Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Regional Wine Week, Day 3: Vynecrest Winery


The winery and the Landis family: John, Jan and Sam.

The Lehigh Valley Wine Trail spreads out over a big chunk of hilly terrain, fanning out north and west of Allentown and Bethlehem and northeast of Reading. All told, there are nine family-owned wineries that make up the trail, as a group largely sitting north of Route 78 and on either side of the Northeast Extension and Route 33.

It’s a trail that has made some significant noise the past five years, celebrating over the fact that a different member of the “trail family” (Cherry Valley, Clover Hill, Pinnacle Ridge, Galen Glen and Vynecrest) has won the Governor’s Cup for best wine in the state and then reveling in the official designation as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) earlier this year.

Among the southernmost wineries that make up the Lehigh Valley trail is
Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery, owned and operated by the Landis family. It’s always fun to read about how folks got into the business; John and Jan credit a job editing a book called “Homesteading” in 1972 for getting them thinking about making wine. A year later, they bought a five-acre farm. Since then, they’ve added 79 acres to the dimensions of the farm and had 16 of those planted with grapes. They produce 12,000 gallons annually, and are expecting that to increase to 20,000 gallons as they continue to add more stock to their vineyard. Son Sam has returned from a stint working for E&J Gallo in California to take over more of the business, and mom and dad have been active in both trail activities and the Pennsylvania Wine Association.

What isn’t new is how John feels after a full day of harvesting, “sore” as he described it by phone earlier tonight. But, after today, they’re seeing the end of the harvest in sight; he had no complaint about that. Hey, all that work today means one thing: He can squeeze out some time sitting in front of his TV and watching the Phillies play the Dodgers in Game 1 of the baseball playoffs tomorrow night.

While an outsider talks to various people connected with the wine trail and gets the feeling that there’s genuine harmony among the group, there’s no question differences exist. Vynecrest, for instance, is the only member of the trail and one of only two or three wineries in the state that produces
Lemberger, a full-bodied dry red wine that’s far better known out in the Great Northwest. One other distinctive quality of Vynecrest is its Web site; each wine on the list ins numbers according to its sweetness (dry, semi-sweet, sweet).

So what else sets his winery apart? “I think I would say 2 things,” John said. “One is we are not afraid to experiment with new varieties of grapes. I made a quote in
Vines & Wines which basically said the best grape has yet to be invented, and I believe that that’s true. What we know about genetics is going to make a difference in the future; there’s going to be new varieties. Traminette is one of the ones that I talked about. It’s only 20 years old, but it’s a fantastic grape, makes great wine, and we have another hybrid in our vineyard that we’re making our first wine this year from, and so far it’s fantastic.

“So I think, one thing that distinguishes us is that we’re not afraid to try new varieties. And the thing we focus on is getting the best grape for our location. Not on name, but best grape, best location. And I think the other thing is, I have very strong background in chemical engineering and I know about fermentation and I think we do a great job; we make 19 wines, we use 10 different yeasts and so I think the other thing that sets us apart is that we know what we’re doing in the wine cellar and we also use 90 percent of our own grapes. So we control the whole process, from March when we start pruning to August when we harvest; the grapes, fermentation, the whole process, is under our control, and I think that’s important to making a quality wines.”

As for two you should taste when you stop in.

Winemaker’s notes: Dry, Alsace-style Gew├╝rztraminer varietal, this wine is flowery with a hint of spice. (750ml)

John Landis: “We do grow some of the name varieties -- Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Franc -- a lot of the vinifera we do grow. But I do think, the Traminette, it’s about a 20-year-old grape. It’s a hybrid of Gewurztraminer and it makes a great white wine. We’re known for that; we’ve won awards all over the United States for that. {When we planted it] in 1991 it had a number and not a name. And we’ve learned when to pick it, what yeast to use, and so we’ve been experimenting with different yeasts. We try a little something different every year. It’s just a great grape. Got a great sugar-acid balance, it’s got no disease problems and it makes an outstanding wine.”

Winemaker’s notes:
The jewel of the Lehigh Valley, this grape has found a home in our climate. Hints of cherry and blackberry, its has soft velvety finish (750ml)

John Landis: “This one is very prominent in our AVA . . . because it grows very well here and makes an excellent wine. And it’s used in almost anything, from classic red table, to blush, to nouveau, to sparkling. It’s all over the map in terms of what oyu can do with that. Our tends to be … we don’t have a Merlot or something that I would call a light red, and [so] that’s our Chambourcin. It’s light red, it’s got a lot of fruit. It’s not a real heavy red, it’s medium tannin. Residual maybe point-4, point-5 percent, so it’s right in that middle category. You can almost have it with any kind of food. So that’s our focus, a Merlot kind of category.”