Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My 4 favorites among Chaddsford future events

There's too much happening at Chaddsford Winery over the next few months to post everything on the blog. But here are a couple of my favorite upcoming events off their latest e-letter.

PIERRE NOIR RELEASE: Last year’s release of the first ever “Pierreno Grigio” was so successful, we’ve once again collaborated with WMMR radio personality Pierre Robert to bring you the brand new “Pierre Noir” -- an exclusive private bottling of Chaddsford Pinot Noir with a tie-dyed label featuring Pierre’s likeness. To be a guest at Pierre’s exclusive, invitation only release party at the winery on April 3, tune in to WMMR for a chance to win tickets, or see the MMR Web site. You can purchase your bottle of this limited edition release at any Chaddsford location or online beginning April 4.

EVERYTHING BUT THE BEACH: 2008 Spring Wine is bottled and ready to kick off the season, so plan to join us for our annual Spring Wine parties in April. This light crisp fresh seasonal wine puts everyone in a mood to celebrate, so this year’s parties will have a tropical island theme: the tiki torches will be lit and you’ll be greeted with Spring Wine & Strawberries and a Hawaiian Lei. Wear your Hawaiian shirt or other tropical gear as Eric will select his top 10 favorite outfits for the night and award a bottle of, what else? Spring Wine! No fee for these fun nights, but reservations required at 610.388.6221.

DRINK AND EAT, EAT AND DRINK: We've done it before and we're doing it again! You can't beat this combo, dual location tasting/dinner that begins in the cellars of Chaddsford Winery with a barrel tasting of the new 2008 vintage and delicious hors d'oeuvres . . . then travels down the road, across the Brandywine River, and into the Village of Chadds Ford . . . where we'll move on to a fun wine tasting dinner at Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops. This is as "Chadds Ford" as it gets, and a great way to showcase your local wines and cuisine to friends and family who have not been out our way. See the menu, details and reservation info here, and come join Eric and our good friends at Brandywine Prime.

EMPTYING THE CELLAR: Following a tradition begun years ago when winemaker Eric Miller decided to make space in the cellar by selling off odd lots of old bottles, we are once again planning to clean up and clear out the Chaddsford warehouse at a one-day sale on Saturday, April 11, beginning at 9 a.m. Included in the sale will be over 200 cases of old, odd, used, returned or over-the-hill bottles offered at $1-$2/bottle, plus over 950 bottles that Eric has gleaned from his library – going all the way back to 1985, including a few 3-5L “big” bottles, beginning at $5/bottle. Also included in this sale will be furniture and appliances returned to our warehouse after our three mall locations were closed last year. See more details on the sale here. See you for coffee!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bin 604 adding to its 'all-state team'

It wasn't but a few years ago that Bin 604, my favorite Maryland wine shop, carried a list of wines produced in the state that included the following: Basignani Chardonnay. One and done.

That list has grown, and reads as follows today; this courtesy of an e-mail from assistant manager Jeff Cohen:

1. Elk Run Red Door $16.99

2. Fiore Chambourcin $16.99
3. St. Michaels Island Belle Sangiovese $19.99
4. Basignani Chardonnay $14.99
5. Basignani Cabernet Sauvignon $16.99
6. Black Ankle Chardonnay $21.99
7. Black Ankle Syrah $25.99
8. Black Ankle Passegiata Syrah $21.99
9. Black Ankle Crumbling Rock $39.99

Jen Burger is the general manager and wine buyer for Bin 604, located no more than a 10-minute walk along the water from Inner Harbor. She talked by phone last Thursday and said that there's a reason you can find more Maryland wines on the store's shelves.

"I've been definitely been seeing some improvements in the quality," Burger said, noting she has tasted through several Maryland winery portfolios over the past few months. One that caught her attention as much as anyone's was the complete line from Mt. Airy's Black Ankle Vineyards. "I was definitely wowed and impressed by the across-the-board quality of their wines," she said, "and the consistency and quality of all their wines, that it wasn't just a couple that I was drawn to. I found that all of them were very good."

Burger had special praise for Black Ankle's reds, in part explaining why Bin 604 is carrying three of them. "They're doing a real good job with their reds; Maryland doesn't have as good as a climate for reds as it we do for most white grapes, so I thought that was most impressive."

If anything gets in the way sometimes, Burger admitted to a question about the cost of the wines, is the price point. "There's a little bit of an issue sometimes where my favorite Maryland wines end up being the more expensive ones," she said, "with consumers in general being particularly price conscious lately . . . things are a little more sensitive. You have to be a little more conscious with price-to-quality ratio and actual price point of the wines. Only so many $35 Maryland wines are going to fly off the shelves, where when they're $16 and $20 it's a lot easier for people to grab them and take them home."

That interest in the Maryland wines comes from local residents, she said, who want to drink local or have visited the wineries and really enjoyed certain selections. With the wine shop located in Harbor East and nearby several hotels, including the Marriott, those wines also are appealing to out-of-towners looking to take home a couple Maryland wines as souvenirs. "Sometimes while they're here they'll want to try it, but usually they want to take back a Maryland wine home with them," Burger said. "That's where I also see a lot of interest in Maryland wines, with nonresidents just visiting."

Waltz extends hours starting this week

Wanted to mentioned that with the warmer weather and the fact that Waltz Vineyards in Manheim, Pa., has a month of operation completed in its new tasting room, it will be increasing its hours starting this weekend.

Open until now only on Saturdays, it will be open Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. Kim Waltz adds that small, private dinners/wine club or evening appointments might also be available. The number is 717.664.WINE.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The last two stops: Stargazers and Twin Brook

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Three shots taken at a busy Stargazers Vineyard & Winery on Saturday, including the outside and inside of the press pad that has been newly enclosed and a shot of Brian Dickerson (light blue shirt) offering samples out of a barrel. Standing along in the cellar of Twin Brook, in his dark blue shirt, is assistant winemaker Jason Price.
Running out of time, but wanted to say thanks to the winemakers and proprietors at the last two wineries we visited. Stargazers Vineyard & Winery, with a street address of Coatesville, Pa., has had its grapes in the soil since 1989. Their wines ranged in price from $12 to $19, and they also have pieces of cheese and chocolate out to accompany the walk along the tables. Ownership of the wine is slowly being turned over from Alice and John Weygandt (Alice, thanks for all your insight yesterday) to Brian and Jennifer Dickerson.
I've now made five or six visits to Twin Brook Winery in Gap, Pa., where one couldn't find better hosts than Melissa and Tim Jobe and assistant winemaker Jason Price. Down in the cellar, Tim and Jason let us taste a delicious Cabernet Franc that should finally find its way into the bottle and onto the shelves by 2011, and a Chardonnay that will be ready for purchase a lot sooner than that.

Chien: One view of SE PA wines

I don't remember previously sharing this entire December 2008 report by statewide viticulture extension educator Mark Chien, but this seems like an approprite time as I post some information on Saturday's tour of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. Chien has been a good friend to this blog, both in answering questions and helping me contact a few others who have served as sources. I know some of the winery proprietors in Maryland have mentioned to me how they wish they had someone in a similar role down there.

Here is Chien's assessment of the vineyards, wineries and wines of Southertern Pennsylvania:

It is amazing what can happen right under your nose and until you stop to smell you have no idea. The last time this happened, Daniel Roberts from Integrated Winegrowing came to look at soil pits in Lancaster County and told me what a dummy I was for not realizing that the Bedington soils here are ideal for growing wine grapes because of their high and deep rock content. In this case, you had to dig deep to get the whole picture and find someone smart enough to recognize it. It’s easier to survey the wine landscape by just going around with my own palate taste and eyes to see the vines. I spent some time in vineyards and wineries around Chester County last week and it turned out to be a bit of a revelation for me.

The Brandywine Wine Trail has become very successful. Its proximity to the big cities certainly offers advantages. Chaddsford Winery, our biggest and consistently one of the best producers has always anchored the wine industry in the area but now lots of new players are popping up like mushrooms around Kennett Square.

Now is actually a good time to look at vines. A naked vine without leaves reveals its architecture starkly and completely. Cane length and diameter, internode length, shoot positioning, canopy width, and many other canopy qualities are all exposed. It is pretty easy, even for an unskilled eye, to judge the balance of a vine right now. As I explored vineyards from Oxford west into Montgomery County it became quite apparent that the level of sophistication of viticulture is improving dramatically in Pennsylvania, even to the point of rivaling our west coast colleagues. I am constantly astonished at the accomplishment of viticulture by self-taught growers who figured out what works best on their site and then implement best practices. We are just neophytes at exploring and exploiting our terroir but we are definitely moving in the right direction. The wines are still in need of certain refinement but that will come with time. I’m past being surprised when I encounter a really nice Pennsylvania, now it is more matter of nuance or degree of quality. And the wines can only get better as we continue to refine viticulture (see Terroir article) and improve our vineyard site selection process.

Not that there is absolute agreement on how to grow fine wine between these producers. There are different philosophies and practices from wide to close spacing, divided and single canopies, training and trellis systems and practices vary widely and just about every other aspect of viticulture. What is common is the total commitment to quality. This is becoming more commonplace in our vineyards and the results are showing up in the bottle.

Maybe what caught my attention most on this circuit were the prices being commanded by some of the best wines in tasting rooms. That Pennsylvania wines have risen past the $50 mark for our best red wines represents significant milestone. The customer is the ultimate arbiter of quality and value and while there is a lot that goes into the price of the wine, the bottom line is always if someone will walk out of the door with it. If that is happening with $50 wines, we have come a very, very long way.

The $50 level is an important benchmark for wine prices, especially because it is, in the case of our small wineries, full retail price and every one of those dollars goes back to the producer. The trickle-down economics of the wine business means that the bottle price determines what can happen upstream from the cash register in terms of viticulture and enology, i.e. the quality of viticulture that can be applied to grow a great wine and the equipment and skills necessary to make it into one in the cellar. At $50 retail, the wine grower has a lot of options. And isn’t that what wine growing or running any business is really all about, having options? This is a capital intensive business and having investment capital translates into choices that can make even better wines.

If the wine consumer is the final arbiter of quality and value, the wine pundits, retailers and restaurateurs are the purveyors of the good news of Pennsylvania wines to the larger public. Unfortunately, the retail system in Pennsylvania, for the most part, is not a partner to the industry and can be discounted from any positive, functional form for promotions and sales with a few exceptions. It is my belief that getting our wines into the better restaurants, mainly in the city and suburbs but also country dining establishments, and poured by the glass, is the path to popularity and acceptance. I’m pretty sure this is how Oregon Pinot Noir entered into the wine consumer consciousness. Wine critics and the press always drag along behind consumer preference while restaurateurs are the most adventurous experimenters and adopters of new food trends. The realities of the “new economy” only help to position any locally grown food or drink products for wide-scale local acceptance. Why shouldn’t a customer in a fancy Philly restaurant chose a local red wine over one from France or California because of the carbon footprint and the relative value and quality of the wine choices they have?

The following is a list of some of the vineyards and wineries I visited recently. They are fine examples of the growth and potential of wine in Pennsylvania, and they represent a small slice of one region in the state. I have no doubt that there are exciting examples in every corner of the state.

Many of you are familiar with the vineyard of Jan and Kim Waltz in Manheim, either having attended a viticulture workshop there or purchasing their outstanding grapes. Jan has always dabbled in wine making and he is one of those persons whose amateur wines are often better than many commercial wines. There is no surprise here since the vineyard is one of the most meticulously maintained anywhere. It is easy to connect the quality dots in this case… great fruit can yield great wines. There is a reason I use it as my default teaching vineyards so growers, especially new ones, can soak in the vision of what a fine vineyard looks like and get exposed to Jan’s knowledge. It was inevitable but Jan and Kim have built a beautiful winery and tasting room on the property. It’s not quite done yet but wine was made there this vintage. I had a chance to taste the 2007 and 2008 wines and they are remarkable. Jan had a vision of Sauvignon Blanc growing were Merlot also excelled and has planted it along with Semillon. The sauvy is a shining example of the versatility of what this variety can do, from the absolute fruit forward New Zealand version to the more restrained, creamier, nutty, barrel fermented white Bordeaux or California style. While I’m not a big chard fan in general I think we can do very fine Chardonnay in SE PA and I might have to change my tune. Jan’s blend of three Dijon clones, stainless steel and barrel fermented versions were both incredibly fruit-driven wines with pure flavors of honey, apple, citrus, full and rich in the mouth, these are truly reminiscent of Pouilly-Fuisse, especially the barrel wine with its toast and smoke. Sauvy and Chard both appear to be well suited for our region but they are both rot prone so they need great viticulture to succeed consistently. I guess we are just a white wine region. That is, until I taste his reds. The 2007 estate Merlot is deep in color and full in body with layers of dark fruit flavors, great structure and balance. Merlot is a fruity red that, I believe, needs blending to add complexity. That is a practice that I think we can improve upon, maybe by getting some help from outside. Jan’s could easily stand alone as a varietal but I think it could be even better with some Cabernet Sauvignon for structure, Cab Franc for that herbal note and Petit Verdot for rusticity but I don’t know how to do it. His Cabernet Sauvignon is a surprise and delight. This block took it hard in the shins during the ‘04 freeze but they have brought it back and the 2008 is nice and ripe but with that savory quality that Jim Law describes in his reds and a character of Bordeaux. No one will mistake it for a cult Napa cab but who would want to anyway? This is a foodie’s wine and it had me thinking of what to pair it with. Okay, well, by now you know I wear my palate on my sleeve when it comes to the Waltzes. These wines couldn’t happen to a nicer and more deserving family.

Further south Tony and Karen Mangus are doing a magnificent job with their 12-acre all-vinifera Historic Hopewell Vineyard in Oxford. The vineyard is exceptionally well-developed and managed, trained to VSP and Scott Henry. They currently sell their grapes but are planning to build a winery. This is a vineyard to watch.

Tony and Karen Vietri are making exceptional, mostly Italian varietals and blended wines at Va La Vineyards in Avondale. They renovated a beautiful old stone barn into one of the coziest tasting rooms in the region. The viticulture here is meticulous on the unusually spaced 5 x 7 (5’ between rows) vineyard, VSP, with severe crop management. On a weekend there is hardly anything in the world more enjoyable than the smell of garlic and tomato sauce wafting down from the art/café into the tasting room where they also sell local artisan cheeses and chocolates. It is the full sensory overload experience.

Paradocx Vineyard is one of our biggest, mostly vinifera vineyards in Landenberg, owned and operated by the four “docx” it has hit its stride and is making delicious wines in a new winery built into a hillside. Here, too, canopy management is beautifully executed by vineyard manager Ana Castillo. The tasting room is on Rt 1. I tasted two delicious Chardonnays from local vineyards – the old vines at Haywagon Vineyard and Old Stone Farm.

I wrote about Penns Wood Winery earlier in the year and my opinion of Gino Razzi’s wines is still in force after visiting his new tasting room in an old house on the former Smithbridge Vineyard property (the winery is in Eddystone). Gino has taken one of the oldest vinifera vineyards in the state and breathed new life into it and, along with purchased grapes from the outstanding Waltz Vineyard, is making some truly delicious wines with depth and character. I’ll say again that his winery is now a standard for small wineries in the region and I continue to wonder about the value, importance and practicality of rotary fermenters for red wines in our region. The Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe and delicious, the ultimate test for wine in our region.

Chaddsford Winery still is the standard measure for wines in Pennsylvania. Brett Mihalsik manages the daylights out of their vinifera and hybrid vineyard in northern Chester County so regardless of vintage variation, great grapes always appear on the crush pad. The wines include an eclectic mix of Bordeaux and Italian varieties and blends, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with delicious hybrids, including vineyard designated Chambourcins. I recently participated in a reserve tasting and also tasted a flight of Pinot Noirs and found all the wines to be full and flavorful – the Merican and Due Rossi are standouts.

Further to the east Karamoor Estate near Fort Washington has 17 acres of various clones of Bordeaux red varieties and Dijon clones of Chardonnay managed by Nelson Stewart. I have always been skeptical of the ability of Cabernet Franc as a stand-alone variety in Pennsylvania. The Karamoor ’08 has changed my mind about that. It is deep, layered, complex, and elegant. I would love to see Michel Rolland construct a Bordeaux blend from these materials. Wow! This is currently the most immaculate vineyard that I have seen in the state. If viticulture matters to the quality of a wine, then this is the acid test for that theory. With the help of Lucie Morton, this is modern viticultural methodology put into practice with quite stunning results. Wines are not yet available and no visitors are permitted but if you ever have a chance to talk with Nelson he is a viticultural encyclopedia.

Rich Blair’s home vineyard is in Mertztown but his new vineyard north of Kutztown takes your breath away. On the PVSAS scale it’s probably a 9+ out of 10 (the home vineyard is a 7+). It was one of our first vineyard sites selected for its viticultural potential and, more specifically, the ability to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Beautiful exposure on rolling hills with gentle to steep slopes and rocky soils this site seems to have it all. Rich will prove the point in the coming years and the early results from young vines are full of promise. Gewürztraminer and Chardonnays from a blend of Dijon clones are vibrant and delicious. The Pinot Noirs are softer and reminiscent of Volnay. Some new methods and winery equipment will help to bolster these wines. This is a very exciting new project and Rich, who is also the current president of PAW, is full dedicated to quality.

There are many other wineries and vineyards in the region and it seems like more vineyards and wineries appear each week. This is a great day trip for anyone living in the SE PA area. My favorite BYO is chef-owner Nick Farrell’s Sovana Bistro in Unionville.

I think, in the end, what these wine producers represent is the basic formula for making a fine wine… taking a good to outstanding site and applying terrific viticulture to it then handing off to a talented wine maker and letting the cellar do its work. On both sides of the equation good equipment and facilities are necessary. The key in the vineyard is that the fruit get fully mature. In most cases this mean combining meticulous canopy management with yield regulation. There is definitely vintage variation and it is easy to taste between some of the wines in 2007 and 2008 but some ‘07’s are better than ‘08s and vice versa. Vintage variation will always be a part of Eastern wine growing but it should never be an excuse for mediocre wines. As in Europe, we have the knowledge and tools to mitigate the effects of a poor vintage. Vintage should add character and variety to our wines.

We can really do very nice white wines in the different regions of Pennsylvania, like those in the Endless Mountains, around Erie and across the Lehigh Valley. Black Ankle Vineyard’s Albarino and Gruner Veltliner and Elk Run’s Gewurztraminer in central Maryland are two other examples of the region’s white wine prowess. I know there are countless other Pennsylvania examples that I have not mentioned. Whites are generally more forgiving and malleable in the vineyard and cellar. As we continue to work on and refine the reds, they will certainly get much better. We can make “food friendly” reds which used to be a pejorative term for a wine but now refers to a wine with balance, restraint and class, one that doesn’t blow the food off of the table. But this is very exciting news for our industry and most of all for wine consumers.

I’ll clearly have to come down here more often to check out what’s going on since the wine scene changes every day. All of the above is just my humble opinion and few will agree with everything I say. I am hoping that it may make you curious enough to get out there and try survey the wine landscape around the state and region. I think it is pretty important that people involved in the wine industry along with wine consumers and critics explore these vineyards, wineries and wines because they appear to represent the vanguard of quality in the state. It is good for all of us to calibrate our progress against those who appear to be most aggressively pursuing it.

A good place to start looking for information is the web site for the Brandywine Wine Trail at

Spending Saturday hitting the Barrels trail

Winemaker Eric Miller, at Chaddford, and an outside and inside look of the Penns Woods tasting room on Beaver Valley Road.

Just a couple of notes from one day on the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. First, my thanks to everyone for their hospitality on Saturday. There were a fair number of folks at every stop, and those my wife and I talked to were planning to hit at least three or four wineries on the cloudy and damp afternoon. A couple of proprietors said that while the numbers have been good this March for visitors, that the sales haven't corresponded. But there was no shortage of fun; a few pulled up in limos and it was obvious that there was no shortage of beverage or food in the vehicle.
We started at Chaddsford Winery, for no other reason than it's the perfect spot to begin the journey when you're driving over from King of Prussia AND you know that every one will be good to excellent. They offered a 2007 Naked Chardonnay and 2007 Proprietors Reserve White at the first stop, then had winemaker and co-owner Eric Miller, see above, pulling duty at the second tasting station, where he offered a sample of the 2006 bottled Cabernet Sauvignon and some of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon out of the barrel. Want big red? Wait for that '08 to age some more and be bottled. Great stuff. At tasting station No. 2 was a 2006 Pinot Noir and a 2005 Chambourcin, the grapes grown her in York County by Seven Valleys Vineyard. That's the one that has been for sale, the asking price the last we heard at $2.3 million. Then it was upstairs for the fourth station, where Chaddsford offered a 2007 Sunset Blush and Hot Mulled Spiced Apple that, frankly, was perfect for the chilly afternoon.
We were among a handful who drove back up U.S. 1 and south on Route 202 to Beaver Valley Road, site of the Penns Woods Winery, where we walked into the tasting room that resides in an old house on the former Smithbridge Vineyard property. Four wines were offered to sample: a no-name blush that the winery is asking for suggestions for a name, a Traminette, a Chambourcin and also a Merlot. The sampling was done in the back room; the front room where the tasting bar was located was filled with what seemed to be those who were not not part of Barrels. Winemaker Gino Razzi's list includes 24 wines and they range from five selling at $18.50 to three ranging over $50: an 2004 Ameritage Reserve for $52, a 2005 Ameritage Reserve for $55, and a 2002 Ameritage Reserve for $78. Those who have tasted the Reserves, including longtime Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan, rave about them.

Naylor offer futures opportunity at '10 wines

Couple of notes out of the Naylor Wine Cellars in Stewartstown, from owner Dick Naylor. He wrote in the latest newsletter that "2008 was the best year since 2001. Early spring, perfect fruit set with ample spring rains got the vineyard off to a good start. A fairly dry September with warm days and cool nights contributed to a large crop with great quality. Again, more than ever before we performed major crop thinning. Particularly on Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Vignoles and Shiraz. This effort allowed the quality of the grapes remaining to sruge to levels we have had before, which is producing many spectacular wines.

"More home winemakers than ever came to the vineyard for juice, grapes and winemaking supplies, and the amount of customers who came to "pick their own' for pie making and jelly was larger than ever. Give us a call in August and we can let you know the availability of the grapes and juice."


I've gone to barrel tastings at Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md., and put money down on wine I like that I'll pick up later in the spring or summer once it has been bottled. Naylor is taking oney for wine that won't be bottles until next March. He wrote: "On March 1, 2010, we will be releasing a Shirz and a Chardonnay Reserve which we are taking orders to now. Future wines are sold by subscriptions. Customers can taste the Chardonnary Reserve and the Shiraz which will sell for $18.95 when released, but the advanced price will be discounted by 25 percent ($14.71 per bottle) to Futures' buyers. At the time of your order, a 25 percent deposit is required, 50 percent will be due at bottling (about Nov. 1, 2009), and the remaining 25 percent due when the wine is ready for release (around March 1, 2010). There is a three bottle minimum and we are excited to offer you a tasting of these wines at the wineryin Stewartstown."

More thoughts from the NY Wine boss

Followers of this blog have frequently read the weekly thoughts and opinions of executive director Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. Sharing a couple other that seem to me to have some relevency no matter what state you live in.

FLOWER SHOPS may sell wine in Iowa for an annual license of only $25, and Iowa wineries report brisk sales along with the bouquets. This is one of many ways in which that supposedly conservative midwestern state is far more liberal than the “Empire State,” and as far as we know Iowa doesn’t have major problems with underage purchase, drunken driving or related issues. At this week’s WineAmerica meeting in Washington, North Carolina’s Margo Metzger made the great suggestion that a summary of all states’ laws and regulations be compiled for the sake of comparison so enlightened public policy could be proposed. This will take some time, but it will happen.

POLITICS is a fascinating game, as I was reminded last week shuttling between Albany (final budget negotiations) and Washington (federal issues) and meeting with the game’s “players”—politicians who for some reason subject themselves to hard decisions, media scrutiny, and voter outrage. For most people, “March Madness” means basketball, but in Albany it’s the annual drama of negotiating a State budget by the April 1 deadline, a process commonly known as “three men in a room”—the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the Assembly—shaping roughly a $126 billion budget, this year in the face of a $16 billion deficit. To his credit, Governor David Paterson raised a red flag about the impending fiscal crisis last August and presented his budget proposal a month early in mid-December to get the process going, yet has received widespread criticism in the months since then. Among the issues affecting the grape and wine industry are his proposals to allow the sales of wine in grocery stores, a tripling of the wine excise tax, and funding for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. The first issue has been particularly nasty—World War III, as I predicted in the Wine Press last December—with the liquor lobby and wholesalers pitted against the grocery store lobby, while New York wineries are caught uncomfortably in the middle. On the federal level, immigration reform (AgJobs) has long been an equally inflammatory issue rarely mentioned during the Presidential campaign and still treated like a hot potato because of the “A” word (Amnesty), a red herring. These are not simple issues, nor are they fun for our elected officials to tackle. But fortunately they do, and to the best of their ability in shaping policies for the greatest good, for which we should be grateful. Over the years, I have come to know many public officials on many levels and on both sides of the aisle, and most are truly fine human beings doing a tough job under a microscope. Yes, there are exceptions, and the occasional scandal, but “public servant” describes well who they are. This was reinforced for me on Thursday when I flew on the same plane home from Washington with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who sponsored the New York Wine & Grape Foundation legislation 25 years ago and now chairs the powerful House Rules Committee. She is one of the most dedicated, intelligent, and hard-working people I’ve ever known, and even when technically off the job was asking people how they felt about key issues and what she could do to help them. It wasn’t about her, it was about them. She wasn’t looking for votes, she was looking to help. These are tough times, and politicians get bashed a lot. Maybe we should consider saying “Thank you” instead.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Winemaking finding itself in more homes

If more people are inquiring about what it takes to start a winery, as was discussed at the Pennsylvania Wine Association conference in Penn State on Tuesday, then is the same increase in interest being shown in home-winemaking?

Or, is there any juice to the feeling that this passion for winemaking is getting legs? The answer, apparently, is yes. At least that's what John Kramb has seen at Adams County Winery in Orrtanna, Pa., since they began selling the equipment and kits and offering classes a year ago.

"We did the home winemaking classes to get people over the fear of flying sort of thing," he said by phone on Thursday. "We've had anywhere from 10 to 20 people in a class." The next one is scheduled for May 10. The cost is $25. "I take them step by step with our kit wines; here's how you do this, here's how you do this, here's how you do this, and there's a little bit of hands-on to that. And then they say, 'This isn't so scary after all.'"

The response has been high enough to convince Kramb to find a supplier who can help the winery expand its collection of equipment and kits. That equipment, Kramb said, is hardware that only needs to be purchased once as long as people take care of it. In the kits are the grape concentrate and other additive needed to make wine, generally around 5 gallons. Together they equipment and kits cost around $200.

Kramb said he sells higher-end kits, but generally steers newcomers away from those until they complete a class and try some of the basic ones. Students, he said, are attentive in these classes, which last more than an hour and less than two. "They ask good questions," Kramb said. "I change my instruction a little based on if i start seeing the same questions repeated. Our goal is to get people to where they're comfortable making their own wine."

It should be noted that this is the final weekend for Tour de Tanks, and by all indications this fourth annual event that allows passport holders to visit nine wineries has been by far the most successful.

"It has been incredible," Kramb said, then switching to his typical dry humor, "I attribute that to two things. Evidently there's some sort of economic downtown going on. We are not participating personally, but people are more motivated to do things locally. The other reason for us is that [before this year] we were the only winery this far west. Now there are three, and people are more inclined to take the trip out here."

Kramb couldn't provide specific numbers, only an anecdote. "I can tell you this, and this is just coming from memory. The second Saturday of the Tour de Tanks is usually the busiest day of the whole thing, and we had 100 more people than we did the previous year, and that's significant. And the other days have reflected that."

MBBWL trying to rally support at O's opener

Adam Borden, executive director of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, sent out an e-mail that spent more time looking ahead than behind. Disappointed but undaunted, work already is under way to move Maryland among the states that allow for direct shipping. But that battle will run over the next 11 months. In the meantime, here's what Borden sent out.

1, Well, it is official: the House of Delegates
Economic Matters Committee officially killed HB1262, the direct wine shipping bill, last night. Though you could look at this as another defeat, I am really optimistic about the progress we made this year towards gaining passage in 2010. The Committee engaged this issue like they have not before, and we are very appreciative of all of our supporters in the House and Senate for this initiative. Please be sure to thank your elected officials who co-sponsored the bills (here’s a link to find yours: http://cts.vresp.com/c/?MarylandersforBetter/ddf7d79abb/5160fd4178/162ec6be3a) this year and make sure they know you expect them to do the same next year too.

2, What better sign of spring than a new Baltimore Orioles season, and we’d like to send you and a friend to
opening day Monday, April 6th. We were just approved to hand out 50,000 flyers to the stadium-goers, and we need 50 volunteers to cover the crowd. The game starts at 4:05 p.m., so the time commitment would be 1 to 4:30 p.m. Once the game starts and the crowds entering Oriole Park start to subside, we will hold a raffle among our volunteers to win two tickets to go inside the gates. Please let me know via e-mail (aborden at mbbwl.org) as soon as possible if you are able to help out, and please pray for good weather!

3, To get ready for 2010, WE NEED YOUR MONEY AND TIME! We have so far raised almost $3,000 from many of you, and we thank those who have already contributed. To be able to get out the word to more Marylanders, we unfortunately need more money. Even $10 or $20 helps us to print up more flyers and send out more emails. Please click
here to donate: http://cts.vresp.com/c/?MarylandersforBetter/ddf7d79abb/5160fd4178/268ce3c2a9/cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=2184279. We are also in need of more volunteers to do simple things like calling members to update their contact information or coordinating volunteer wine tastings. Drop me a line if you have a couple of hours or more, and we will definitely be able to put you to good work.

4, We held our first critical wine tasting a couple of weeks ago and want to report back. Thanks to the following wineries for generously donating their wines for critical evaluation. Remember: Though some of these wines may be available in Maryland retailers or restaurants, none of them can legally be directly shipped to you in Maryland due to current restrictions.

St. Michael’s Winery 2007 Maryland Merlot
Though rooting for the home team, many found this wine to be a little “too light” in many respects. The color was “light red” to “reddish brown” with a “slight fruit” or “light spice” nose. The wine’s “light body” and “dryness” in texture and taste left some reviewers wondering “where did it go?” Perhaps the wine “possibly needs time?”

Wente Vineyards 2006 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon
This “dark” and “garnet” red wine was “very good” and made people “happy to drink it.” Its fruity aroma – “red fruit in my face” – and full body were good initial signs. The taste was “dry” and “spicy” with “slight fruit” like currant. The wine’s “medium to long finish” led some to say it was “approachable” and “I’d buy a case.”

Bridgeview Blue Moon 2005 Cabernet Merlot Blend
The tasting’s most popular selection – “nice balance” – was “garnet” with an “orange/brown” undertone in color. The “musty coffee” with a hint of “cassis” bouquet complemented the “velvety smooth” texture of the wine. “Lots of red fruit” and “sweetness on the back of the tongue” stayed with our panel for a “medium” length finish. Perfect for “late night sipping.”

Please get in touch if you too would like to help critically evaluate wines for MBBWL. Hope to see you at the game!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Event Grapevine: March 26-29

OK, it’s not a wine event. But our friends over at John J Jeffries Restaurant, 300 Harrisburg Ave., Lancaster, Pa., alternate pairings that involve regional wines or beers. This Sunday, they will match a four course meal with beers from Swashbuckler Brewing Company in Manheim, Pa.

Happy Hour will start at 5:30 p.m., with the dinner to commence at 6. Tickets are $52 per person, include tax and gratuity. You can call 717.431.3307 to make reservations. As for what’s planned?

First Course: Spring Onion Bisque with Swashbuckler's Gold
Second Course: Spring Beet Carpacciowith Red Sea Amber
Third Course: Bistro Steak and Farmer Tom's Watercress Saladwith Porter

Fourth Course: Spring Maple Cheesecakewith Belgium Sasion

The folks at John J Jeffries also team up with
Pinnacle Ridge and Chaddsford wineries for these monthly Sunday night events. We’ll publicize those, and the rest, as they send us the information.

As for what’s going on elsewhere, both this weekend and beyond, take a look:


Adams County Winery, Orrtanna: Wine Appreciation class ($$), Saturday, 6 to 8:30 p.m.; Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries; home wine-making class ($$), Sunday, May 10,
link to winery

Allegro Vineyards, Brogue: Fridays’ Weekly Winedown ($$), 4 to 7 p.m.; Sweet & Spicy Saturdays ($$), 2 to 5 p.m.; Sip & Savor Sundays ($$), 2 to 5 p.m., all require reservations at 741.3072, all events at the Wine Gallery in Olde Tollgate Village EXCEPT for Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries; music of Ravensun ($$), Saturday, April 11, 2 to 5 p.m.,
link to winery

Black Walnut Winery, Sadsburyville: Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries,
link to winery

Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars, New Tripoli: Sunday Blues Wine Tastings, music every Sunday ($$), 2 to 5 p.m., through April, although closed on Easter Sunday,
link to winery

Boyd’s Cardinal Hollow Winery, North Wales: Nina singing live, Saturday, April 11, 5 to 8 p.m.,
link to winery

Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries; reserve tastings ($$) begin in April, 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m. every Saturday; Wine 101 ($$), Thursday, April 9, 6 to 8 p.m. with Eric Miller, the first of a series of classes that run through May; Pierre Noir release party, Friday, April 3; Crazy Eric sale at the winery, Saturday, April 11, starting at 8 a.m.; technical tour program, free, starting April 1, on Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., reservations accepted, link to winery

Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery, Breinigsville: March Madness ($$), passport required, a Lehigh Valley Wine Trail event; beginner tasting class ($$), Saturday, April 25, 3 p.m.; A Taste of Spring, a Berks County Wine Trail event, April 25-26, link to winery

Country Creek Winery, Salford Township: Dinner at Brazzo Downtown ($$), Thursday; Liquid Fridge will perform, Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m.,
link to winery

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: Wine 101, Mondays at the Wine Institute ($$), 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., topic on March 30 is Types of Wine; Pairing Wine and Cheese ($$), Thursday, April 16, 7:30 p.m.,
link to winery

Cullari Vineyards & Winery, Hershey: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries,
link to winery

Four Springs Winery, Seven Valleys: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries,
link to winery

Franklin Hill Vineyards, Bangor: Free winery tour, Wednesdays at noon,
link to winery

Hauser Estate Winery, Biglerville: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries; winemaker’s dinner ($$), Friday, Restaurant Sydney in East Berlin; Candlelight Friday, last Friday of every month, 5 to 8 p.m., wine tasting, music and warm food; Fire and Wine, burning of the grape vine trimmings, Saturday, April 4, 3 to 6 p.m.,
link to winery

Kreutz Creek Vineyards, West Grove: Music at West Chester tasting room, 44 E. Gay St., Fridays and Saturdays, 6 to 9 p.m.; Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries,
link to winery

Manatawny Creek Winery, Douglasville: Hours have changed to Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.; Taste of Spring, Berks County Wine Trail event, April 25-26,
link to winery

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: Music every Friday (6 to 9 p.m.), Saturday (2 to 5 p.m.) and Sunday (2 to 5 p.m.); Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries; champagne brunch ($$), Sunday, April 5, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., call 717.252.9463 for reservations,
link to winery

Naylor Wine Cellars, Stewartstown: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries; Forget The Taxes and red Wine Dinner ($$), Saturday, April 18, 3 to 6 p.m., and Sunday, April 19, 2 to 5 p.m., link to winery

Nissley Vineyards & Winery Estate, Bainbridge: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries, link to winery

Paradocx Vineyard, Landenberg: Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries,
link to winery

Penns Woods Winery, Eddystone: Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries, all events will be at the tasting room location, 124 Beaver Valley Road, Chadds Ford, 610.459.0808, link to winery

Pinnacle Ridge Winery, Kutztown: March Madness ($$), passport required, a Lehigh Valley Wine Trail event; Taste of Spring, Berks County Wine Trail event, April 25-26, link to winery

Reid’s Ochards & Winery, Ortanna: New winery; Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries,
link to information

Rose Bank Winery, Newtown: Winter Wine Concert Series, Sundays through March 29, 1 to 4 p.m., at Shady Brook Farm,
link to winery

Rushland Ridge, Rushland: Reopened,
link to winery

Seven Valleys Vineyard & Winery, Glen Rock: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend through March at all Uncork York wineries,
link to winery

Stargazers Vineyard & Winery, Coatesville: Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries,
link to winery

Tamanend Winery, Lancaster: New winery open, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m., classically styled premium wines in their bottled wine group, and premium sweeter styled wines in their Bag in Box group of wines,
link to winery

Twin Brook Winery, Gap: Barrels on the Brandywine ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Brandywine Valley Wine Trail wineries,
link to winery

Va La Vineyards, Avondale: Open Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 5 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.; a proud participant this year in the 2009 Avondale League of Octogenarians Spring Swimsuit Festival,
link to winery

Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery, Breinigsville: March Madness ($$), passport required, a Lehigh Valley Wine Trail event; Championship Phillies Saturday, April 4,
link to winery

Waltz Vineyards, Manheim: New winery, open Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. at least through the end of March, and by appointment,
link to winery

West Hanover Winery, Harrisburg: Tour de Tanks ($$), continuing every weekend in March at all Uncork York wineries,
link to winery


Basignani Winery, Sparks: Pizza and herbs ($$), April 18-19, noon to 5 p.m.,
link to winery

Black Ankle Winery, Mt. Airy: winner of Maryland Governor’s Cup in 2008; winter hours start Dec. 1, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., other times by appointment; Crumbling Rock vs. the World ($$), Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.; seven-course wine dinner at Buds of Silver Run ($$), Monday, March 30, 6:30; pasta making and wine pairing with Michael & Laurie Forster ($$), Sunday, April 5, noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., link to winery

Boordy Vineyards, Hydes: Stew in Our Juices ($$), homemade stews and wine pairing, with musical entertainment, every Sunday in March, 1 to 5 p.m., winery link

Frederick Cellars, Frederick: Happy Hour, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. every weekday, glasses are half-price; Music in the Cellar, Saturdays, 6:30 or 7 p.m.,
link to winery

Sugarloaf Mountain, Dickerson: Friday Flights ($$) is every Friday from 2 to 4 p.m., which consist of 3 half glasses of SMV wine, each paired with an appropriate cheese, fruit or chocolate, reservations at 301.605.0130; “April in Paris,” April 18-29, noon to 5 p.m., come taste Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard's Bordeaux style red wines as well as its Chardonnays and Pinot Grigio along with light French fare, music and ambiance. Take a tour of our state of the art winery and its 200 French oak barrels used for aging SMV wines. Further details will be posted at www.smvwinery.com in the near future,
link to winery

Woodhall Wine Cellars, Parkton: Annual barrel sale, futures sale and chocolate tasting ($$), extending every weekend through March 29, 2 to 4 p.m., call 410.357.8644 or send an e-mail to reserve your spots; Patricia Della Casual Fine Dining will be serving lunch and dinner from noon to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. each weekend by reservation (410.357.5078),
link to winery

Other MARYLAND winery events can be found at
this link, VIRGINIA events at this link and New York events at this link


Tour de Tanks, continuing every weekend in March, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, cost is $15 per person, pick up tickets at any participating winery or order online
here, wineries include Adams County, Allegro, Cullari, Four Springs, Fox Ridge, Hauser Estate, Moondancer, Naylor, Nissley, Reid’s Orchard, Seven Valleys and West Hanover; information on Meet the Winemaker dinners here.

Barrels on the Brandywine, continuing every weekend in March, noon to 5 p.m., cost is $25 per person, pick up tickets at any participating winery or order online
here, wineries include Black Walnut, Chaddsford, Kreutz Creek, Paradocx, Penns Woods, Stargazers and Twin Brook.

March Madness, Lehigh Valley Wine Trail passport event, continuing on weekends through the end of March; sold out, you can find information on the event

Trail of Spring, third annual
Berks County Wine Trail event, April 25-26, with wine and food pairings.

$$ – Admission charge


Wine School of Philadelphia: Wine 101: Intro to Wine ($$), Thursday, April 16, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., 2006 Fairmount Ave., Philly; Core Wine Certification ($$), classes for spring semester will begin April 23, contact Keith at 215.965.1514 x55,
link to Web site

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pa. confab draws 80-plus, names award-winners

There was some news that came out of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Winery Conference in State College, where more than 80 people attended. They heard morning educational sessions on agricultural law, winery marketing in a down economy and wine consumer insights, then in the afternoon got some dirt on how Pennsylvania wines are progressing from Mark Chien, the state wine grape educator and someone whose insight has been featured several times on this blog.

Dr. Nancy Childs of the Center for Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia said the results of a study conducted by her organization found that the down economy isn't affecting wine sales. Indeed, calls to a number of wineries in Pennsylvania and Maryland have reaped the same consensus.

“The economy shouldn’t be a factor in winery visits and wine purchases this year,” she told the group. “Based on everything we learned, we see exciting potential for Pennsylvania wines
in 2009. What matters most is simply spreading the word about wineries and building a culture of wine enthusiasm throughout the state.”

According to the study, 92 percent of respondents purchase their wine in state wine and spirits stores. The stores also play a key role in disseminating information about the local wine industry. But of all the communication channels used by potential winery visitors, none, according to the study, has more impact on consumer attitudes about Pennsylvania wineries than word-of-mouth.

“We need to encourage discussion among visitors and potential visitors in any way possible,” Childs said. “We also need to connect with consumers on a hedonic level by portraying winery visits as a fun and exciting activity.”

Chien tends to be less about fun and more about business, although perhaps the best way to sum up his talk is that his job is more fun every year as grapes and the quality of the winemaking improves. The grapes picked in 2008, he said, marked the third consecutive good vintage that the state's wineries have produced.

“Our whites are definitely the star of this year’s vintage,” said Chien, who noted that it’s still too soon to tell how late-season storms will affect Pennsylvania’s red wines. Chien also noted a sign of growth for the Pennsylvania wine industry: a significant increase in the number of aspiring wine makers.

“I’m getting more calls and e-mails than ever before from people who want to start a vineyard or a winery,” he said. Pennsylvania currently is the nation's eighth largest wine producer, with more than 130 wineries. “A lot of people are changing careers and wine making is an attractive option. It’s certainly a challenge to start and maintain a successful winery, but the romance of the job is very appealing in times like these.”

Results from the state wine association's annual competition also were announced, and Schuylkill County’s 2008 Benigna’s Creek Sunshine Vidal wound up with Best in Show honors. The Lower Susquehanna wine region took home 18 medals, including two golds.
Nissley Vineyards, located in Lancaster County and a member of the Uncork York! trail, led the region with nine medals, including a gold medal for its 2007 Niagara.

Benigna’s Creek and its winning white wine was pushed by Flickerwood Wine Cellars in Kane, Pa., (McKean County), whose 2006 Flickerberry Dew was named the state’s best fruit wine. Best red wine honors went to a 2007 Greendance Barbera from Greendance, The Winery at Sand Hill, in Mount Pleasant, Pa., (Westmoreland County). It was the second Best in Show win in the last four years for
Benigna’s Creek, whose 2005 Grandview White also won top honors in the 2006 competition.

The 362 wines entered for consideration were judged by Amenti Del Vino, a regional wine society based in Mystic, Conn., on Feb 8.

I happened to be on the phone with John Kramb of Adams County Winery in Orrtanna when the results were released. They won three awards, including a silver for a wine called Black Magic that they just began making. "That was actually our first year [that we made the wine]," Kramb said. "A lot of blackberry, and there's a couple other things in there. We actually have blackberries inthe back thawing out for this next year's crop." It sells for $15."

Bronze medals were awarded the winery's rebel Red and Seducente [Se do CHEN tay]. "That's a fairly new one, too. It's a red blend. Dry. Pretty tasty."

Being one who loved one-stop shopping, I've included
this link to all the award-winners, which appears on the Pennsylvania Wine Association Web site.

Award gives Elk Run 90 reasons to toast

At Elk Run Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., they're celebrating the announcement that their 2007 Cabernet Franc recently was given 90 points and a gold medal at the World Wine Championships.

The competition took place in February in Chicago.

As for the tasting notes, the judges said: "Rich German chocolate cake, green olive, and blackberry pie aromas are attractive and follow through on a soft, silky entry to a dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body with pencil shaving and sweet spice notes. Finishes with lovely toasted coconut, mossy earth, and tangy berry fade. A delicious sipper or pair with grilled pork tenderloins."

Marketing manager Carol Wilson, who chatted on the phone Monday about a number of subject, said the even better news was how their wine matched up in price to the other two winners.

"There were three gold medal," she said. "Kenneth Volk, Paso Robles, his sells for $36; Jarvis, out of Napa Valley, theirs sells for $90. And ours sells for $21."

Black Walnut gets mileage out of Bank Barn Red

Owners Lance and Vicki Castle and Jack and Karen Kuhn, a picture taken off the winery's Web site. They've been pouring wines for tasting under a tent that has been set up for the month while work on the winery building continues.

You have one more weekend to do a drive-by at the Black Walnut Winery in Sadsburysville. Where is that? As one who drove 10 years to Philly from Central Pennsylvania, it's located a couple miles past the point where Route 30 (heading east) changes from a two-lane road into a four-lane elevated highway that heads toward Philly.

After this coming weekend ends, after the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail's Barrels on the Brandywine finishes for another year, work will resume on the almost 200-year-old barn that will open for business as the winery/tasting room sometime in June. Maybe early June. Maybe late. They're not sure yet. But at least they feel like they're honing in on the specific month now.

The four owners have been working on restoring the barn for a couple of years now. One of those owners, Lance Castle, said by phone on Monday that things are coming along rather well. “We just put the hardwood floors in the special events room and in the tasting room,” he said, “and they look very nice. We’ve gotten some building inspections done and gotten some good responses from the building inspectors, saying things look good.” Left to decide is whether they can hook directly to the sewer line or go to Plan B, which is put in a septic system.

Castle said that the response from folks who have stopped by as part of the Barrels tour has been positive. Some have taken advantage of the opportunity to fill out comment cards, which has helped bulk up the winery’s e-mail list to send out blasts regarding the opening and any events to follow.

The wines, he said, “have been getting some very good feedback. I’ve had a couple people tell me that, ‘Wow, you know, I don’t go to a lot of Pennsylvania wineries, but I didn’t expect this kind of quality.’ I said, great, we strive to get you to say this is a great wine, and not have the little words after it that say ‘for a Pennsylvania winery.’

“Obviously we always know there’s room to grow but we absolutely are working real hard to know there is some quality stuff and people were very accepting of it. They enjoyed a lot of them.”

Perhaps the surprise hit has been what Castle called a Bank Barn Red, what he called “a little bit of a sweet big red wine. It was four grapes from two different seasons, ’06 and ’07 that I even ages in French and American oaks. It had a lot of flavors going on in there, a lot of complexities. I was thinking it was going to be too much for people, but it has been the surprise hit of the tastings.”

It includes Cabernet Sauvignon,
Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot from 2006 and the first three from 2007. “[I] left some residual sweetness in the second year and blended it into the first to get a softer, slightly sweet red wine, and they’ve really stepped up and said, ‘Wow, this is great.’”

Here's the specs on the Bank Barn Red:
This wine has the largest concentration of Cabernet Franc (59.16%) of our blended red wines. This red blend presents the strongest strawberry and fruit flavors while being unbelievably smooth. With a small change in blending, you can appreciate the greater influence of the flavors and structures of our two Cabernet wines.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Rock vs. World' among Black Ankle events

A shot of the tasting room at Black Ankle Vineyards.

Spotted a couple of events coming up this weekend on Black Ankle Vineyard's site that I wanted to mention. The Mt. Airy winery won the Maryland Governor's Cup for its 2006 Crumbling Rock, a red Bordeaux blend, even while just opening for business. That award distinguishes the wine as the best in the state.

So this Sunday, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the winery, guests can participate in a competition called Crumbling Rock vs. the World. According to the winery's Web site, they've asked "some of the finest wine retailers in the state to recommend their best $35 to $50 Bordeaux-style wines, and we'll taste five of them blind to see how they stack up against our home town favorite. An array of appetizers and discussion of the wines, their regions, similarities and differences will round out the afternoon."

The cost is $50 per person. For more information and reservations call Tracy at 301.788.1412, or e-mail tracy@blackankle.com.

The next day, March 30, chef Ken Lurie of
Bud's on Silver Run will prepare a seven-course meal and pair each course with a Black Ankle wine. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a mix of hors d’ouevres, including Hot Oysters with Sautéed Bok Choy, Mini Crab Crostini and Cider Poached Foie Gras on Grilled Ciabatta, served with Black Ankle's 2007 Viognier. Dinner will be served starting at 7. The cost is $125/person.

If you haven't gotten over to Black Ankle yet, it's worth the visit. Some already are calling it among the finest wineries on the East Coast; others simply say this one will set the bar for the wineries to come. No question that those from central Pennsyl;vania, for instance, might be aghast at the prices of the wine, which peaked at $40 when the winery opened. But for a winery in its first year of business, the wines are uncharacterically superb. The winery, by the way, is a member of the Frederick Wine Trail and one of several located within only a few miles of one another.

Wine shop owner asks: Couldn't I sell cheese?

Wanted to share this op-ed that appeared in last Wednesday's edition of the New York Times. With a proposal to allow New York grocery stores to begin selling wine, an owner of a wine shop asks why he can't sell cheese.

Published: March 19, 2009

“DIO mio!” exclaimed my father, Giovanni, over the phone. I had just informed him of Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to allow New York grocery stores to sell wine. And I could practically see him reaching for the Chianti when, as the owner of a small wine shop in downtown Manhattan, I told him I thought it could actually be a good thing.

Thirty-five states already permit wine sales in grocery stores, and those states still have independent retailers. But the common wisdom persists that such a move will crush me, the little guy. Big-box retailers will use their superior buying muscle to force me and my fellow independents out of business.

This is definitely a fear, especially in a slowing economy. Much of our daily sales are moderately priced bottles, a category likely to be offered in grocery stores as well. And smaller suburban retailers may indeed have it tougher as shoppers opt for the convenience of having one fewer place to drive.

But I also see these proposed changes as a huge opportunity to serve our customers better while redressing outdated, irrational and inequitable laws.

New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control code, which has governed the sale of wine, beer and liquor since Prohibition was repealed in 1933, sometimes seems like a charmingly genteel relic of a bygone era, when buying wine for Sunday supper was regarded as the Devil’s work. We still can’t open before noon on the Sabbath.

I’m not bemoaning the loss of the Sunday breakfast crowd. But these proposals will bring increased competition, and it’s only fair that there should be commensurate opportunities to expand our small businesses. If supermarkets can have multiple locations, why are we prohibited (pardon the pun) from operating more than one store? Or from keeping the same hours?

If grocery stores can sell a Côtes du Rhône, then why shouldn’t we be able to sell baguettes and cheese? How about artisan beer? Or just reusable shopping bags? (A Rochester store was recently fined a whopping $10,000 for doing this.) What goes for the grocery stores should go for us too.

If the laws were truly fair, we independent retailers will have our own advantages. Big chains will have to buy big. And while your local supermarket pushes those same familiar bottles, independent stores will still provide substantially more selection and be better able to seek out smaller, even very limited producers, like the guy who makes just 40 cases a year of really good lambrusco.

Wine, after all, has always been more than just a floor-stacked commodity. A pleasure to be savored, a conduit for culture and the fastest way to bring people together that I know of, it’s also hard to buy without trusted help. Come to us with a recipe for gnocchi with Gorgonzola, for example, and we will help you pair it with the perfect wine — a nebbiolo from Italy’s Langhe region, in this case. And we will know you by name. Try getting that from the teenager with the name tag and the vest.

Marco Pasanella owns a wine store.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tour de Tanks show 50-plus % attendance hike

Leroy 'Buck' Mortorff talks about the importance of using virgin oak barrels for Chardonnay wine during a tour Sunday at Four Springs Winery in Seven Valleys that was part of UnCork York Wine Trail's 2009 Tour de Tanks. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Paul Kuehnel)

Participating wineries are reporting more than a 50 percent increase in attendance for Tour de Tanks this year as compared to last. In addition, the Uncork York! trail has reaped the benefit of some generous coverage by the local media, including several regional TV stations and newspapers. The latest to publish something about the event was the York Daily Record, which ran a front-page story this weekend on Four Springs Winery in Seven Valleys, Pa.

According to the piece by Greg Gross, more than 5,500 people have taken part in the first three weekends of the tour, an increase of more than 50 percent compared with the same time last year "This is the biggest year yet," co-owner Lloyd "Junior" Mortorff Jr. was quoted as saying on Saturday. To read the article, click on this link.