Monday, January 19, 2009

Morris: More wineries coming on board

He doesn’t grow grapes, at least not to my knowledge, but wine writer and blogger Roger Morris plays as significant a part in the complexity of this region as a wine producer as anyone bottling the juice from the grapes.

His reviews are posted on several Web sites, and he’s credited with pairing the wines and foods for the
Brandywine Valley Wine Trail’s vintners’ dinner that I attended at Longwood Gardens last November. A former writer for the Washington Star, he is in the middle of a long return stint with the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, and he occasionally contributes to a blog he created named Been There Tasted That.

Morris said by phone late last week that, from everything he has heard, business at wineries around him remained pretty stable last year in the midst of all the economic obstacles. And while interest in local wines continues to expand, he said the quality keeps increasing.

“As you know,
Va La just decided to drop out of [Brandywine Valley] the wine trail so it can concentrate on making high-end wines,” he said. “Obviously at $55 a bottle that they sell, and Penns Woods sells theirs at a pretty high price. Eric Miller [of Chaddsford Winery] routinely has wines in the 30s and 40s [dollar range], so I think that’s working.”

Asked whether they’ve reached a level where they’re worth that much, Morris said it’s not his choice to make that assertion.

“If someone likes it well enough to pay for it, then it’s worth it,” he said. “But from everything that I can see, they are, and I think that without a doubt that [Va La’s]
Mahogany is one of the best if not the best red wine that I’ve tasted on the East Coast. The other thing that’s interesting too is that the new wineries continue to have their plans to come onstream. I know that there are some people . . . I know there’s one winemaker for other reasons decided not to move ahead with a new winery, but he already has a winery, just didn’t want to break ground. But the people at the old Folly Hill Winery [Galer Estates], they re going full speed ahead. There’s a new fellow named Mario Patone, who is opening up Patone Cellars in West Grove. He’s been a very large homemaker for a long time and bought grapes this fall and is going to try to have his tasting room open this coming fall. And there’s two wineries opened in Cecil County [Md.] as you know, the past year and half. So, so far, I don’t see any main change in anything. The main thing I’ve heard at Va La that hurts them [is] when the Eagles are playing on Sundays.

“One of the things that Patone did tell me that I thought was interesting to me that may apply to what you’re doing is that he hasn’t decided whether he’s going to do any more than a showcase vineyard where he’s got the property. He’s thinking about even going out around Lancaster where the land is cheaper and whereas as you know there are some people up there who grow grapes. Sp that’s what he’s thinking about, so I guess that the land even in a recession is still fairly higher here to buy for a vineyards.”

Morris said Patone will be one new member expected to essentially replace Va La on the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. “Since he just joined the wine trail he’s not going to be on their March agenda, when they do the Barrels on the Brandywine . . . I didn’t ask him this, but I was thinking just because of trying to catch the fall events he’s going to try and sell his first wines then.”