Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Regional Wine Week, Day 2: Va La Vineyards

Perhaps this snippet of information taken off the site of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail says all you need to know about Anthony and Karen Vietri, who tend a small parcel of land in Avondale, Pa., oh, maybe a 10- to 15-minute drive west and then south from Chaddsford. This is the schedule posted for the recently completed Harvest Fest.

-- Actual tastings of beverages made from Avondale grapes and served in authentic glass containers
-- Live Jazz in the backyard with Mr. Glenn E. Williams, the pants‐less Trio, and special guest Mr. Miles Davis
-- Juicy grilled sandwiches by the one and only Fat Cat Bar B Q & his special animal friends
-- Art show in the Galleria featuring actual living artists Eileen Slifer (watercolors), and Ella Morris (watercolors, acrylic, oils, photography, corrective eye surgery )
-- Special nude interpretive dance salute to the 2008 Summer Olympics by the Olsen Twins – CANCELLED
-- Speaking in tongues, snake‐handling, raising of the dead, sting ray petting zoo, on-site pant alterations, etc.
All activities real and imagined are dependent on the stupid weather. Due to our frighteningly tiny size, parking may be limited or nonexistent; unfortunately that means no buses or ocean liners, but we can accommodate a limited number of groups of six or more before 1 PM by prior reservation.

You can find more comprehensive Web sites for wineries in eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland, although you can count those on one hand. But what you won’t find is one that exhibits more of a sense of humor nor a sharper reflection of the personalities of the individuals involved in this family venture.

It’s land that dates back to 1928, when Anthony’s grandparents became the owners and, in addition to making wine that was placed on the kitchen table, set a farm in motion that produced cheese, mushrooms, vegetables, poultry, eggs and fruits. The name? That comes from a small village in Italy called Guisvalla, where Anthony’s family used to live. Translated, Va La means to “go there.”

Or, in the case of the couple, go back there after living in California and Italy. He and Karen became the owners in 1998 and began refurbishing the place; what they call the Home Vineyard was planted in 1999. They’ll never forget the date the winery’s floor was poured: 9/11/2001. Today you can taste wine with local cheese and mushrooms downstairs or wander up to the loft to admire the work of local artists.

Among the things that make Va La distinctive is the winery’s vocabulary. Cabernet and Chardonnay and pretty much any other traditional grape name aren’t spoken here. Instead, the wine family runs from Silk to Cedar to Fioretti to Seed.

“The [wine’s] names, it’s just, um, I don’t know where they come from,” Anthony said a couple months ago during a previous interview, then breaking out into a laugh. “They just come out of the sky.”

As distinctive as the names are grapes used: Sarbono, Sagrantino, Nebbiolo, Carmine and Corvina, to name a few. Those produce anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 cases a year, small compared to others in the region but a comfortable output for the lifestyle that Anthony and his family want.

“What we do is focus on trying to express just simply our lives on this piece of property,” he said yesterday. “That’s the way we look at the wines. That’s all we look to do, which is the reason behind our having wines that are unconventional blends or rare varieties mixed together or that sort of thing. That’s because we just kind of listen to what the grapes tell us here and we just do that and just go with it and just have faith in that and, you now, don’t ask questions and move on. That’s simply it.”

One wine definitely worth trying if you wander into the tasting room is La Prima Donna, which they have been making there since 2001.

Winemaker’s notes: The intent of La Prima Donna was to create a dry white wine of quality made from grapes grown in this region. Malvasia bianco, tocai fruiliano, viognier, pinot grigio, petit manseng, & others. 2,400 to 3,800 bottles are normally made available.

Anthony Vietri: “It is an aromatic white. It was inspired by the fact that I lived in a fishing village in Italy and I wanted to have a white wine that would go with fish. And that was where the idea came from; the grapes came out of what the vineyard pretty much said ‘this works here and this doesn’t.’ It whittled it down and that’s how we got there. We wanted to have a white wine that would be something completely original and something complex at the same time without any oak. It’s never had oak. We wanted it to be just the pure grapes you taste in there. A wine with good ability to age and we wanted this wine to go well with a variety of dishes, but starting with fish, and going into things like chicken and fowl, things like that, and cheeses that we have locally and mushrooms that we have locally, all those kind of things that I grew up on here. Just kind of wanted to go through that whole region of food and match to that the best we could. [It would be] something that would be the signature of just this 7 acres of ground here in Avondale.”

Prefer a red? Well, try Mahogany, which they first made in 2005 and recently released. The 2006 vintage is expected to be bottled in March 2009.

Winemaker’s notes: Our goal with Mahogany was to create a red wine of quality from grapes grown in this region. Barbera, petit verdot, carmineand other (Italian reds). Nine total barrels are produced. Available by sign up list. Pleasecontact us if you are interested.

Anthony Vietri: “We wanted to take this vineyard and if we could put it into one bottle and bring all the separate pieces together and layer them out and have this be an East Coast red that would have very good ability to age in the cellar, that would have good structure, and yet at the same time not be something that would be undrinkable in its youth. It would have good fruit and that sort of thing and be something unique to this spot also. That was important to us. And whatever those grapes turned out to be, that was not of any consequence to us. It was just what would work best for this vineyard.”

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