Friday, February 6, 2009

E-letters, Web sites, vary in style, substance

Perhaps nothing shows the wide disparity in how serious regional wineries take communication than their Web sites and e-letters.

It could take hours just reading through all the info contained on the Chaddsford and BlackAnkle Web site, and few organize their events page as well as CrossingVineyards. Several, such as Terrapin Station, have an altruistic endeavor as part of their mission statement and include a link to that. Perhaps none are more fun than Va La, as distinctive for its humor as it is for the information it carries. Some recently have freshened up their sites, such as Paradocx and the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail's Big Creek Vineyards in Kresgeville.

On the other end of the scale, a few wineries don't have active Web sites right now. Some haven't updated the news or events on their site in months or, in a couple case, more than a year. This difference also extends to the vigor they put into their communication, and it runs the gamut from returning calls or e-mails within 24 hours to some that have never responded. Ever. Even to questions about their wines or winery, and they exist on every trail in every part of eastern and central Pennsylvania and Maryland. It just seems that the way it is. Head-scratching, to say the least, for businesses that are in the public eye.

All of this prefaces the bevy of e-letters that landed in my mailbox in the past 24 hours, each one unique and carrying bits of news. Sand Castle Winery in Erwinna, Pa., puts out a one-page sheet that lists upcoming events (see Thursday's Event Grapevine for what's on their schedule), a little news from the vineyard ("Pruning continues in the Riesling. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are the last ones to be done. If anyone would like to have the cuttings for their private vineyard, please contact the winery.") and a few impressions of the latest vintage ("2008 young wines are performing beyond our expectations. Last bottling of Pinot Noir 2005 has been done and any lovers of this vintage should know there are only 200 cases in stock.")

Joanne Levengood at Manatawny Creek includes news on their February sale ("our 2006 Cabernet Franc Port at 10% off."), their holiday hours ("We will be open on Monday, 2/16 from 10-6 for the President’s Day holiday.") and a wine update ("The Blue Bear Ease will hopefully be back on the list in a few weeks. I will send out another email to announce its release.") After filling in readers on next weekend's Berks County Wine Trail's wine and chocolate festival, she finishes with a segment that answers a question. And it's far from a one-sentence answer. The question? What exactly is Port?

"Port is a sweet, fortified wine that is typically served after a meal. The process to make port differs from the typical winemaking process for table wines in that the fermentation is stopped about halfway by the addition of grape neutral spirits. This results in a wine with an alcohol content between 18% and 20% with a lot of the natural sweetness from the grape remaining. Port originated in Portugal’s Douro Valley and the name comes from the fact that historically, these wines were shipped out of the city of Oporto.

"There are three basic categories of port made with red grapes – vintage, ruby and tawny (white port is made with white grapes but is much less common). Vintage ports, the expensive type, are made from grapes of a single vintage and are typically bottled with only a little more than a year of aging in barrel. They are only made in declared years in Portugal and the consumer is expected to do most of the aging since Vintage port gets better with age and often needs many years to become drinkable. Ruby port can be made from grapes of different vintages and is aged for about 2 years before release. It is typically ready to drink when released and is simpler and less expensive than Vintage port. Tawny ports are made from grapes of different vintages and aged in barrels to purposely undergo slow oxidation; this turns the color of the red wine to a tawny color and gives it a unique character. The label of a Tawny port will often show the average number of years of aging - typically 10, 20, 30 or over 40 years.

"The grape varieties used in port in Portugal are numerous and varied and do not include anything that we grow in Pennsylvania. At Manatawny Creek, we make our port from Cabernet Franc, one of the red varieties that grows very well in our area. We produce it in the vintage port style, using grapes from a single vintage and bottling the wine after 1 year of aging in neutral oak. Our port definitely benefits from several years of aging and, just like true Portuguese Port, is the ideal beverage to pair with chocolate!"

Carol and Jim Kirkpatrick at the Brandywine Valley trail's Kreutz Creek Winery adds some folksiness to their e-letter with several photos of their 7-year-old dog, Fetzer, plus a schedule of their entertainment schedule at their West Chester tasting room, and their own winermarker's notes.

"Winter is the time for pruning, yes even during these frigid temperatures we're outside prunning. We're about 60% completed so we're right on schedule. If you're feeling crafty and want some of the prunnings, let me know soon and I'll save some. They make beautiful wreaths and the price is! Last week I pumped over the 2007 Kordeaux and WOW!!!!, it was fabulous. Needless to say, I'm very excited about it and hope to bottle it in 2 weeks. It should be ready for Barrels on the Brandywine in March where we'll be doing the popular vertical Kordeaux tasting. This year it's 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Kordeaux. I think this is the best yet and I hope you agree!!! The 2008's are coming along nicely. We really had a great season and I can't wait to get some of these wines in the bottle. Stay tuned for more information next month! See you in the tasting room!"

Pinnacle/Jeffries pairing draws Sunday crowd

One regional restaurant that includes local wineries as part of its Buy Fresh, Buy Local theme is John J. Jeffries, located in the Lancaster Arts Hotel. So the recent wine and food pairing held in conjunction with winemaker Brad Knapp and Pinnacle Ridge Winery was not an aberration; they hold these generally once a month (on the last Sunday of the month) with regional wineries and breweries from the spring into the late fall. The winemaker or brewmaster, as you'd figure, is an integral part of the program.

Bartender Michael Grove said by phone yesterday that around 40 people attended the Sunday evening, Jan. 25, event at the restaurant. There was a one-hour Happy Hour, then guests headed to their tables for a four-course wine and food pairing that included Knapp’s commentary. In all, the combo cost only $52 per person, including tax and gratuity.

“It probably lasted about two hours,” Grove said. “The food was paired up very well with the wine, and the wine went very well with the food obviously. And a few people hung around at the bar later on and they were talking about it. And from what I heard they enjoyed it.”

The restaurant is named for a local tobacco inspector of the late 19th century. It seats approximately 60 in its main dining area and smoke-free bar. Dinners only are served there, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Half-price local beer, wine by the glass, and Organic Martinis are offered daily from 4 to 6 p.m.

The next one will be the last Sunday in March, the 25th, and will features foods paired with Swashbuckler beer. Troegs, Victory and Stoudts are other beers that have been featured in that all-expenses-included pairing. Generally, the restaurant rotates between featuring a beer and a wine, and also includes some or all of those products on their regular beer and wine list. Grove said that Chaddsford Winery has joined Pinnacle Ridge not only on those Sunday night events, but also as regular “house” wines.

“We always have at least one by the glass of both red and white,” he said, "and normally more than that. Right now we’re carrying a Chambourcin from Pinnacle, a Chardonnary from Pinnacle and a Pinot Grigio from Chaddsford.” They also carry Manatawny Creek's honey wine and a late harvest Vidal Blanc from Pinnacle.

That they drew 40 people is a testament to the power of the Buy Local network, which sends out e-mail blasts promoting this and other events around the region. Grove said the restaurant also will place a slip of paper into the folder containing the check advertising the next wine/beer and food pairing.

Told it’s refreshing to see a local restaurant carry local wines, Grove said a lot of it is a matter of realizing just what's out there.

“I think mainly because people don't know there are very drinkable local wines out there,” he said, “and, you know, it's just a perception of local wines that they have. Before I worked here, I sort of had the same philosophy on local wines. But I've actually had a chance to try quite a few of them now since I've ccme here and am definitely impressed with them.”