Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, and what's ahead in 2009

I felt like the best way to wrap up 2008 on this blog was to ask the winery association heads in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to look ahead to 2009. You can find their responses below.

To all, a very happy and healthy new year. For those crunched by all that has happened these past few months, here's hoping that the new year offers a quick turnaround and an abundance of optimism.

Jennifer Eckinger, spokesperson, Pennsylvania Wine Association:
"PA has had a strong growth over the past few years and each year it seems that approximately 10 new wineries open their doors. In the latest listing of limited wineries that I received from the PLCB it showed 135 licensed wineries. Several of the wineries are looking to open in the coming year and others are dormant licenses. Averaging out the wineries that will be starting up in the coming year, I anticipate more than 115 wineries that will be open to the public."

Kevin Atticks, executive director, Maryland Wineries Association:
"My guesstimate is we will have at least six wineries licensing in 2009," he said this morning. You can find those listed on the
Maryland wines site. "Most of them are up there [on the site]. Two aren't there yet. And we're launching two new wine trails, which is pretty exciting for us." Neither has a name yet. One will encompass Eastern Shore wineries, and the other will bring together southern Maryland wineries. As for one big issue for '09? Same one as last year and the year before that. "We'll spend the first half of the year in the state capitol," he said, "attempting to clean up some ancient alcohol laws." It's an ongoing effort, he admitted, that has a ways to go.

Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office:
"We currently have 144 wineries in Virginia. Up from 131, this time last year. This number is dynamic since we always have a few wineries that close in addition to the ones that open. To average this, I’d say we usually have about 15 new wineries open a year. But that number is brought down by the few wineries that close in the same year. I’d say one of the largest issues that Virginia wineries will face in 2009 will be continued zoning issues from local governments that want to separate agricultural practices from manufacturing and retail practices that are all important parts of any farm winery business. Most small farm wineries are dependent on tourism to build their customer base."

First 'chocolate sighting' at Crossing on Sunday

Wrote the other day about the Riedel workshop at CrossingVineyards in Washington Crossing, Pa. Proprietor Christine Carroll, also the director of marketing and public relations, wrote in an e-mail that they were pleased with Sunday's turnout. And the way it worked out, and this is my line not hers, those who left had a chance to head home, watch the Eagles win, and toast to the victory with the king of all wine-drinking vessels.

Carroll noted that they sell Riedel at their store, and to participants in the workshops they offer a 20 percent discount on the day of the class. She said the next clas is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 25. "So anyone who is interested in buying Riedel at a good discount can take the class," she wrote. "For $99, participants get a 4 glass tasting set, the class (including wine tasting) and the discount. When you take the 20% off, CVW is about competitive with Amazon for the purchase of Riedel glassware."

Today is the end of the current promotion that revolves around free shipping on case purchases. They've still yet to decide whether to continue that in the new year.

With the calendar being replaced after tonight, many wineries roll into the new year with at least one promotion centered around chocolate. Some wait until February and Valentine's Day. Crossing Vineyards is planning to hold a wine and chocolate pairing class at 2 p.m. this Sunday, Jan. 4. The course will be led by winery sommelier Eric Cavatore and chocolate and confectionary aficionado Stacey Glynn-Brady, store manager for Lindt & Sprüngli chocolates.

According to a press release, they will share tips on the finer points of producing chocolate and wine, what creates the variety of flavors in both, and how to enjoy the two together.

Lindt chocolate still is made from a “top-secret” recipe, devised in the 1800s by Swiss Master Chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt, who invented the first melting chocolate with the creation of the “conching” machine, according to Lindt history. The delicacies produced by parent company Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG also are influenced by the Sprüngli family, confectioners whose recipes date back to 1845

Cost of the course is $35 and includes wine and chocolate sampling, learning materials and the Lindt Chocolate bar of the participant’s choice. Reservations can be made by calling 215.493.6500, ext. 19, or by going to the winery Web site.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Label this winery eager to share info

Opened a bottle of Albarino, a dry white we had bought from Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., earlier this year. It was one we tasted during a visit and really liked; that and the fact that it's almost a novelty, difficult to find from anyplace in the world outside of Spain and still a very rare commodity coming out of the East Coast. Luscious just to sip or with seafood, it was a perfect complement to a post Christmas meal.

But this isn't a post so much about the wine as the winery and its decision to provide so much detail on the back label. On the back of my bottle, for instance, was the following:

Geology: Decomposing slate laced with veins of quartz

Slope orientation: North

Number of vines/acre: 1895

Yield/per acre: 2.6 tons

Date of harvest: September 18

Quantity produced: 80 cases

I've spent much of my time with this blog writing about what's inside the bottle. But a lot of research has been done on the value of the labels when it comes to sales. Mark Chien, the first wine grape extension agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension, wrote in a newsletter last month that, on the whole, this state's wineries need to put more time and thought into their labels. This came in the middle of a review of the Farm Show competition held in New Jersey. Chief wrote:

"Some comments from judges on topics other than wine . . . as a group, Pennsylvania wineries need to upgrade the quality of their labels including design, color schemes, freshness, cleanliness, etc. Packaging and design are WAY out of my area of expertise except as a consumer. But there is no denying the importance of design to selling wines. One person commented that he would not buy a particular wine because the label looked amateurish and gave the impression that the wine would be also. I admit, most of our wines are hand sold so maybe it isn’t quite as important here but we need to be thinking past our own tasting rooms into the realm of popular and critical wine consumerism. It was also pointed out that too many Pennsylvania wines carry proprietary names and do not indicate what grape varieties are in the wine. This goes against the trend by most wineries to include more information about the wine, not less."

I wrote to Ed Boyce, co-owner of Black Ankle, asking why they decided to put so much information on the label. His response?

"The idea for the back labels was to communicate that we are focused on the vineyards, and that we are serious about the wines first and foremost [we need to fight the stereotype of the typical eastern wine]," he wrote. "We loosely patterned the back labels on the the Calera labels [you can see them on the Calera Web site); we would like to do a map like they do, but haven't yet figured out how to make it work for us."

Black Ankle opened in September and has kept limited hours compared to most other wineries in the region. Yet, between those visiting the winery and the numerous other locations around Maryland where the wines are sold, Boyce said sales have been a "bit wild. We are almost out of Chardonnay and Gruner Veltliner, and the Albarino is not too far behind," he wrote. "The reds are actually selling even faster, but we started out with a lot more of those. Anyway, we are pretty happy with the first few months!"

Monday, December 29, 2008

Look for Kog Hill site in next week or 2

Have spent plenty of time writing about three of the Pennsylvania wine trails, not intentionally ignoring a fourth one, the Berks County Wine Trail. These eight wineries fill in the gap between the Leigh Valley trail to the east and what would informally be called the Uncork York trail that encompasses wineries in and around York and Gettysburg.

Kog Hill Winery, located in Morgantown, Pa., is among those eight members. And for every Chaddsford and Black Ankle and Crossing Vineyards that has poured big sums of time and money into their operation, there are probably twice as many wineries that while scaled down by comparison have carved their own niche in the regional market.

This winery has no vineyard; it contracts with other grape producers and then turns that juice into 21 wines, a line that’s predominantly sweet. Brad Jordan, a member of the Kog Hill “family,” was at the winery Sunday afternoon when I called. He said that the business has come through this year pretty well, crediting much of that because of their prices. “We only have one bottle over $25; that’s our ice wine,” he said. “Other than that that all of them below $20 [one or two bottoming out below $10]. I think that’s the reason we’re doing so well. You get really good value . . . and the prices are so low compared to other wines.”

Jordan said the tastes of the region dictate a line heavy on sweet wines. Their best-seller is a Sunset Blush, which he compared to rose or a blush. The Kog Hill blueberry wine also has been a big seller. Perhaps the next release will match those others in sales, a blueberry Merlot. Jordan said that should be in the bottled in the next two weeks. To his knowledge, the only other winery that sells something similar is in Alaska. It should be available for sale by Valentine’s Day.

Tastings at the winery are $3, and allow visitors to sample as many of Kog Hill’s wines as they care to. Among some of the other additions to the business in 2009 will be an upgraded Web site, at, which is expected to be up and running in the next week or two. And that will facilitate a more vigorous program of Internet sales.

Jordan said the winery is hoping to add a weekly happy hour that might run 4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays or Saturdays starting in the late spring, which would include live acoustic music. By that time, visitors should be able to sample some new “concoctions” the winery is planning to introduce, a blend of some of the wines that Kog Hill already produces.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This year? NY director gives his spin

Here's the latest, and maybe last, from Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, summing up New York wines and 2008. Proposed budgets cuts might eliminate funding to the foundation, which would impact the thorough weekly e-letter that Tresize sends out. But he did manage to provide his usual mix of information and thoughts to wrap up this year.

"In the recent history of the New York grape and wine industry, 2008 ranks as one of the very best years in some ways, from a superb grape harvest to increasing recognition and continuing growth.

In other ways, it was a year which brought many concerns to the forefront, mostly related to the state, national, and global economies.

But it was definitely a year which advanced the New York Wine & Grape Foundation’s strategic goal: “To have the New York grape and wine industry recognized as a world leader in quality, productivity and social responsibility.”
Here some brief highlights in various areas:

GRAPE CROP: Across the state, the quality of the 2008 grape crop was comparable to 2007’s vintage, which had been hailed as the best in at least 15 years. At times the weather conditions were unusual and worrisome, but in the end produced an excellent crop that the Wine Spectator online rated “A” in the Finger Lakes and “B” on Long Island in terms of initial impressions. The downside of this year’s harvest involved soft demand, with grape prices weakening and some grape varieties (like Cabernet Franc, and even some Riesling) looking for a market late in the harvest. This is a troubling trend for grape growers unless somehow demand is strengthened by next fall.

INDUSTRY GROWTH: The wine industry continues to grow rapidly, with 13 new wineries opened and 17 others awaiting licenses in 2008, bringing the total now operating to 245—or 12 times the number just 30 years ago. The wine industry is one of very few that are growing in New York, fueling new investment, jobs, and tax revenues that benefit the State and all its counties. A 2005 California study showed that our industry in 2004 generated over $3.4 billion in economic benefits to New York’s economy, a figure that clearly has gone up over the years (even though we haven’t had the budget to fund a formal follow-up study). The wine industry would grow even faster if the licensing process is expedited, which was one of the major recommendations of a Wine Grape Task Force report released in December.

MARKET RESEARCH: The New York Wine & Grape Foundation funded a major study by Wine Opinions on the perceptions of New York wines by consumers and the trade in New York City, the rest of New York State, California, Florida, and Washington, DC. The results, unveiled by John Gillespie and Christian Miller at the Wine Industry Workshop in April, are providing a strategic basis for our future promotion programs.

MARKET PROMOTIONS: NYWGF created two statewide “New York Wine Month” promotions in April and October; launched a major new effort to promote New York wines in New York City; and continued working on other promising markets such as Florida. The two statewide Wine Month promotions included hundreds of liquor stores and restaurants, with great support from our wholesaler partners, and will be repeated in April 2009. The “New York Wines & Dines” program in New York City resulted in sales increases exceeding 36% on average for participating wineries. A second year of New York wines at the six-week Epcot International Wine & Food Festival in Orlando generated sales far exceeding anyone’s expectations.

WINE COUNTRY TOURISM: 2008 provided dramatic evidence of how broader economic conditions affect the wine industry, which in New York is highly dependent on direct sales to tourists at the wineries. Based on anecdotal accounts (we did not have a budget for a formal study), it appears that after decades of strong growth, wine country tourism essentially held steady despite the recession and high gas prices, with the number of tourists typically mirroring specific economic conditions and forecasts of the moment. In some cases, wineries had fewer visitors spending more, with others having more visitors spending less, and others experiencing both syndromes at different times of the year. The $4-a-gallon gas shock temporarily but sharply reduced both visitors and spending, though later in the year as gas prices declined many wineries reported record crowds on Columbus Day weekend and even afterwards. Tourism is the economic lifeblood of our wine industry, and vice versa, which is why for decades NYWGF has provided funding to a dozen wine trails throughout the State, and hope to continue that in 2009.

QUALITY RECOGNITION: New York wineries continued gaining an international reputation for quality with thousands of medals in major competitions, increasing media coverage, and high ratings in major magazines. In 2008, New York wineries won 535 Gold medals or above in major competitions, and thousands of Silver and Bronze awards. Our “wine competitions” program encourages wineries to enter these competitions through reduced fees. Wineries from Long Island to Lake Erie have received other forms of recognition as well, including mentions and ratings in major wine consumer magazines. Of particular note this year were unprecedented high ratings of many Finger Lakes wines, particularly Riesling, by Wine & Spirits magazine, thanks largely to the proactive efforts of Morgen McLaughlin (Finger Lakes Wine Country) in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. Our “regional branding” program has supported those efforts, as well as other different projects on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie regions. The concept is to let each region determine how it wants to “brand” itself under the statewide “Uncork New York” umbrella.

INDUSTRY LEADERSHIP: Leadership by New York industry members in several national and international organizations boosted the State’s reputation as a key player in efforts like the new International Riesling Foundation, FIVS, National Grape and Wine Initiative, WineAmerica and Winegrape Growers of America. Most recently, NWYGF president Jim Trezise volunteered a year’s worth of weekends to get the International Riesling Foundation up and running. Other New Yorkers like Jim Bedient, Tom Davenport, Jim Finkle, John Martini and Nancy Irelan continue to play key roles in various organizations.

GRAPE JUICE PROMOTION: The grape juice industry, which accounts for two-thirds of all New York grapes, has benefited from a major promotion program on the health benefits of Concord grape juice. Thanks to special funding from the State of New York, for three years NYWGF has conducted a broad-based program which will include a major media event in New York City in mid-January.

RESEARCH AND EDUCATION: Cornell University expanded its vital role in advancing the industry through a comprehensive, integrated “Total Quality Focus & Sustainability” program funded by NYWGF and supplementing a broad-based series of projects, along with the new undergraduate Enology & Viticulture curriculum. Cornell Cooperative Extension’s communication and education programs are vital to the grape and wine industry, including the great “Veraison to Harvest” weekly e-newsletter each fall filled with timely, practical information for growers and vintners.. The addition of several new, young scientists in viticulture, enology, and extension roles is a bright spot for the industry and fresh evidence of Cornell’s commitment to it.

TASK FORCE: Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker, a long and strong supporter of our industry, created a Wine Grape Task Force which issued a final report in December. The report will set the stage for efforts to enhance the business climate for the grape and wine industry in 2009 and beyond.

STATE SUPPORT: The strong growth and major accomplishments of the New York grape and wine industry over the past two decades would not have been possible without the long and strong partnership with the State of New York, including public officials from both sides of the aisle, and the great support of New York Farm Bureau and Long Island Farm Bureau. Virtually every program cited above is supported by State funding (much of it matched by industry) channeled through the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, which was created by the legislature specifically for that purpose. In short, the Foundation is a support mechanism to advance the industry, so it in turn can brings more benefits to the State—a win-win partnership.

WASHINGTON EVENTS: New York Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, joined by New York’s Members of Congress, continued to advocate for New York agriculture, including passage of an historic Farm Bill which recognized the importance of “specialty crops” like grapes and wine. “New York Farm Day” hosted by Senator Clinton since 2002 was bigger and better than ever, and clearly has conveyed the point that New York is a major farm state, and farming is a major part of the state economy. As always, WineAmerica protected and advanced the interests of the wine industry, in partnership with Winegrape Growers of America.

The year ahead, 2009, will definitely be “interesting”. That is a word often used by people to describe a wine they’re not sure about: hmmm, that’s “interesting”—meaning good, bad or indifferent.

New York Governor David Paterson, who is dealing with a major state economic crisis, has provided the platform for an interesting year in the wine business by proposing total elimination of funding for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation (which really means all the research and promotion programs); allowing New York grocery stores to sell wine (which will be a major battle, and NYWGF is not involved); and nearly tripling the excise tax on wine.

It will indeed be interesting, in December 2009, to look back and see what actually happened.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chien: 'Pa. reds lack depth, concentration'

So many folks affiliated with the regional wine industry credit Mark L. Chien, the state-wide viticulture extension educator, with helping them develop better practices in the vineyards and cellars and, consequently, make better wine that is receiving more and more acclaim across the country.

Chien's name was mentioned again a few weeks ago when Carl Helrich of Allegro Vineyards in The Brogue, Pa., moved to the subject of what he feels will become this region's signature wine. In his view, Merlot is that grape, and while following that line of thinking Helrich also referenced last month's newsletter that Chien sent out to subscribers expressing the opinion that Cabernet Sauvignon might never develop in this region except at certain spots in York and Adams counties.

In the interest of putting that thought into its full context, here's a copy of the newsletter that I'd like to share. Chien has just returned from the Pennsylvania Farm Show wine competition hosted by colleagues at Rutgers and University of Maryland at the Rutgers Fruit Research and Extension Center in Cream Ridge, N.J. I'll let his newsletter take it from there.



"Before I talk about wines I would like to ask the Pennsylvania wine industry to offer a collective THANK YOU to Dr. Gary Pavlis from Rutgers and his amazing staff for the outstanding job they do in planning, organizing and hosting this event and to Dr. Joe Fiola from U Md for his continued participation. It is no small job to receive, organize, prepare and deliver over 250 wines to 20 judges in less than six hours. They do a superb job of keeping the process moving forward with nary a spilled drop or a broken glass. We also need to thank the 20 or so wine judges who arrive faithfully each November to help Joe and Gary make this competition possible. All of them do it on a Saturday, on their own time, and always with good cheer, professionalism and grace. This is a wonderful gift from NJ to PA.

"Now, to the wines …

"After the relative debacle of the ’03 and ’04 vintages Pennsylvania has strung together three very good to excellent vintages with 2007 perhaps among the best ever, so the opportunity to taste these wines was something to look forward to and for the most part they did not disappoint. I was able to taste 40-50 of the wines myself and all but one was at minimum clean and technically correct. That’s always a good starting point! It is my estimate that only half of our wineries submitted wines to the competition. I would like to see more but this is a decision for each winery. As always, there were new names that I didn’t recognize.

"Those who know me know that I have become a glass snob. Let’s face it, the quality of wine glass you use affects the perception of any wine. If you want the wines you drink to smell and taste better, use a good glass. It doesn’t have to be Riedel but it should be of the proper size and shape. While the INAO glass is still the standard for tasting, it is not satisfactory for a full sensory experience. I brought my own glass to the competition and tasting side by side with the standard glasses I could easily tell the difference. If you want your customers and peers to appreciate your wines more, give them proper glassware. Of course, if the wine has flaws, it will accentuate those, too, so beware.

"The wine competition offers a wide range of wine types including native, hybrid and vinifera, from bone dry to ultra-sweet, ports and those with bubbles. It’s definitely not a place that a wine drinker would get bored. But I always look to the vinifera wines as a bell weather of the progress we are making in wine quality. That said, the hybrids can often outperform the vinifera and the quality of the semi-sweet to sweet hybrids and natives are very good and still represent the majority of wines we produce and what the consumer of Pennsylvania wines prefers.

"The vinifera wines represent the greater viticulture and enological challenge and the wines that the reputation of the state’s wine industry will rest upon with the most critical consumers and wine critics so they necessarily need our undivided attention. In this competition, as in years past, the whites appear to outperform the red, maybe because white wine viticulture and style are more flexible and cut across a wider range of flavors and styles. For example, most whites will make nice wines over a range of 2-3 or even 4-5 brix in some cases, such as Riesling or Vidal, they simply produce different but acceptable flavors at different ripeness levels. However, Merlot or Cabernet Franc has a much narrower range of ripeness that will express the true and best character of the grape. There were standout whites include a couple of Traminettes that had different styles, one classic fruit-forward with spice and lemon and another in an Alsatian-style with more exotic, almost tropical, some might say non-Traminetter, flavors. The Chardonnay flight was clean but a bit dull to my palate. Most were rather simple, unoaked versions of the wine that had nice fruit but lacked complexity or depth. I think Chardonnay can be an excellent wine for Pennsylvania, from the cooler to warmer regions and is something we should focus on producing well. I am not a big fan of Pinot Gris (Grigio) and this flight demonstrated why Pinot Grigio is the largest imported white wine to the U.S. in their relative blandness. On the other hand, a short flight of hybrid blends showed some luscious high accent fruit with pineapple, melon, apple flavors and good concentration. A Seyval/Vidal/Cayuga blend was a particularly intriguing mix of flavors with something completely unexpected coming out in the end. Some of you know about my suspicions of native/grapey flavor infiltration into white wines, especially drier styles of hybrid and/or vinifera. I tasted this in a few wines and it continues to confound me. All I can say is wine makers should not follow natives with delicate, aromatic whites. If you are intentionally blending for these flavors, that’s a different matter altogether.

"As a general rule, warm and dry vintages make better wines, whites and reds, in cooler regions such as Pennsylvania. But even in a dry year quality of viticulture matters. I hate to be too reductionist in the view point but canopy and crop management are still the keys to success within any given vintage, and as mentioned earlier, it usually matters more for reds than whites. Vine size and balance should be established at planting, pruning should begin to determine vine architecture and yield, then shoot number and position should be adjusted followed by regulatory canopy management and a crop estimate before lag phase with appropriate yield adjustment if needed and all the while diseases and pests need to be under control and the vintage weather patterns analyzed. We know how, when, where and why to do all this stuff, it’s really a matter of doing it well and in a timely fashion. The wines reflect that we are doing it better and certainly gaining skills in the cellar.

"But the reds need to be fleshed out. As a group they still lack depth and concentration, especially in the mid-palate and good length. There is still a hint of eastern twang in most of them but they are on the verge of delicious ripeness and balance. The Merlots and Cabernet Franc wines were particularly expressive, with dark fruit and often spice and black pepper. The Cab F often had some herbal overtones but not to the extent that it would be considered a flaw in the wine, just something that needs to be further resolved, most probably in the vineyard. I’m not sure what to say about Cabernet Sauvignon. I suppose we just are not a Cab S region. They are leafy, herbal, generally too thin on the palate, and not in the realm of international CS standards. There are too many other good red grape choices for us to keep banging our heads against this one. It’s not the same situation as Pinot Noir in Oregon where we struggled to identify style and quality over two decades. PN was within its proper viticultural limits in Oregon. I’m not sure that Cabernet Sauvignon, except on the warmest sites and lightest soils in York or Adams counties, will ever consistently perform up to expectations other than our own. Chambourcin, another late grape, is a different story. I believe this was the largest varietal group and many showed the great potential for the grape with good depth and concentration. It’s a tough grape that can go the distance, deep into the season as many of our best growers push it way into October and some grow it on VSP with the same care as vinifera reds. It can deliver if the crop is properly regulated. Oh… and I would be remiss in not mentioning that I enjoyed two Lembergers, a variety I general do not like. These had high fruit tones with lots of berry flavors that were pleasant and captivating along with moderate acidity. They were very well crafted wines. I might need to change my position on this red (well, except for the name).

"The fruit and native wines were very good to excellent and demonstrate our overall proficiency in these categories. I acknowledge and accept the importance of these wines. They are the bread and butter of the industry and it is extremely important to do them well.

"To the winemakers, notes were taken on each wine sampled. This competition has very competent, mostly AWS trained judges and they attend and score consistently from year to year so they know the PA wine landscape well. However, they are not enologists so there may not be too much technical information. No matter if your wine got a gold or no medal you should read the notes about the wine carefully - you may find some pearls of wisdom where you least expect it. We could all use some fresh perspective on our wines, not matter where it comes from. The more you might disagree with a comment or suggestion, the closer you should examine it for something new and interesting about your wine. The notes probably contain valuable information about the wine, particularly from a consumer perspective. While I did not know whose wines I tasted, if you have any questions about the wine you can ask me. Joe and Gary taste every wine so they have the big picture. I can go back to them for their comments, if they remember. Both are among the most experienced tasters I know. If anything you learn from this competition can be translated out to the vineyard, please work on that with yourself or your grower. That really, truly is the best and fastest road to improvement. I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.

"Update: the extension enology position is still vacant. We need an extension enologist in Pennsylvania to work with all of the wineries but especially the new ones. I sincerely believe that is the area where extension help can have the biggest impact, in the cellar. Viticulture tends to take longer to make improvements in the bottle. Our 3 industry associations, the Pennsylvania Wine Association, Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Program, and the Pennsylvania Association of Winegrowers, are working with Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences to fill this critical void in our extension resources. You should offer your support to the leadership of these organizations to make sure this gets done as quickly as possible. It can only help to push the quality of our wines higher and faster.

"Some comments from judges on topics other than wine… as a group, Pennsylvania wineries need to upgrade the quality of their labels including design, color schemes, freshness, cleanliness, etc. Packaging and design are WAY out of my area of expertise except as a consumer. But there is no denying the importance of design to selling wines. One person commented that he would not buy a particular wine because the label looked amateurish and gave the impression that the wine would be also. I admit, most of our wines are hand sold so maybe it isn’t quite as important here but we need to be thinking past our own tasting rooms into the realm of popular and critical wine consumerism. It was also pointed out that too many Pennsylvania wines carry proprietary names and do not indicate what grape varieties are in the wine. This goes against the trend by most wineries to include more information about the wine, not less. Finally, there is always surprise among the judges about how many sweet wines are entered in the competition. This is what it is, of course, and reflects what the marketplace we are in. There is no criticism from me other than if the Pennsylvania wine industry is to establish a regional or national identity for fine wines, we need to both increase and improve our dry wine representation.

"It is my hope that over time we can add greater technical and artistic merit to our high end or snob wines so that the state will gain more critical acclaim among wine critics and consumers. I think we are heading in the right direction. A few more dry, warm and sunny vintages will definitely help us in our journey."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Riedel class Sunday at Crossing Vineyards

One of the few events at regional wineries scheduled at the holiday season will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday at Crossing Vineyards in Washington Crossing, Pa., where the second Wine Tasting in Riedel Crystal in just over a month will take place there. The cost is $99 per person and includes the wine, a Riedel tasting kit, and a 20 percent discount on Riedel purchases.

Asked about the class, winery owner Chrstine Carroll wrote in an e-mail that they've running these Riedel Crystal workshops since 2003.

"The reason we started the workshop is I believe so strongly in the importance of glass shape in the enjoyment of wine," she wrote. "We sell Reidel exclusively in our tasting room. Although others sell glasses in similar shapes, Riedel originated the concept and makes very fine glasses.

"When people attend our class, they try four different glasses in these ways:
Wrong Shaped Generic glass
Right Shaped Riedel Glass
Wrong Shaped Riedel Glass
Right Shaped Riedel Glass

"In five years, we have never had one unconvinced student, including our own sommelier, who thought the whole idea was marketing hype until he took the class. He is now a true believer.

"In addition to the wine, instruction and tasting set, we offer 20 percent off on any Riedel purchase a student makes on the day of the class. The classes can be [and often are] given as gifts."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Helrich: 'We need to be a Merlot region'

Carl Helrich was my first interview for this blog way back in March, some 290 posts ago. I didn’t even check back to determine if the scratchy podcast we did by phone still works. Sure hope it does.

The Allegro Vineyards owner and winemaker has been one of a number of people that I’ve been able to count on when I needed comment or was searching for a story. Tracking down those who have wineries in some cases has been surprisingly difficult; people either refusing to return phone calls or answer e-mails. But Helrich has a perfect score, and there’s a bit of a sentimental feeling about the person who went out on a limb and granted an interview for a blog that had no more than a brief explanation of who I am and a few photos taken during a January visit to Tuscany.

Since then, this blog has grown in scope and expanded to cover almost 60 wineries that exist today in central and eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. More are on the way in 2009.
As for Helrich, his winery became the first in the state to open a shop inside a grocery store; his winery name and wines have become a stopping point for shoppers headin gin and out of the Giant Food Store in Enola. He has developed a relationship with the folks in suburban Philadelphia who are slowly working toward building what they hope will be one of the pre-eminent wineries in the region, which at this point has a name (Karamoor) and grapes that Helrich is expertly turning into wine.

And Helrich continues to make his own delicious line of wines under the Allegro label, topped
by a Bordeaux blend called Cadenza, their flagship wine and a blend that’s among the best in the region. At $35, it’s in line with, among others, the estate wines that Chaddsford produces and the selections coming out of Black Ankle Winery in Mt. Airy, winner of the 2008 Maryland Governor’s Cup competition for its Bordeaux blend called Crumbling Rock.

What makes Allegro a bit different is its decision to generally stay away from staging the concerts and other events that occupy the time of so many wineries. Once the home of a summer series that brought in a different chef to prefer a multi-course meal that paired with Allegro’s wines, Helrich decided to end that for now in 2008 and just focus on winemaking. OK, almost end. They did hold a holiday open house at their Tollgate Village store in York Township on Saturday, Dec. 13, and it was a big success, Helrich said.

"We actually had a great open house," he said by phone the other day. "We rarely do any kind of events. I have some employees I refer to as the ladies of Tollgate and they are these women who kind of run the shop for me. These women just love doing these things, so they’re trying to do little events there and they said, ‘Hey, we’ll get a jazz guitarist and we’ll do some food and we’ll invite people,’ and all of a sudden we jjust sold oodles of wine and we had to call in extra help . . . we’re selling wine left and right. [So while that’s not something we usually do], it was a good thing. I think they are going to do [other] small events like that. I feel like, as long as the [employees] are having fun and we’re making money, then I’m happy. They’re good folks."

Helrich and I talked at length when I was down a few weeks to sample his wines and the Karamoor wines. We bounced from Chardonnay to Merlot to Cabernet Franc, all wines that hit the palate running despite their young ago. In other words, all good stuff. Asked for his sentiments on the 2008 harvest, Helrich said it rivaled 2007, which is considered one of the best-ever in the region. "The beautiful thing that 2008 followed 2007 is that ’07 was an amazing vintage and we learned a lot in making wine and the capability of what we could do with really good grapes," he said, "and in ’08 we had equally good grapes and we had learned from the previous year’s experience. So it was a nice 1-2 tandem, where every year you’re supposed to get a little smarter, we’d like to think, and hopefully we’ll be able to apply what we learned in ’07 and make better wines in 2008."

Talk to winemakers from Harrisburg, Pa., down to Hydes, Md., then northeast to Erwinna, Pa., and north to Bangor, Pa., and you’ll get different theories on what grapes will grow well here and what wines or wines will become the signature for the region. Helrich is never bashful about offering his opinions on the subject, and he believes strongly in two things: the value of blending when it comes to producing great wine, and that Merlot is the grape that should become the most dominant in the mid-Atlantic region.

"Americans love 100 percent, they always think that 100 percent is better than 90 percent, but it’s not really when it comes to wine," he said. "If you can get 1 plus 1 equals 3 because you’ve got two different wines involved and you’ll get something even better out of it. Remember I was talking about the complete whole where you’ve got Merlot . . . with the Cabernet structure around it, you’ve got the aromatics of the Cab Franc added to it; you’ve got this complete wine picture versus having 100 percent Merlot, which will give you a much more monochromatic picture. That's my wine-blending philosophy on things."

That philosophy extends to his feelings about the potential for Merlot here. "I’m a firm believer in the down the road, and we need to be a Merlot region and we’ve got to give up on Cabernet Franc," he said. "We’ve got to probably give up on Cabernet Sauvignon, too."

Helrich noted that [wine grape agent] Mark Chien mentioned in his recent grape newsletter that "he’s actually talking about tasting Pennsylvania wines, and he made the comment that, you know, Cabernet Sauvignon, we should probably give up on this variety, except for maybe Adams and York counties. That was his direct comment. With our wines, Merlot is probably is going to be our good base blend for making good blends down the road, whether it’s going to be 40 to 80 percent or 90 percent of the blends. I’m a big proponent in having a grape or at least a grape style that were can base our industry and our region on, and I think Merlot is going to be it."

Blue Mountain officially opens inside 2 Giants

Several shots of the Hershey store, courtesy of Giant Foods.

I had mentioned a few weeks ago that Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars would become the second winery in Pennsylvania to open a shop inside a grocery store. That came to fruition on Sunday, Dec. 12, when Blue Mountain opened a shop inside a Giant Foods Store at 277 Hershey Road in South Hanover Township.

According to the release sent out by Giant, the wine “store within a store” initially will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. The Blue Mountain Wine Shoppe is approximately 600 square feet and located in the front
of the store.

Editor's note: Blue Mountain opened a second shop last Friday, Dec. 19. This one is inside a Giant store in Willow Grove, in suburban Philly.

Jeff Martin, executive vice president for sales and marketing for Giant, said, “The opening of the Blue Mountain Wine Shoppe enables us to continue to showcase and promote quality products found right here in Pennsylvania’s own back yard. This is the second in-store wine shop we have opened this year as we continue to provide customers with the convenience of purchasing wines from a well-recognized Pennsylvania vintner.”

The Blue Mountain wine list features more than 21 wines with a wide range of wine styles from dry and semi dry to sweet and dessert wines. These wines include Blush, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, Shiraz, Sangria and Ice Wine. Blue Mountain wines range in price from $10 to $45 per bottle. Customers also should be expected to find frequent buyer discounts as well as case discounts and monthly specials. All wine sales will occur in the Blue Mountain location with Blue Mountain staff.

Blue Mountain winemaker and proprietor Vickie Greff said that “our primary goal is to consistently produce world class wines that are recognized throughout the United State and world. In addition, our customers receive friendly and professional service from our staff. We strive to treat our customers as we would like to be treated ourselves.”

Located in Lehigh Valley in New Tripoli, Blue Mountain Vineyards has been in business for more than 23 years and is a member of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail. Planted in 1986 by Joe and Vickie Greff, the vineyards at Blue Mountain have grown from 5 acres to more than 50 acres. Blue Mountain Vineyards has received regional, national and international recognition for the quality of its wines. In April 2008, the wine trail was granted the designation of an American Viticulture Area, which allows Blue Mountain to label their wines as estate bottled.

This is the second wine shop within a Giant. Allegro Vineyards from southern York County opened a shop in early November inside the Enola store at 310 East Penn Dr. Owner Carl Helrich said recently that sales at the shop, completely staffed by Allegro employees, have been excellent and that he has seen a particular interest there in the winery's dry wines, even moreso than what they sell at the winery.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Galer lays out vision for both sites

Talked to Brad Galer a week or more ago; not that there’s a rush to get the post done, since he’s probably a year and a half or more from opening for business.

But that doesn’t mean that work isn’t getting done on his pair of properties, one that sits adjacent to Longwood Gardens in Chester County and the other that’s about a mile and a half away. Galer and his wife bought the one plot of land a couple of years ago, then later purchased what used to be Folly Hill Vineyards.

He had his first harvest this fall and plans more plantings next year and in 2010, including the white grape called
Albarino, which Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., has incorporated into its vineyards quite successfully. Among the consultants he has developed a relationship with is Lucie Morton, the acclaimed viticulturalist whose name is being connected with the best East Coast wineries with more frequency. And he and wife Lele have settled on the names that their dreams will morph into: The winery will be called Galer Estates and the other will go by The Vineyard at Red Lion. Those who know that area shouldn’t be surprised, since a Red Lion Inn used to open its doors to visitors some years ago.

Brad said they already have architectural rendering for what he called a state-of-the-art winery that they’re hoping to have up and running by harvest of 2010 on the site that abuts Longwood Gardens. “Those were done by a local architect [Wayne Simpson], trying to blend Chester County and Tuscany,” he said. “The actual guts and functionality of it was helped with a winemaker consultant [John Levenberg] I’m using who graduated a decade ago from [University of California, Davis] and trained in Napa and now has his own winery in Long Island. So we’re hoping to have that up and running by then. We’ve made plans to have catwalks in it so we can actually have tours, and a new wine tasting room.”

The initial plan, he said, was to just develop the property that backs up to where he’s living now, one that features a distinctive hill. That’s where the grapes initially went in, following a number of suggestions by Morton, and where he expects to fill the five plantable acres over the next two years.

“So those were the plans,” he said, “nice and slow, take it easy. But Folly Hill was on the market for a couple of years. My wife fell in love with it and, also the issue here, since this vineyard is here at our home, we didn’t want people driving up; we not those type people to have people on our property day in and day out. And, so . . . long story short, we ended up buying it. It’s right near Longwood Gardens. In fact, we didn’t realize it at the time we bought it, at one point in time the property was actually owned by Longwood Gardens.”

That former Folly Hill site, Galer said, has had grapes planted on it since 1998, containing about 2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 acres of Chardonnay. “They’re California clones, which do fine but they’re not probably optimal for this area, it’s been found out subsequently. And there was wide spacing. So we completely altered [to cane training], based on Lucie’s recommendation. We did some major pruning in February; actually my vineyard manager [Jan Grimes] did most of it . . . we did some major hair cutting on them. This year the plan, we saw which vines didn’t appear to be reducing very well, looked sickly, and we’re starting to pull about 300 vines and we’re starting to interplant at least with the Chardonnay. And we’ll do that next year. We already have that marked out.”

During the phone interview you could hear an occasional dog barking in the background. There are seven; the couple has three children, one at Bennington and the others in middle school and high school. Galer, whose primary occupation is in pharmaceuticals, said he and his wife considered moving back to northern California and opening a winery in Sonoma or Napa. “The kids rejected it,” he said, thus turning their priorities to doing something similar in Chester County. As for the idea of even getting into the business, that was partially a result of his doing a lot of traveling for his pharmaceutical business. "And really enjoy nice wine, and we love visiting Napa. And living in Seattle at a time when the Washington [state] wine industry was just taking off. And when I left the job that brought me here, doing consultant work and it was a little slow, she said, ‘You need a hobby.’” He laughed. "OK, I'll start a vineyard."

So that hobby will begin to take shape on both properties, both involving as much the development of an art center as a home to excellent wines. Galer said there was one little stone spring house on the grounds of the former Folly Hill winery that “was basically a separate entity overlooking the vineyard, and that was one of his quote bed and breakfast rooms. The others were in the house, and we don’t want anything in the house. So the vision and the hope . . . is to have six to 10 different independent units throughout the vineyard; so they’re stone cabins basically, but nice.

“The other vision, and my wife is an artist, and she knows a lot of local artisans, is to have within each of these bed and breakfast suites the furniture and all the artwork all from local artisans. Actually on our house property with the new vineyard, we converted big horse stables; [located] right below the hill where the vineyard is there were about 10 horse stables, we basically converted that into an art commune for my wife and her friends. So that’s already up and functioning. We have one area for furniture making, one area for mosaics and painting, another for metal work. So hopefully a lot of the art and furniture that will be at the B&B and also within the wine-tasting area will be from local artists produced right here.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Trezise responds to NY plan to end funding

Mentioned the other day about the "earthquake" earliert his week that shook the walls of The New York Wine & Grape Foundation, as Gov. David Patterson said he plans to eliminate all funding to the foundation as one of many measures designed to reduce the impact of the current economic meltdown.

I asked for comments from the directors of other state associations, but to this point haven't received any outside of a note from Jim Trezise, the head of the New York foundation, who said he wanted time to collect his thoughts and pour them out in the weekly e-letter that I receive and occasionally have shared with you.

Trezise's reaction just dropped into the mailbox, so let me simply copy and paste it and let you read. And as soon as I receive comments from other state wine association directors, I'll be happy to share those, too.
CAUTION: This is a very long edition of The Wine Press, and so get a big glass of New York wine to help you work through it.

NEW YORK is a mess. The state is in a financial crisis, probably more so than any other state because Wall St. is the epicenter of the problems plaguing the national and global economies. This week Governor David Paterson unveiled his budget proposal for the next fiscal year with the intent of addressing a $15 billion deficit with a series of broad-based budget cuts and revenue generators. In terms of those directly affecting the grape and wine industry, the major proposals included eliminating funding for the New York Wine Grape Foundation (that’s us), permitting the sale of wine in grocery stores, and nearly tripling the wine excise tax.

I do not envy Governor Paterson, nor do I blame him. He inherited his position abruptly and unexpectedly when former Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned, and also inherited what has become New York’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He provided accurate early warnings with clear vision and refreshing candor. His overall budget proposal largely spreads the pain among the population and programs, even in areas like education where he has always been a very strong proponent. How would YOU like a job where doing what you think is fair and right basically offends everyone you’re trying to serve?

A budget proposal is just that—a proposal—and there are many steps and several months before a final budget will become law. The Governor has the option to amend his proposal within a certain time frame based on public input. Then the legislature (Senate and Assembly) will offer their versions, and negotiations begin. In Albany, it’s referred to as “three men in a room”—the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the Assembly—who traditionally shape a budget of well over $100 billion that affects all New Yorkers. Further complicating this year’s deliberations is a Senate in disarray after Republicans lost the majority to the Democrats, who are now fighting amongst themselves for actual leadership to the point where the Republican may in fact retain control. Ah, New York, ya gotta love it. We don’t know where all this will end up, but here are some current perspectives on the key issues affecting our industry.

FUNDING ELIMINATION would likely lead to the end of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, and our ability to support the industry through research and promotion. Few people understand that the money we receive goes right out the door to Cornell University for a comprehensive research program; a dozen wine trails throughout the state; five regional branding groups; a cooperative advertising program for individual wineries; a wine competitions program; agencies that create promotion programs for Concord grape juice, table grapes and wine in New York City and across the state; a public television series on New York wines and foods; educational programs on grapes and grape products; and much more. We were created by 1985 State legislation as a private, not-for-profit organization to centralize and coordinate research and promotion programs statewide. That’s what we do.

Our core budget since 1985 has been State matching funds requiring equal or greater private sector contributions, and providing the incentive for that. In the past few years we’ve had supplemental funding for several new initiatives including a “Total Quality Focus & Sustainability” research program conducted by Cornell, along with many of the promotion programs cited above. Traditionally, the Governor has included the matching funds in his budget proposal, and the legislature add the supplemental funds. Governor Paterson’s proposal has nothing, for the first time in 25 years. (Our friends in the apple, maple, and other agricultural sectors also got nothing, so we are not being “targeted”). Ironically, this proposal occurred a week after Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker (a great guy and supporter) received the final report of the Wine Grape Task Force he created, which recommended strengthening the marketing and promotion programs.

Zeroing us out seems like a logical way to same money, but in the end it may actually cost the state a lot (as our British friends say, “Penny wise and pound foolish”). A 2005 economic impact study by respected wine economist Barbara Insel showed that the New York grape and wine industry annually generates over $3.4 billion of economic benefits for the State of New York. Our budget request was $3 million—or less than 1/1,000th of that—as a way to help us grow the industry so we can contribute even more investment, jobs, and tax revenues to the state economy. The Foundation was created specifically in response to an economic crisis in the grape and wine industry, which subsequently has become the fastest growing industry in the agriculture and tourism sectors and is one of the few bright spots in New York’s overall economy. A major reason has been the longstanding financial partnership between the public and private sectors, with clear benefits to both. That partnership is now in question.

Unfortunately, our industry does not have a sufficient private sector funding mechanism to sustain our organization and its work on their behalf. (By contrast, our friends in the apple industry have a marketing order self-assessment mechanism ensuring the survival of their organization and its core programs, so state funding on top of that is just icing on the cake, and its absence doesn’t threaten the association’s existence.) That is something we’re working on, but it certainly won’t be in place by the time this year’s State budget is finalized. So The Wine Press may soon become a relic of the past.

WINE IN GROCERY STORES will be World War III in Albany, making the 2005 pitched battle over direct interstate shipment look like a neighborhood fist fight. Governor Paterson has proposed it as a way to raise an estimated $105 million to help alleviate the looming deficit. The war will basically be between the grocery stores and the liquor stores, with some “collateral damage” along the way. (In case you haven’t been watching the news for the past several years, collateral damage means innocent victims.)

(The New York Wine & Grape Foundation (that’s us) does not take a position on this issue. We are basically a research and promotion organization, with our promotion program supporting whatever means are available to legally sell New York wines. Our “New York Wine Month” programs have involved our wholesaler partners, as well as liquor stores and restaurants throughout the state who agreed to feature New York wines. If wine were to be sold in grocery stores, funding for the Foundation would be even more critical since this is a new market where New York wines need to become competitive.)

Besides the grocery and liquor stores, other combatants will be the New York State Wine Grape Growers, which represents grape farmers who have advocated this issue for decades as a way to increase the demand for their grapes and sustainability of their farms; New York Farm Bureau and Long Island Farm Bureau, for the same reasons.

A little history is instructive. This is the first time that this issue has had sponsorship by a Governor since 1984, at that time Mario Cuomo who primarily wanted to help solve the state’s grape crisis. He proposed two years of ONLY New York wines in grocery stores, then (if the world didn’t fall apart) all domestic wines, then after another two years all wines. (At that time, this probably would have been constitutional, but now is not due to the Supreme Court’s “Bacchus” decision in June of that year that bans discrimination despite the 21st Amendment.) Governor Cuomo also included incentives for liquor stores like the sale of party snacks and other items to increase their potential sales. They didn’t bite. But what really killed his bill was the greed of the grocery store lobby at that time. I was a registered lobbyist seeking that bill (I’m not now), and one morning met for breakfast at the Hilton (now Crowne Plaza) with the president of the grocery store lobby (Charlie Mack), who said they would have to oppose the bill because they weren’t willing to trade potato chips for New York wines. I choked on my scrambled eggs. Otherwise, there may have been wine in New York grocery stores for the past 25 years. (There are now smarter people there, but this is a good lesson for them to keep in mind during the upcoming negotiations.) Ultimately what happened in 1984 was that “wine coolers” (mixtures of wine with orange and other fruit juices) were allowed to be sold in grocery stores (as well as liquor stores) because they were a new product (the typical California invention by a couple guys in a garage) and it wasn’t clear under New York law where they could be sold. Bottom line: That year, 25,000 tons of New York grapes were sold that otherwise would have left hanging on the vine—5 times as much as forecast—which literally saved many grape farms. Still, it was a pitched battle, with the liquor lobby fighting to the finish.

So what has changed in 25 years? The number of liquor stores has declined through attrition (i.e., without wine in grocery stores) from about 4500 to 2400, serving a population of about 19 million. The liquor lobby is no longer represented by my friend and former formidable opponent, Mr. Bill McDevitt, an honorable gentleman who is ailing. The grocery store lobby now has more astute leadership who might let liquor stores sell potato chips. New York’s grape farmers are doing better, but could certainly use a boost in the current surplus condition with lower grape prices. Washington State (where wine is sold in grocery stores) has zoomed past New York as the #2 wine state, as has Oregon (grocery sales also) in terms of the number of wineries. And New York is in a financial crisis like none before (Mario Cuomo’s primary concern was the grape economy; David Paterson’s is the whole economy).

In short, this is all about money (surprise, surprise). The Governor needs it, the grocery stores want it, and the liquor stores don’t want to lose it. And all views are justified. Even though this is all about money, there will be many other “moral” justifications advanced by lobbyists on both sides. The Governor’s dilemma is obvious, so let’s focus on the other two (with the standard opposing arguments in parentheses where appropriate).
The grocery stores see this as a way to diversify their product lines, offer new convenience to their consumers like that afforded in two-thirds of all states, and help offset the impact of some negative measures like an expanded bottle bill.

(Opposing views: Grocery stores already sell beer as well as “wine coolers”, along with hundreds of food products, so they don’t need anything else. New York consumers are used to the current system, which has been in effect for 75 years and is working well. Grocers are thriving, and should be responsible for costs to the environment of the products they sell without taking business from liquor stores.)

The liquor stores see this as their death knell. Since the Repeal of Prohibition 75 years ago, they have had a monopoly on the sale of spirits and wine, based on a classic New York “deal” at that time, and can sell very little else. (My footnote: Recently a major liquor/wine store in the Rochester area was cited for selling wine carafes. Good grief: Why not?! So many of the laws and regulations in this state are truly stupid.) Many stores are located in or near shopping malls with grocery stores which would put the liquor stores out of business if they could sell wine. New York wineries would be hurt because the grocery stores would carry only the big California and imported brands. Kids would be buying wine illegally in grocery stores, and it would increase drunk driving. New Yorkers are used to the system, and are not clamoring for change.

(Opposing views: Just because the system is old doesn’t mean it’s right, smart, or good for New York’s economy. In states like California where wine has been sold in grocery stores for 75 years, liquor stores which know their niche and customers continue to thrive, often near grocery stores which also sell wine. The number of New York liquor stores has steadily declined without any competition, and New York consumers deserve more options and convenience. California, Washington, and Oregon wineries of all sizes have thrived with grocery store sales because there is a diversity of wines mirroring that in liquor stores, but with far greater volume. Grocery stores already have effective systems in place to prevent underage purchase of alcohol. Just across the border from Albany, Vermont has sold wine in grocery stores for decades, with no noticeable effects on underage drinking, drunk driving, or a culture of derelicts. New Yorkers may be used to the system, but that doesn’t mean they like it, especially those that travel to other states and witness the more expansive purchasing opportunities.)

These, and many other, arguments and counterarguments will fill the halls of Albany during the next few months, destroying forests for paper used for memoranda of opposition or support. Having been through this before (but not this time), it will be interesting for me to see if anyone comes up with anything new as a rationale, one way or the other.

EXCISES TAXES is a simpler, and shorter, subject. Governor Paterson proposes to raise the excise tax on wine from 19 to 51 cents per gallon as a way to raise about $53 million.
Basically, this is a “sin tax” for making a “sinful” product, and a simple political target on both federal and state levels. Excise taxes are levied on all beverages containing alcohol (wine, beer and spirits) at different levels, with the spirits industry always trying to achieve “equivalency” and in this year making some progress. (Governor Paterson has proposed major increases in wine and beer excises taxes, but not spirits.)

Excise tax increases ultimately hurt grape farmers. The best example is from 1991, when the first President Bush, after vowing “Read my lips, no new taxes”, raised wine excise taxes (but not beer) from 17 cents to $1.07 a gallon. Literally overnight, that killed the category of “wine coolers” which had rescued many New York grape farmers due to Mario Cuomo’s initiative. All of the major “wine cooler” manufacturers—such as Bartles & Jaymes (Gallo) and Seagram—and others connected with wineries immediately switched to a malt-based formula, drying up the market for grapes.

For New York wineries, the near tripling of the excise tax in budget would be devastating. It means a multiplied cost for something which provides no value or return, compared with winemaking equipment, employees, or actual wine production. Despite common perceptions, the wine industry is not wealthy. And with this year’s economic ups and downs, especially with gas price fluctuations, leading to a downturn in growth already, this proposed increase would multiply their “sin tax” for a product that is not only not sinful, but actually healthful to the state economy and to individuals.

Hundreds of scientific and medical studies from around the world have shown that regular moderate wine consumption has significant health benefits for most people. So decreasing consumption caused by higher taxes would ultimately lead to increased health care costs.

This is one issue where all segments of trade—grape growers, wineries, wholesaler, retailers, and restaurants—actually all agree, as would consumers if they really understood that it’s going to increase the prices they have to pay for wine. Excise taxes are paid by the wineries (or wholesalers representing them in a state), but by the time the product reaches the shelf, the base tax has essentially doubled. The wineries, wholesalers, and retailers are in no position to absorb the new tax, which means it will be passed on to consumers.

In addition, like the elimination of Foundation funding, it is truly counterproductive for the State of New York, despite the initial assumption that it would increase revenues. In a study commissioned by Wine Institute relative to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed wine tax increase, wine economist Barbara Insel of Stonebridge Research showed that it would have a negative effect on the state’s coffers by decreasing the sales of wine, creating job losses at wineries, and reducing revenues for the State and local governments.

For the last word on this topic, at the end of this Wine Press I will leave you with a couple thoughts from Thomas Jefferson, who is turning over in his grave at the concept of excise tax increases.

CONCLUSION (on the budget): Foundation Funding Elimination…Wine in Grocery Stores…Excise Tax Increases…2009 will certainly be an interesting year in Albany. One thing we know for sure is that, however much most of New York suffers, it will be a banner year for lobbyists. .

Finally, in case there is not another Wine Press before the end of this year or thereafter, I want to wish you all, regardless of what or how you celebrate, the most wonderful holidays and a very Happy New Year.

All the best,

Jim Trezise
“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.”

“I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens.”

A Votre Santé To Your Health

Saturday, December 20, 2008

VaLa lists new wine availability

Intercepting these e-letter notes from VaLa Vineyards in Avondale, Pa., and sharing them with everyone.
Reserve tastings
We are now offering semi-private reserve tastings in the Galleria. These tastings feature what we feel are some of our most interesting and age-worthy wines, as well as, the occasional Library release, or other surprises. This month we are featuring the new La Prima Donna 2007, Mahogany 2005, and Siranetta 2006. If you are interested, just let us know at the
time of your visit. These tastings are held on Saturdays and Sundays. The tasting room is open every day this month except for Christmas Day.

New wine releases:
La Prima Donna 2007
Malvasia Bianca, Pinot Grigio, Tocai, Viognier, Petit Manseng

Fioretti 2007 - Batch II 79 total cases produced.
Viognier, Petit Manseng, Bianca, Tocai

La Siranetta 2006 - 214 total cases produced.
Syrah, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Carmine

Wine alerts:
Cristallo 2006
Sangiovese & Cabernet Franc

Cedar 2005
Nebbiolo & Corvina Veronese
Nebbiolo 2001 - 2004 Notes
For those of you not holding onto the first Va La Nebbiolo's as collector's items as some of you apparently are, it is time to start drinking up these guys. Remember, these first vintages are very light and delicate, almost rose-like. We recommend serving in pinot noir style crystal, and pair with antipasta dishes, prosciutto, veal, chicken, or pork. The very limited Black Label releases were made using the ancient rancio techniques and present more bing cherries and leathery qualities.

VaLa does not have a lower-end line, per se. Wines start at $28. If you stop, expect a mix of whites and reds with names you've never heard before and with distinct fragrances and tastes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Event Grapevine: Dec. 19-21

Most wineries have wrapped up their events for the year, concentrating on retail sales as the holidays approach. One exception is
Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md. For those who missed the event last weekend or liked it so much they want to return, the winery will hold a More Cookies and Wine Sale this weekend. It wil run Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Bring the kids to frost sugar cookies. Enjoy a cup of hot mulled wine (the kids get hot chocolate) and pick out your case of holiday wine at the “first 100 days” discount price of $100. We’ll be featuring gift items from Moose Ridge Alpacas, The Pampered Chef, and jewelry by Silpada and crafts by Victor DiPace.

Oh, and tell Debbie and Al that I said hello.

Also, you can leave the winery and step next store to Patricia Della for a gourmet wine dinner. The five courses are fixed at $50, plus tax and gratuity. Here’s the menu.

- Scallops with a key lime gastrique

- Butternut squash bisque
- Mixed greens with candied pecans, dried apricots, and apple slices with maple vinaigrette

- Macadamia nut encrusted lamb chops with pineapple BBQ sauce
- Fillet mignon filled with herb goat cheese and served with balsamic reduction
- Bailey’s ice cream with Kahlúa whipped cream

The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m., by reservation. For reservations, call 410.357.5078.

Otherwise, here’s what’s happening this weekend and beyond.


Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Open noon to 6 p.m. throughout the holidays, except for Christmas and New Year’s,

Clover Hill Winery, Breinigsville: Sparkling wine tasting, Dec. 27-31, all locations,

Clover Mill Farm Vineyards & Winery, Chester Springs: Open again, Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m., through December,

Country Creek Winery, Telford: Local string trio, Saturday, 1 to 3 p.m., 133 Cressman Road,

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: Riedel Crystal Wine-Tasting workshop ($$), Sunday, Dec. 28, 2 p.m.,

Hauser Estate Winery, Biglerville: New winery open, Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; Candle Light Friday/Happy Hour, the last Friday of every month, 5 to 8 p.m.; satellite shop opened at 17 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg,

Kreutz Creek Vineyards, West Grove: Music at West Chester tasting room, 44 E. Gay St., Fridays and Saturdays, 6 to 9 p.m.,

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: Music every Friday (6 to 9 p.m.), Saturday (2 to 5 p.m.) and Sunday (2 to 5 p.m.); holiday brunch ($$), Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,

Naylor Winery, Stewartstown: December Weekends, Fridays and Saturdays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), and Sundays (noon to 5 p.m.); cookies, cheeses, fruits and hot spiced wine,

North Wales Winery and Tasting Room, Montgomeryville: Open noon to 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20-24, 26-28, 30-31; Bonnie Hauck’s artwork show, Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.,

Penns Woods Winery, Chadds Ford: Tasting room hours, Wednesdays-Fridays, noon until dark, Saturdays, 11 a.m. until dark, Sundays, noon until dark,

Va La Vineyards, Avondale: New holiday hours starting Dec. 1, weekdays, 12:01 to 5:27 p.m., Saturday and Sundays, 12:02 to 5:48 p.m.,

VyneCrest Vineyards & Winery, Breinigsville: Christmas open house, Friday til 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Christkindlmarkt in historic Bethlehem, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,

Wycombe Vineyards, Furlong:
Tasting and sales rooms will be open Friday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.,


Black Ankle Winery, Mt. Airy: Open for business, winner of Maryland Governor’s Cup in 2008; winter hours start Dec. 1, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., other times by appointment; festive afternoon in the vineyard, Saturday, Dec. 6, 3 to 5 p.m.,
information on winery at this link

Boordy Vineyards, Hydes: Celtic Christmas Weekends ($$), every weekend in December, winery link

Frederick Cellars, Frederick: Holiday Shopping for Guys, tonight until 9 p.m., Saturday, noon to 9 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m.; Holiday Troubadour Music by John Durant, Sunday, 4 to 6 p.m.; plus in-store free wine tasting, Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m., at Trout Liquors in Braddock Heights, and get a special 10 percent discount on the wines being poured that day. Call the winery at 301.668.0311 or Trout Liquors at 301.371.4400 for details,
winery link

Linganore Winecellars/Berrywine Plantation, Mt. Airy: Simmering Holiday Wines / Food Pairing, daily through December ($$), sample simmering, spiced grape and apple wines, along with inspired holiday food pairings, Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.,
winery link

Woodhall Wine Cellars, Parkton: More Cookies and Wine Sale, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.,
winery link

Other MARYLAND winery events can be found at
this link, VIRGINIA events at this link and New York events at this link

$$ – Admission charge

NY wine foundation cutback threatened

My "partner" from sent an e-mail out after reading in yesterday's Rochester, N.Y, paper that the state's governor is thinking of significantly cutting back its support to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. For an Eastern wine industry that's still comparatively young, at least when held up to California, this is bad news indeed. I'm going to post McIntyre's note with the link to his blog, then will post any reaction from winery association officials as I get them.
Dear fellow Regional Wine Writers

In case you didn't see it, Thursday's Rochester Democrat & Chronicle carried a report on NY Gov. Patterson's proposal to slash state support for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

While understandable in the current economic climate, such a move would have important implications - not only for the NY wine industry, but for wineries across the country. I've posted an item on my blog about it, with links to the story itself as well as to the Governor's Web site.My concern - shared by Jeff Siegel, my co-conspirator on - is that other states may follow suit and cut their support for local wine industries.

Here's how you can help:

Post about this on your blogs, too, so your readers will know how the NY cuts might affect wineries in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan or elsewhere.

Post a comment on my blog (and on any other blogs where you see this issue raised - let's cross pollinate!) with TrackBacks or whatever blog-toy you can think of.

E-mail Jim Tresize of the NYW&GF to voice your support (I've cc'd him on this e-mail, so you'll have his address).

Send your blog posts to Governor Patterson - show him that the Foundation's work resonates outside the state.

Encourage your readers to do likewise.Given the economic situation, we probably won't have much effect. But I'm certain we'll have no effect whatsoever if we don't speak up.I'll be opening a New York wine this weekend, and raising a glass in support of the NY Wine & Grape Foundation.

Dave McIntyre