Monday, December 22, 2008

Galer lays out vision for both sites

Talked to Brad Galer a week or more ago; not that there’s a rush to get the post done, since he’s probably a year and a half or more from opening for business.

But that doesn’t mean that work isn’t getting done on his pair of properties, one that sits adjacent to Longwood Gardens in Chester County and the other that’s about a mile and a half away. Galer and his wife bought the one plot of land a couple of years ago, then later purchased what used to be Folly Hill Vineyards.

He had his first harvest this fall and plans more plantings next year and in 2010, including the white grape called
Albarino, which Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., has incorporated into its vineyards quite successfully. Among the consultants he has developed a relationship with is Lucie Morton, the acclaimed viticulturalist whose name is being connected with the best East Coast wineries with more frequency. And he and wife Lele have settled on the names that their dreams will morph into: The winery will be called Galer Estates and the other will go by The Vineyard at Red Lion. Those who know that area shouldn’t be surprised, since a Red Lion Inn used to open its doors to visitors some years ago.

Brad said they already have architectural rendering for what he called a state-of-the-art winery that they’re hoping to have up and running by harvest of 2010 on the site that abuts Longwood Gardens. “Those were done by a local architect [Wayne Simpson], trying to blend Chester County and Tuscany,” he said. “The actual guts and functionality of it was helped with a winemaker consultant [John Levenberg] I’m using who graduated a decade ago from [University of California, Davis] and trained in Napa and now has his own winery in Long Island. So we’re hoping to have that up and running by then. We’ve made plans to have catwalks in it so we can actually have tours, and a new wine tasting room.”

The initial plan, he said, was to just develop the property that backs up to where he’s living now, one that features a distinctive hill. That’s where the grapes initially went in, following a number of suggestions by Morton, and where he expects to fill the five plantable acres over the next two years.

“So those were the plans,” he said, “nice and slow, take it easy. But Folly Hill was on the market for a couple of years. My wife fell in love with it and, also the issue here, since this vineyard is here at our home, we didn’t want people driving up; we not those type people to have people on our property day in and day out. And, so . . . long story short, we ended up buying it. It’s right near Longwood Gardens. In fact, we didn’t realize it at the time we bought it, at one point in time the property was actually owned by Longwood Gardens.”

That former Folly Hill site, Galer said, has had grapes planted on it since 1998, containing about 2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 acres of Chardonnay. “They’re California clones, which do fine but they’re not probably optimal for this area, it’s been found out subsequently. And there was wide spacing. So we completely altered [to cane training], based on Lucie’s recommendation. We did some major pruning in February; actually my vineyard manager [Jan Grimes] did most of it . . . we did some major hair cutting on them. This year the plan, we saw which vines didn’t appear to be reducing very well, looked sickly, and we’re starting to pull about 300 vines and we’re starting to interplant at least with the Chardonnay. And we’ll do that next year. We already have that marked out.”

During the phone interview you could hear an occasional dog barking in the background. There are seven; the couple has three children, one at Bennington and the others in middle school and high school. Galer, whose primary occupation is in pharmaceuticals, said he and his wife considered moving back to northern California and opening a winery in Sonoma or Napa. “The kids rejected it,” he said, thus turning their priorities to doing something similar in Chester County. As for the idea of even getting into the business, that was partially a result of his doing a lot of traveling for his pharmaceutical business. "And really enjoy nice wine, and we love visiting Napa. And living in Seattle at a time when the Washington [state] wine industry was just taking off. And when I left the job that brought me here, doing consultant work and it was a little slow, she said, ‘You need a hobby.’” He laughed. "OK, I'll start a vineyard."

So that hobby will begin to take shape on both properties, both involving as much the development of an art center as a home to excellent wines. Galer said there was one little stone spring house on the grounds of the former Folly Hill winery that “was basically a separate entity overlooking the vineyard, and that was one of his quote bed and breakfast rooms. The others were in the house, and we don’t want anything in the house. So the vision and the hope . . . is to have six to 10 different independent units throughout the vineyard; so they’re stone cabins basically, but nice.

“The other vision, and my wife is an artist, and she knows a lot of local artisans, is to have within each of these bed and breakfast suites the furniture and all the artwork all from local artisans. Actually on our house property with the new vineyard, we converted big horse stables; [located] right below the hill where the vineyard is there were about 10 horse stables, we basically converted that into an art commune for my wife and her friends. So that’s already up and functioning. We have one area for furniture making, one area for mosaics and painting, another for metal work. So hopefully a lot of the art and furniture that will be at the B&B and also within the wine-tasting area will be from local artists produced right here.”