Saturday, December 13, 2008

Morton gathering draws from several states

Looking down the driveway to Black Ankle Winery in Maryland.

I mentioned in post earlier today about the Karamoor wines. It’s a name that crops up, so to speak, during conversations with a number of regional winemakers, primarily because of the connection to consultant Lucie Morton.

Some of her disciples gathered a couple of weeks ago in Southeastern Pennsylvania for an annual two-day conference. They discussed any number of issues the first day, tasted samples of wine they all brought, then had a chance for additional fellowship that evening. In fact, I happened to pull
Boordy Vineyards partner Rob Deford out of a game of pool with a mid-evening phone call. The next day they hit some more topics, then headed off to look at a vineyard owned by Brad Galer, by Longwood Gardens in Chester County. Galer recently bought what was formerly Folly Hill Vineyards. Morton is assisting with the renaissance going on there. That winery doesn’t figure to reopen until 2010 at the earliest.

Deford was asked what it is about Morton’s beliefs that attract those in the business to her.

“It just is the big Q word,” he said, “it’s all about quality and forward-looking. Our time horizon is about 10 years, and we talk about every step from preparing the soil all the way up to finishing the wines, and what happens sort of off agenda is as important as on agenda, which is we’re talking about every minute step in making the best possible wines. I cant say what anyone of us do is any different than the outside world; I just believe that the commitment and the focus on the vineyard is what’s so critical here.”

Around 20 people were invited, from wineries such as
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards in Maryland and TheBoxwoodWinery in Middleburg, Va., about 50 miles south of Washington, D.C. Attendees also tasted the Karamoor juices that I tried yesterday at Allegro. And Morton also has worked with Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., winner of the 2008 Governor’s Cup for a Bordeaux blend called Crumbling Rock. Based on their success and from what I’ve tasted of the Karamoor just-off-the-vine juices, this evolution of mid-Atlantic wines is about to take a significant step forward.

Deford said those attending share a lot of stories about success and hardships. “There are some very difficult things happening in vineyards,” he said. “Sometimes you need to know what’s going on with people and that you’re not the only one suffering.”

They also veered into a number of issues, such as “spray schedules and environmentally friendly viticulture and stuff like that, but it’s a tremendous learning experience. The greatest proof for us [however] is the wines. And the wines we are tasting here are absolutely eye-popping. There’s a whole other generation of mid-Atlantic viticulture that’s coming along that’s going to be just really, really exciting.”

Va La to exit Brandywine trail

The downstairs tasting bar at Va La Vineyards in Avondale, Pa.

One bit of news from the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail is that Va La Vineyards will be leaving the trail at the end of the year. Anthony Vietri confirmed the other day that he will be stepping down as president and withdrawing from the trail.

That knocks the group down to six, with Black Walnut scheduled to open sometime between January and March.

Two new wineries are expected to sign on in January, bumping the total to eight.

Also, applications are being accepted for the second trail wine camp, scheduled for Friday, July 14, through Sunday, July 16. Here's some chatter about the unique event:

"We would love to host you in Chester County and the beautiful Brandywine Valley for “Wine Camp.” The three-day two-night package includes personal experiences with the proprietors of four area wineries, lodging, five meals including dinner at the Historic Dilworthtown Inn and complimentary admission to nine Brandywine Valley attractions including Longwood Gardens! Activities include ”Barrel Tasting in the Cellar” as well as a picnic dinner and concert at Chaddsford Winery. “A Walk Through the Vineyards” at Kreutz Creek Vineyards; Wine & Food pairing lunch in the vineyard at Paradocx; and “Vines to Wines – The Crush” at Twin Brook Winery."

For more infromation, call 1.800.566.0109, Ext. 205

NY wines sales potential: $7 billion

Out of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation's weekly e-letter, these notes on the industry as it relates to the economy, and also a paragraph on the quality of the recently complete harvest. Just as an aside, I've heard mixed reactions from those talking about this 2008 vintage, although the overall reaction leans toward very positive. While a couple of winemakers and owners have raved about it, the majority seem to be happy with the year but somewhat reserved about the breadth of its quality compared to last year's. Of course, the finally grades really can't be handed out for a year, or two, or three.

WINE GRAPE TASK FORCE delivered its final report to Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker this week, providing over two dozen specific recommendations in four major areas to enhance the future economic viability of the state’s grape and wine industry. Commissioner Hooker, a great advocate of our industry since his days at New York Farm Bureau, assembled the 15-member task force about a year ago to provide guidance in important policy areas. Chaired by Kareem Massoud of Long Island’s Paumanok Vineyards and with all winegrowing areas of the state represented, the task force meetings began with an open slate that we quickly transformed into four major areas: State Liquor Authority; Environment and Sustainability; Wine Promotion and Marketing; and Economic Development. We also defined an overall goal of doubling our industry’s economic impact to New York State in five years. A few years ago, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation commissioned a study showing that our industry generates $3.4 billion annually in economic benefits to New York State. Doubling that would mean nearly $7 billion by 2014, which is certainly ambitious but may well be achievable if the State of New York partners with the industry to make it happen. The 26 recommendations in the report provide specific guidance in that regard, and should be seen as a good starting point for action. The next steps will involve translating the recommendations into reality, either through legislation, regulatory changes, or budget items. The Department has done a superb job coordinating the activities of the task force, and we look forward to working with them on implementing various measures. A copy of the report is available at the Department’s web site (
AUTO INDUSTRY is essentially the opposite of the wine industry in terms of the economic spirals that can take place. The intense focus by Washington and Wall Street on the Big Three automakers reflects deep concern about the downward spiral that will take place if one or more enters bankruptcy. There are the direct effects on the companies themselves (especially their employees), the indirect effects on all their suppliers, and the induced effects on the communities where the companies and suppliers do business. Down, down, down. Conversely, a growth industry like wine creates an upward spiral of new investment, jobs, tax revenues, and a positive multiplier effect on many related parts of the economy like manufacturing (presses, tanks, barrels), packaging (bottles, labels, boxes), and tourism (hotels, restaurants, gas stations). In New York State, the grape and wine industry has emerged from economic crisis in the early 1980’s to being the fastest growing industry in the agriculture and tourism sectors. A study by New York Agriculture Statistics Service conducted in 2004 showed how the industry has grown since 1985 when the New York Wine & Grape Foundation was created. The results were dramatic, and the growth has been accelerating in recent years, so I’m hoping to update the study next year with 2008 data. This doesn’t mean that everything is rosy in wineland—like the rest of the country, we are affected by the broad economic downturn and troubling outlook—but our continued growth can provide a big boost at a time when New York’s economy clearly needs it. That’s why the public-private partnership is so vital to all: If the State enacts enlightened public policy creating a better business climate, we will contribute even more than we do now. Let’s hope 2009 will be a year of bold new initiatives.
2008 VINTAGE got an “A” grade in the Finger Lakes and a “B” on Long Island in the Wine Spectator’s recent preliminary ratings on line. These basically provide a quick, post-harvest assessment of how the year shaped up, which is often (but not always) indicative of how the wines will fare several months or years from now. Separately, the magazine’s James Molesworth posted an article about older Finger Lakes Rieslings to see how they would age (“They all aged nicely”). Top scores from the blind tasting included 89 for the Lakewood 1990 and Red Newt 2001, and 88 for Dr. Frank 1996 Semi-Dry which a decade ago received an 83 (so yes, it had aged nicely). The recent Riesling Fellowship sponsored by Wines of Germany provided dramatic evidence that Rieslings from around the world age very nicely, even though many people think that only big reds benefit from age.

Karamoor samples like a champ

Many of the barrels contain the
Karamoor juices, as you can see
of the face of the one below.

Drove down to Allegro Vineyards yesterday, but as much to try a wine that owner and winemaker Carl Helrich is making for someone else. Sampled five juices from a vineyard called Karamoor in Fort Washington, in suburban Philly.

While it’s not a wine producer that the populous around here is familiar with, this is a project that includes wine guru Lucie Morton (more about her in an upcoming post) and vineyard manager Nelson Stewart. It’s an up-and-comer that those in the East Coast wine family are calling a model vineyard and one that will help further blossom the industry in this region.

The 2008 juices are spectacular, and there isn't a bit of exaggeration in that assessment. The colors alone go deeper and display more body than what you’ll normally find in any wines in these parts. And the taste, particularly the Merlot, was enough to make me want to just sit down in Helrich’s rustic “laboratory” and wait for the first bottle to be filled.

Except that could be a long wait. He said it might be at least a year and a half until this wine is available, as Karamoor first gets established and then hop-scotches through all the requirements needed before a winery can get up and running.

But, similar to Maryland’s Black Ankle, this will be a winery that will win awards quickly and likely will find a similar if not higher price point. Black Ankle charges $40 for its
Crumbling Rock, a four-grape blend dominated by Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly, the bottles that come out of Karamoor could yield a little more at the cash register, and likely would get it over in the Philly market and from those willing to spend more to buy something of a higher quality than they’re generally going to find.

While I’ll on the subject of
Allegro Vineyards, located in The Brogue in southern York County, let me mention its holiday open house today at the Wine Gallery, its shop at Olde Tollgate Village, 2459 S. Queen St., York. Running from 2 to 5 p.m., it will feature complimentary tasting, noshes, gift ideas, wine specials, and jazz guitarist John Link.