Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fifth Brandywine dinner pulls in record crowd

The Brandywine Valley

The Brandywine Valley Wine Trail held its fifth annual Vintners’ Dinner Celebration on Saturday night at lush Longwood Gardens and every shred of evidence pointed this to be the most successful one to date.

Trail PR director Karen Cline said yesterday that 179 attended the black-tie optional affair, 40 more than have ever come to this full-evening event. “We are encouraged by this increase in attendance and we see this as a real indicator that Pennsylvania wineries are being recognized as producers of quality wine,” she wrote in an e-mail. Considering all that’s happening with the economy, it’s a number that can only tickle trail members. Maybe the only problem comes down the line as more people become familiar with local wines and what also serves as a fund-raiser for
The Little Rock Foundation, a resource center for parents and children who are visually impaired or blind. As it was, the dining room looked packed. Assuming they use the same room in the future, maybe the number gets capped at 200.

Attendees paid $135 per person for the event, and you felt like you got your money’s worth just walking along the path that wound its way past hibiscus flowers bigger than the dinner dishes used for the meal. Held in the East Conservatory and Ballroom, it opened with what amounted to an almost 90-minute reception, where six of the trail’s seven wineries had tables set up and their wines out ready for tasting. Everywhere you looked there were bottles sitting in tubs, waiting to be opened. Cline said the member wineries – Black Walnut, Chaddsford, Kreutz Creek, Paradocx, Penns Woods and Twim Brook (only Va La was absent) – each brought an average of five different wines and an average of eight total cases. Servers carried hors d’oeuvres and tables were set up with Italian meats and cheeses. The proprietors poured the wine and answered questions.

From there, the group moved on to dinner, where the menu went from mushroom strudel to a salad to the main course of Maryland crab cake with medallions of pepper crusted filet. Dessert was a lemon curd tart with berries. Wines from all of the wineries were represented at dinner, as a red and white was paired with the first three courses and Twin Brook’s Esperanda, a sparkling wine, was paired with the rich finale. There were 19 tables, with the proprietors sitting out among their guests. CBS3’s
Pat Ciarrocchi, a Chester County native and award-winning newscaster who devotes a chunk of her time to charities, was the emcee. Once dinner was finished, Ravenswood president and winemaker Joel Peterson addressed the attendees. More on what this Sonoma, Calif., wine icon said will be included in another post, along with additional (and professional) photographs. Took one look at his camera and decided I’d let the guy who knew what he was doing provide the images for such a grand event. But I couldn’t help but share one photo I took, a cornucopia of glass pumpkins arranged in one of the adjoining rooms.

A presentation on the Little Rock Foundation ended the sit-down portion of the evening. What followed was a chance to walk off dinner, sign up for almost 20 items being auctioned off, and listen or dance to the Brass Ensemble of the Kennett Symphony of Chester County.

Cline said that the trail included corporate sponsors for the first time this year; they had a private reception with the winemakers before the event started.

This is the third year the event was held at Longwood Gardens after being hosted by a winery the first two years. Chaddford Winery’s Lee Miller explained that all the wineries have their own events, and they also hold a few trail activities such as Barrels on the Brandywine every March, but this is an opportunity to come together as a group in a gorgeous setting, share their wide variety of wines, and do something charitable at the same time. A moneymaker? No, not at all. But despite all the work, it’s an evening where everyone leaves feeling good (no, not just because of all the wine) and an industry that many still consider fledgling shows itself in its best light. Val and Lance Castle, owners of the not-yet opened
Black Walnut Winery off Route 30 in Sadsburyville were given the job of organizing the event. Hey, when you’re the rookies ….

Everything came together very well, so congrats to those two for pulling together those loose ends while trying to get the last bit of renovating done on their 200-year-old barn/winery. And to Cline, who was buzzing around from the moment she stepped into the place.

Could other trails pull this off? Certainly could see something like this from the Bucks County or Lehigh Valley trails, and the same down in Maryland. No doubt the template has been created, and it’s one that assuredly works.