Monday, October 6, 2008

Regional Wine Week, Day 1: Chaddsford

Eric and Lee Miller, top right, and some scenes takes at Chaddsford during the just completed Brandywine Valley Wine Trail's Harvest Fest Celebration.

If there’s one recognizable winery outside Pennsylvania, chances are it’s Chaddsford. Located around 20 miles west of Philadelphia, it’s a member of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. That encompasses six working wineries and one that should have its doors open in the next month or two.

You’ll find them along the Route 1 corridor that runs west to east from the farm country of Chester County toward the western suburbs of Philly. It’s along that four-lane highway that Chaddsford Winery suddenly appears, a few miles west of the well-known Longwood Gardens. You can visit all of them in a weekend, if you’re really pushed. No more than 30 miles on the road will allow you to enter them all, and that number is probably on the high side.

When winemaking took root on this side of the state, in the shadow of the Philly skyline, the first seeds fell at Chaddsford. Co-owner Lee Miller said she remembers that there weren’t any nearby models to follow when they began making wine in 1982. “When we came here,” she said by phone on Friday, “we didn’t have any vineyards. Our goal was to develop winemaking in a region that really didn’t have any background or wasn’t known for anything. We’re talking 26 years ago in Pennsylvania, we were one of the first 10 [in the state]. I would say most of the wineries were up in the Erie region and they were doing Concord grapes. There was very little history of anybody really trying to try to do high quality vinifera.”

In that time she and husband Eric have won their share of awards, planted an estate vineyard a stone’s throw (OK, only if an NFL quarterback is doing the throwing) away, and developed an extraordinary
Web site that provides as much personality as it does information. Take a few minutes and, if you do nothing else on there, check out the archived winemaker’s notes. Those offer a revealing peek at their thinking during this long journey.

As for two wines to introduce you to, there’s the 2006 Pinot Noir and the 2005 Due Rossi. They also sell a high-end Pinot, vintage 2005.

Size of Lot: 2655 cases
Components: 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chambourcin
from Southeastern Pennsylvania
Date Picked, Processed: September 11- October 19, 2006
Characteristics of Vintage: 2006 had a split personality.
On one hand the extremely dry spring caused very small
berries and chlorosis in vine leaves. On the other hand,
mid-season inundated us with ten days of rain that saturated
the ground 100%. During the early harvest, except in a
couple of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards, flavors
were diluted and picking was a long slow process. So we
decided to wait it out. Until the ground was dry, berries
tasted lush and ripe, and seeds went from green to brown.
We were paid off by an outstanding end-of-the-season
comeback that delivered Merlot, Cabernet Franc,
Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon we thought we
might have to die for.
Fermentation Temperature: 85° F peak, 68° F at finish
Residual Sugar: 0.4%
Total Acidity: 0.57
Alcohol: 13.8%
pH: 3.73
Finishing: In contact with toasted French oak chips in primary
fermentors and briefly during stainless tank storage.
Winemaker Notes: Light varietal nose showing brown sugar,
smoke, vanilla and a hint of cherry. A light delicate red.

Lee Miller: “Pinot Noir has just been incredibly good to us . . . . we are just absolutely delighted with it. It just has been kind of universally accepted across the board. People react to it, because even as a young wine it’s just got a big, lush fullness to it for a delicate wine. We just love the flavor, the softness.” Calling it accessible and user-friendly, she said that “a lot of time people think when they get into wines they have to drink Cabernet and some of the bigger wines; they just think that’s what they should drink, and when you then kind of take that next step and start exploring you find out that all wines don’t have to be big and tough and hard and flavorful as Cabernet. You can have these lighter, more delicate wines, but they can still be rich.”

Size of Lot: 688 cases
Components: 63% Barbera from the Miller Estate Vineyard
and Flowing Springs and 37% Sangiovese from Rohrer.
Date Picked, Processed: October 6-October 19, 2005
Characteristics of Vintage: Simply put, the 2005 season
was superb. We started the spring with a modest crop and
very invigorated vines, then things got dry and we had to
watch the vines suffer a bit. But as leaves began to wilt all
the energy went into the fruit. In the final month we had
perfect warm sunny days and cool dry nights (which
allowed for extended hang-time), translating into intense
flavors - something we have not seen for a couple of years.
I am very very excited about the 2005s!
Fermentation Temperature: 85° F, and finish at 68° F
Residual Sugar: 0.060%
Total Acidity: .62
Alcohol: 14.1%
pH: 3.53
Finishing: 10 months in French Oak, 100 malolactic
Winemaker Notes: In the nose there is slight smoke, violets,
blackberry, licorice and some red candy. This medium-full body
wine is laden with uncountable flavors and just bursts in the
mouth with sweet vanillans, a big bouquet of flowers, ripe
jammy fruit and licorice.

Lee Miller: She calls it their Italian blend, a mix of Barbera and Sangiovese. “They are the other grapes; Eric’s just in love with them right now. He has said that he thinks that [2005] wine is the best he has ever made. We’ve made interesting Cabernets and Merlots, and we like them, but there’s a lot out there . . . but the Due Rossi is so unique. There’s nothing quite like it, because people don’t typically blend those two grapes and nobody’s ever had them from this region. It’s really unique; it’s a powerhouse. People love it, fruity flavors, but not as over the top as a Zinfandel, not that kick-ass kind of high alcohol.”

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