Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Brandywine trail reports 500 for first weekend

Stopped in to a busy Chaddsford Winery on Sunday en route to my job. In the midst of the first weekend of Harvest Fest, the lobby and adjoining rooms were bustling. So I snapped some photos, bought some wine and headed to Philly.

Karen Cline, of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, just wrote to say that despite the rainy weather, trail member wineries reported seeing at least 500 people over the weekend.

This coming weekend, she added, Harvest Fest will conclude for 2008. With the predicted sunny weather and moderate temperatures, turnout is predicted to be higher. Other than wine tastings, visitors to the Harvest Fest can expect music of all types --- rock, blues, folk, soul, jazz, and swing, wine cellar tours, barrel tastings, art shows, hayrides through the vineyard, and great food.

The Harvest Fest is a Passport event. Passport holders can visit all the wineries on the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail from Harvest Fest through Dec. 30. To obtain Passports, visit the member winery of your choice and ask to purchase. Passports are $25 and entitle the holder to wine tastings and a commemorative wine glass. (The sale of Passports ends on Oct. 5.)

In some spots, a bit of weather havoc reigns

So you want to be a winery owner, eh, where images of Napa Valley dance in your head and your vocabulary adopts words such as vintages and . . . malicious intent.

Huhhh? “This is my 29th vintage and I feel like there aren’t any more cards in the deck that I haven’t seen,” Rob Deford of
Boordy Vineyards was saying by phone last night. “Maybe a funnel cloud, I don’t know.”

And actually he’s wondering if that’s what he did see amid the cloudburst that had just stopped pounding his vineyard, located about 15 minutes north of the Baltimore Beltway in Hydes, Md. "We’ve had an unbelievable drought down here. Figuratively, of course. We were pummeled by rain again. We got 3 inches here this past weekend and we just got another deluge. It almost looked like a funnel cloud.”

It’s a fact of life in the wine-making business that every year will pack a few surprises. The excellent ones, such as 2007, are more the exception than the rule, certainly on the East Coast. That was one to savor. This one has thrown its share of curves. “It’s been a challenging year, to say the least,” Deford continues. “But we’re playing chicken with nature, which is what we do in difficult years. And we’re holding and trying to get the fruit past the point . . . it picks up water when it rains and then we have to let it dry out, but each time we do sort of step up a little bit in fruit quality if we can get those four drying days after the rain. And I know some people have picked quite awhile ago. We’re still holding on to Chardonnay . We haven’t even picked that yet.

“So we’re trying to play it as long as we can. Looks like we’re going to come out with good but not great fruit, I would say this year. But you never know until the shouting’s over, I mean, there’s more than just the sugar to look at. It’s overall profile of ripeness and, you know, I’ve seen worse years and I’ve surely seen better, like last year, where it was just about perfect.”

Deford says they have only pulled off the Pinot Grigio and Seyval Blanc grapes so far. What remains are the Chard and vinifera reds and Chambourcin. So still plenty of work to get done before the landscape changes into its late fall costume. “It’s a little scary because the question is, ‘Will we get to it before the foliage gives up the ghost?'” he says. “We’re hoping, if we can hang in there, really the key is, will the leaves continue to function. In a wet year they tend to get a little more assaulted by late season fungus diseases and crinkle up, and any kind of a frost, of course is the end. But right now the foliage is looking pretty decent, and if conditions permit, we’ll hold on right through the frost and, in the case of the reds, we’ll let the leaves get frosted and then we’ll pick the fruit after that.”

The action isn’t all centered in the vineyard, of course. Previous harvests have been bottled and released, and two recent one have Deford effusive in his praise. One is what they call a Landmark Reserve that blends Cabernet Sauvignon,
Petit Verdot and Merlot from Boordy’s vineyards in western Maryland. “That’s getting more bottle-aged now and it’s just a very rich, a very deep wine. And then the other is the Chardonnay from ’07, which is the first year that we’ve gotten some of the new clones into the wine. We have quite a few clones in the field now. One of them I’m really excited about is called a Muscat clone. It’s a Chardonnay, but it’s got this amazing almost Muscat orange, Muscat aroma. The clusters are very small, the yields are very light. It gets quite sweet, and that was last year’s ’07. That [was] the first year we got that into the wine and it’s out there now and it’s just a delicious wine.

“Landmark is an ’05,” he continues, “which was another really good year. So we’re sort of in that wonderful bridge where we have a nice aged red from ‘05 and we have some whites from ‘07, and those two were just superb years.”

Which circles back to this year and its headaches, although Deford wasn’t calling to complain. It just came up in the conversation as we chatted about the vagaries of the business, particularly when it comes to Mother Nature. It seemingly had started off well across the region, but got nastier as the summer progressed. Chaddsford Winery in southeatern Pennsylvania found that out last month when a hailstorm destroyed the grapes in its estate vineyard. The summary of the damage and its impact is covered thoroughly in
this winemaker report that adds a special and personal dimension to the winery’s Web site.

How this year’s growing season treated the various vineyards, Deford continues, “depends where you were. The weather has been sort of sporadic and spotty. We for years have been sorry for people who have been hit by hail. And this year we got hit by hail, and that was one of those bizarre, freak things. It took about 60 percent of our crop in our western Maryland vineyard. We got absolutely hammered, and that was just one of those freak things that, it had almost a knife edge precision to it. It went through like a mower and it took all the crop in one of our vineyard and about half in another one. And then if we had been over 20 yards, it wouldn’t have taken anything.

"So in that respect, ’08 has been a year that has almost been,” he says, pausing and then laughing a bit to figuratively keep from crying, “let’s say sort of malicious in intent from time to time.”

Linganore schedule include Jazz Festival

Linganore Winecellars in Mt. Airy, Md., reports in its October newsletter that 'A Celebration of Colors' will be held from Oct. 1-17 and Oct. 20-31. You can "celebrate the harvest, enjoy the spectacular fall colors while sampling our latest releases, our new vintage of Melody, our dessert Riesling and many other wines from our finest grape, fruit, honey, and hot wine classic. Admission is free to this event. Tasters should bring photo ID."

The other two days in the month are reserved for the Vintage Jazz Wine Festival. Gates will open at 11 a.m. both that Saturday and Sunday, the 18th and 19th. The cost is $15 for ages 21 and over, $10 for ages 18 to 20, and free for those under the age of 18. An e-release notes that "our outdoor festivals feature artisans and craftsmen who demonstrate their talents. Entertainment, music, and other attractions contribute to a great day for all. And of course there's always plenty of great food and beverages. Complimentary tours and wine tasting are always a popular part of each festival."

In addition, tastings away from the winery have been scheduled. Those include:
Oct. 2, Harrison's Wine and Spirits, 4-7 p.m., 207 N. Harrison St., Easton, Md., 410.822.5757

Oct. 2, Nick's Of Waldorf/Clinton, 3-6 p.m., 3953 St. Charles PKWAY, Waldorf, Md., 301.414.7105
Oct. 3, Noble Grape, 3-6 p.m., 11073 Cathell Road, Berlin, Md., 410.641.5119

Oct. 3, Dogpatch/Trader Lees Vill Store, 7-9:30, Rts. 50 And 611, Ocean City, Md., 410.213.2000
Oct. 4, Chesapeake Gourmet, 12-4 p.m., 189 Outlet Center Dr., Queenstown, Md., 410.827.8686

Oct. 4, Greensboro Trading Comp, 5-8 p.m., 105 S Main St., Greensboro, Md., 410.482.2200
Oct. 5, Big Bat's Cafe, 1-4 p..m., 216 St Claire Place, Stevensville, Md., 410.604.1120

Vinters' Dinnner nearing a sellout

Karen Cline of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail reports that the annual Vintners’ Dinner scheduled for Nov. 8. is nearing a full house. Scheduled to run from 6:30 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, Nov. 8, the black-tie-optional event will take place at Longwood Gardens in the East Conservatory and Ballroom. The cost is $135 per person.

Cline wrote in an e-mail that sales are brisk for the event. She continued: "A very limited number of seats remain for this special annual event. We are expecting to have a sell-out crowd, so if someone is considering attending, they should contact us now to reserve their seats. Tickets can be ordered by leaving a message on 610.444.3842 or by using our online order form, available on our Web site.

"This year’s format has changed a bit from years past, and we are expecting a terrific time. Here is a preview of what you can expect when you join our winemakers for dinner:

-- The menu will feature a MD Crab Cake with Medallions of Pepper Crusted Filet. More detail on the menu, including wine pairings, will be posted today on our Web site. Wine pairings will be done by wine writer Roger Morris.
-- Pat Ciarrocchi will be the evening’s emcee. Pat is an anchor and reporter for CBS3 Eyewitness News on KYW-TV in Philadelphia.
-- Joel Peterson, winemaker and President of Ravenswood Winery, Sonoma, California will be our speaker for the evening.
-- Proceeds from a silent auction will benefit The Little Rock Foundation, an organization which assists children that are visually impaired or blind.( Rocco Fiorentino, the child that inspired the formation of The Little Rock Foundation, will be performing.
-- And of course, there will be dancing to the music of the Kennett Symphony of Chester County."