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.

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