Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rule No. 1 as a winery: Do what you're good at

Much of the fun of the blog, done in this format, is initiating the conversation and then allowing the winemaker or proprietor to run with it. A few weeks ago, chatting with Anthony Vietri of Va La Winery in Avondale, Pa., we got on the subject of how all of his wines have nontraditional names and whether that dissuades people from asking for advice because their tack on winemaking is so unique.

“I’m not saying what we do is for everybody or anybody,” he begins slowly, his thoughts then breaking into a sprint. “It’s literally like if somebody comes to our vineyard and they look at our spacing. I say to them, right to their face, there’s the fence. If I were to own the property on the other side of that fence, the spacing would be different, so it’s basically a matter that you gotta do what works for your spot. That has to do with the varieties, too. You know, we’re very very, very, very, very small, I’m not good at the big things, my family’s not. We’re good at the little things. We like to do that. We like to get to know people. We like to do it that way, but there are other people that are good at completely different things than we are.

“I don’t really like hearing all that dogma we hear in our industry, that, you know, like, ah, well, you should be growing this and you should be doing that. It’s really up to the individuals, you know. If someone wants to grow the best Chambourcin there is, then that’s what they should be doing. That’s what its all about, it’s what feeds your soul. You shouldn’t be going around saying, ‘Oh, so and so is growing this, so I want to try that.’ It doesn’t really work that way. It’s like when people ask me varieties, I’m like, seriously, don’t even waste time on it.

“It’s really about the kind of wine you want to make, then the ingredients to that wine will fall in place,” he continues. “But if you go the other way around, you’re just kind of just chasing your tail. First things first [ask] what do we want to do here, what kind of winery do we want to do? If you’re . . . Chaddsford, then it makes complete sense to have the varieties that people recognize right away [because of their size and scope]. So it would be crazy not to.”

The representatives from the six -- soon to be seven -- members of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail get together minimum of once a month, says president Vietri. “The meetings that I run are five and six hours long and we spend [that much time] because we all work so hard we never see each other. I know there’s others that get together and I admire that, but its just not something that I can do, but when we do the mettings, that's why the meetings are so long. We really enjoy being together, it's a good time to get work done, [but] we also get to catch up with each other’s families and what’s going on.”

Lehigh Valley book: A recipe for success

Jan Landis says there are a number of reasons the Wine Trail of Lehigh Valley’s cook book has been a big success. There’s the second printing of another 1,000 after the first 1,500 sold out. And the fact the proceeds go back into the wine trail and aid in the fight against breast cancer. And the many compliments from those who have paged through the book with its hard cover and spiral binding and lauded one of the recipes. “It’s very gratifying,” says the co-owner of Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery, taking some time out yesterday to chat. “People will come in and say, ‘I tried that meatball recipe of yours and I really loved that,’ or ‘I tried your chile recipe; it was great. To have people share these with people . . . I think we’re the only wine trail to have done a cookbook.”

But the best reason could be the fact that no one has yet reported a recipe with any noticeable flaw. “We used just under 200 recipes,” says Landis, who served as the trail’s editor of the book, “and, this will sound funny, but the thing I’m most proud of is that not one person has come back and said, ‘I tried that and I think you’re off on an ingredient,’ which is phenomenal for a cookbook.”

The cookbook sells for $11.99 and available at all nine wineries of the Lehigh Valley trail. The original lot was printed with grant money from the state Department of Agriculture. Created as part of the trail’s 10th anniversary last year, Landis said they already have gone through most of the second printing. It came about after years of these wineries using a number of these recipes for the annual March Madness Passport program. “We do a food pairing every weekend, all nine of us, and instead of just saying I think I’ll make roast almonds, we actually try and pair something with a particular wine, especially if we have a new release or something like that.

“So we always been very food and wine conscious, and so what we did was, I asked each winery to send 20 of their recipes, a lot of which we have used for march madness in the past, and a lot of time they are recipes for a big group, so we had to modify and bring them down for a small crowd, edit them down to put them in the cookbook. And they were in all different categories.”

That includes everything from appetizers to salads, soups to entrees, desserts to drinks.
“And we use each winery as a divider page,” says Landis, “so one would be appetizers, let’s say, and we have a nice picture of the winery and then a little write-up about that particular winery. And in the back we [include something on] wine and cheese pairings, PA preferred products, what PA preferred means, a little segment on Chambourcin, which we’be kind of adopted as the grape of the Lehigh valley, and in the recipes themselves we also, in the introduction of a lot of them, we give little anecdotes, you know, this was used during March Madness or worked well with this particular wine or something like that.. So it’s a very homey, it’s not just a collection of recipes. There’s a lot of homey touches. It’s a nice kind of story of the whole wine trail and it’s a quite handsome book.”

Landis says that anyone wandering along the trail during March Madness will see some of those recipes being put to use at the various wineries. Someday, she says, she’d like to take them to a bigger stage and provide even more exposure.

“I’d love to have a table a the Farm Show,” she says. “We’re talked about it. “Have some cooking demonstrations at the Farm Show or at least have the cookbook there. I think that would be really neat.”