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.