Sunday, October 12, 2008

Regional Wine Week, Day 7: Allegro Vineyards

A few snapshots of life at Allegro Vineyards, located in The Brogue, Pa.

This is the last of a series of stories on Pennsylvania wineries, covering an area from Gettysburg east to Philly and up to Allentown. It has been done in conjunction with Regional Wine Week, an idea that originally was going to feature stories on regional wines by a few wine writers around the country. Instead, it blossomed into a project that involves coverage of wines in 16 states and Canada and a spot on the Internet where you can read all the blogs and stories.

My goal has been to write about at least one winery on each the five Pennsylvania wine trails that I cover. Certainly, these six I wrote about are just a small percentage of the many that exist in eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland and the others that are in the process of opening their doors. You can go through my archives and read about 25 or 30 others.

A few that I’ve written about are located in and around where I live in central Pennsylvania. They aren’t so much part of a particular trail, but they are connected to a March event called
Uncork York, where visitors pay a flat fee for a passport that gets them into all 11 wineries for a tasting during the month of March.

There’s no question that wine drinkers in York County and environs lean toward sweet. Just peruse the wine lists of
Naylor Wine Cellars, Adams County Winery and Marburg Estate Winery to get a sense of what sells. Allegro Vineyards of The Brogue produces its own share of sweet, semi-sweet and spiced wines along with its share of dry offerings, anchored by its Bordeaux-blend Cadenza.

Like most of the wineries in these parts, you have to find them; generally few are off the exits of any major highways. Such is the case with Allegro, almost an hour’s drive north from Baltimore and 25 minutes or so south of York, requiring a few miles that will challenge your confidence if you’ve never been there before. But the trip is worth it.

The first vines, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, were planted in 1973. Musician brothers John and Tim Crouch put up the winery building in 1980 and the tasting room opened a year later. Carl Helrich and Kris Miller, husband and wife, took over in 2000 with the goal of continuing the winery’s reputation of making delicious European-styled table wines that are reasonably priced.

They grow six varieties of grapes on five acres and maintain what would be comparatively a rustic feel to some of the newer wineries. It’s also distinguished by the fact that it holds no events other than to participate in Uncork. Carl said earlier this year that he decided to stop the food and wine pairing dinners they had hosted for several summers and focus on wine-making.

“The reason why I’m a winemaker is that I love great wine, and I think we can make great wine here,” he said by phone the other day. “I’ve tasted glimpses of great wine from this area, so I know it’s possible. We’ve just got to get a confluence of these parts to come together. We need to have the right vineyard site, the right root stock with the right variety with the right winemaker, the right vineyard manager with the right vintage. All come together and we can blow some minds with the wines we can make here.

“I remember talking to [viticulture extension educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County] Mark Chien at one point and he made some offhand comment that the most interesting wines come from marginal climates. Whether or not that’s true or not, I don’t know. I think there’s a greater truth in that, and I think we’re definitely in a marginal climate for some of these varieties. If you taste California wines, well they taste like sunshine basically. The Pinot Noir tastes like Merlot, it tastes like Cabernet. There are subtle differences, and if you like big fruit bombs, that’s great. But here, you know, our palate is much greater, artistically speaking palate. We end up having a wine that one year will taste one way and one year will taste the other way, just because of the climate or what’s happening in the soil that year. That’s really much more of a naked kind of wine making.

“And . . . [on the East Coast] our lows are pretty low and our highs are pretty high, and I think we’re still trying to figure out how high our highs can get. It’s kind of like life, you know. If you have a life where everything is about the same, your highs aren’t very high. I have two kids, and there’s nothing like when one of the kids does something great. But like today [we had to] take one to the hospital to get stitches, so it’s pretty low then. But you can’t have one without the other, and the same thing goes for winemaking. If everything tastes the same all the time, is that really great tasting, and is that really what a great wine is? I think a great wine for us has got to be a great wine that’s just unique. It’s not going to be a fruit bomb, but it’s just going to blow your mind because of the complexity.”

Should you make out your way to this part of southern York County, try these two wines.

2005 Cadenza
Winemaker’s note:
Our rare flagship red, true Bordeaux-style wine;aged two years in French oak barrels; bottled unfiltered and unfined

Carl Helrich:
“I came to Allegro because of a desire to make great wine, and the potential to make a great wine in Pennsylvania. And John and Tim crouch had this wonderful history of Cadenzas here, which then was a Cabernet-based wine. . . . I love French Bordeauxs. I think they’re wonderful wines. We’re making our third Cadenza from the ’07 vintage. Our ’05 is out right now. The ’06 is in bottles, and we’ll release next year probably. And these are Merlot-based wines. I’m a firm believer that the future of our wine industry is in making a name for ourselves with variety. You look at Long Island is pushing their Merlots. Oregon has Pinot, Napa, of course has Cabernet and Chardonnay and stuff. Every region has its own variety. We’ve got to find ours. Some people say diversity is our strength, and it is in terms of keeping a lot of small wineries together. But if we’re going to be a viable wine industry with any kind of notoriety, which is the kind I want to be involved in . . . that’s why I’m here. I’m not here to make nice wine, you know, that I had a nice little life and made some nice wine. That’s not the point what I’m doing here. I want us to be on the map because I know we can do it. So these days, this is very premature, but at this point Merlot looks to be one of our grapes. Whether it’s THE grape or not, I don’t know, but that’s the one I’m thinking had the most promise for us on the red side.”

2005 Reserve Chardonnay
Winemaker’s notes
: Rich, silky full-bodied Chardonnay; wild yeast-fermentedand barrel-aged in French oak for eleven months
Carl Helrich: “Here’s where I’m not best one [as far as what people are going to taste.] I’m a winemaker. I can’t control flavors and aromas. I don’t focus on them so much. I can tell you about things . . . but I’m looking more for balance. One of the keys for me in winemaking is balance. The flavors are purely secondary to what the wines feels like in your mouth and how you perceive it and if the wine is out of balance it doesn’t matter what the flavors are, you’re not going to like it. So, first I balance. We tend to harvest our Chard very late. Most times, in our good years that is, we’ll be picking it sometimes as late as the second week of October. We’ve got a field blend of seven clones, the original was planted in 1973, and there are a whole host of clones. Some are early ripeners, some later ripening. They have a whole host of flavors, they all contribute. We barrel ferment this wine in French oak barrels. And I’ve been using our native yeast population that we have here, too, which is kind of unique. I’m not sure if there’s anyone else in Pennsylvania using native yeasts for fermenting things, but we’re doing that with our Chardonnays.”