well, what are we going to do with these things [that weren't used in the stomp]?’ [My partner] said, ‘Why don’t we just make a Stomp wine . . . throw some sugar in it?’ And so we did, and we have it, and of course, people love it. You know, ‘Boy I really love that Stomp of yours,’ and so, we’re going to make more of it. I mean it sells; it even sells at the winery itself. People like it. You know, what are you going to do? [My wife] Lois and I went on a four-winery tour about a year and a half ago in Maryland, just to see. Bert Basignani, Mike Fiori, Rob Deford up at Boordy . . . and all four of them said, when we asked what sells, they said, ‘sweet,’ independently of the other. They all said that. ‘Sweet.’ Make it sweet and they will drink it and that should have wakened us. But it didn’t at the time.

But now that we have the Stomp going . . . so, as Rob Deford up at
Boordy said, ‘Look, this pays the rent.’ Put out a lot of apple wine. You name it, orange wine, coyote wine, whatever crazy name you want to put on it, then sell it. And so we’re not going to be quite so snooty anymore. I mean, I’ve learned my lesson. Give them what they want. And then the people who really understand wine will continue to buy [our good stuff.]”

Friday, July 18, 2008

The event grapevine: July 18-20


Music in the Vineyards 2008
Nissley Vineyards & Winery Estate, Bainbridge, Pa.
Saturday, 7:30 to 10 p.m.
The Jazzberries, Big Band Swing

Judy Nissley of Nissley Vineyards & Winery Estate covered a lot of the present and the past of her Music in the Vineyards series, which is breezing through its 26th season with the third of eight Saturday night concerts tonight.

This is a special year for the winery, reaching the big 3-0. Nissley spent a few minutes explaining how several venues she used to visit long before the winery came to fruition led to this highly successful concert series, which has drawn as many as 2,800 people on a single night.

“One of the inspirations for the concert series,” she said last week in an phone interview, “we started out with dancing, because years ago in Hershey they used to have something called the Starlight Ballroom, and when I was in college we would go there for a Saturday night date. They would get big bands that would come in and so that was my introduction to big bands, and it was always very nice. They didn’t serve anything alcoholic though, which is why we could go in underage. We were not 21, we were still in college.

“Years later, when I worked in Chicago, there is a place north of Chicago that has a music venue which is called Ravinia, and it’s big stage, that has a roof on it and is partially enclosed, and you could pay two different admission prices, one would be to sit in a seat inside and the other you could put a blanket on the ground outside. So friends of mine and I would get together and we would take a picnic . . . these elaborate things. In fact, one of my friends would write up a menu, really elaborate things, and she always put cardamom in the coffee. So every time I have cardamom now I think of this event.

“In any event when we started the winery, it wasn’t long before I looked at the situation and said that I would really like to do something similar to that in this area. We started just with the dancing concept, but it’s amazing that not that many people related to the dancing, they really related though to the concert concept, with dancing on the side. So if we don’t have dancing -- say we take away all the patios -- that would affect the way in which people would enjoy the event. But if we strictly built it as a dance, we would not get nearly as many people.”


Adams County Farm Winery, Ortanna: Free summer concert, Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m., bring a blanket, lawn chair or go early to get a seat at one of the picnic tables;

Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars, Lehigh Valley: Sangria Sunday wine tasting ($$), 2 to 5 p.m.,

Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Sangria Sunday ($$), noon to 5 p.m.; concert, Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.; July Barrel Tastings and Sale of 2007 Futures ($$), Saturday, 7 p.m., with light supper to follow,

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: “Summer Under the Stars” Outdoor Concert Series ($$), Friday, 7 p.m.; Wine Tasting for Singles ($$), Friday, 7 p.m., wine, cheese and music; Summerfest: Caribbean Jam ($$), Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.; How Sweet It Is: Pairing Wine and Chocolate ($$), Sunday, 2 p.m.,

Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery, Andreas: Sixth annual Winter Mountain Red Snow Cone Tour, Saturday and Sunday; the tractor and wagon tours leave at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.,

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: Music Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons; Summer Concert series Saturday night ($$); Paddle Dine Music & Wine ($$), co-sponsored by Moon Dancer and Shank’s Mare, includes kayak tour, light fare dinner and concert,

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

Paradocz Vineyards, Landenberg: Free concert, 5 to 9 p.m.,

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


You can find events for this weekend
at this link.


You can find all the events for this weekend
at this link.

($$) – Admission charge