Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making a move out of the neighborhood, but home remains the vineyard

I've been at this for almost two years now, and to a large part it's a blog that has remained a largely a secret around the wine community. Much of that is my own fault: just not taking the time to bring it up to speed on Facebook and Twitter. Some of that has been the dinosaur syndrome -- not adapting quickly to new technology -- and a lot of it has just been the factor of time; i.e., not enough of it.

So it makes sense to move this to a platform where more should see it and be able to spread the word. I already blog
sports fan issues on pennlive.com here at the Harrisburg Patriot-News. As of today, I've also switched The Wine Classroom to its new address: http://blog.pennlive.com/wine. Please bookmark that address.

That's really all that's changing. I'd like to continue looking at the regional wine industry, focusing on those who are now old-timers in these parts (hello
Chaddsford and Blue Mountain and Boordy and Basignani, to name a few) and the many others who are just beginning to cast their fates in the soil and climate that provide a home for the vines. And by doing so, making more people who live in the mid-Atlantic some idea about how the wine industry is growing around them and where it's headed.

Still feel sometimes like I'm searching for my voice: It's neither
graperadio.com nor Gary Vay-ner-CHUK of the Wine Library, two of my favorites sources of information on wine. It's probably closer to Pierre Carafe, a favorite nickname bestowed by a previous colleague who's known to more people as Joe Sixpack than Don Russell.

While still feeling much the novice, I know much, much more about regional wines and wineries than when I started. And there's plenty more to discover. I'll be happy to share that knowledge as I'm learning.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Penns Woods part of 'Taste Local' event

Penns Woods Winery kicked out a release Thursday touting its participation in an event called "Taste Local: A Celebration of Regional Food, Wine, and Beer" that will be held from noon to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in Malvern/Great Valley, Pa. Tickets are $35/person for the event, which will be housed at the Desmond Hotel & Conference Center.

Sounds like around 15 wineries and breweries will be offering samples of their product. You can purchase tickets by calling 610.249.2180 or clicking on this link.

Penns Woods has its tasting room in Chaddsford and its winery down near the Philly airport, in Eddystone. A member of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, the winery produces maybe a dozen and a half of largely dry reds and whites. Had a chance to sample (and savor) their wines twice, at a vintner's dinner before Christmas in 2008 and at Barrels on the Brandywine, a wine trail event that takes place annually every weekend in March. A few people that I respect, such as Craig Laban of the Philadelphia Inquirer and regional wine writer Roger Morris, laud the work that owner and winemaker Gino Razzi done since he took over what used to be called the Smithbridge Winery in 2004.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wine Excellence awards provides firsts for Chambourcin and Chaddford

I write about a number of wineries from the region that few people have heard about, either because they've just opened or don't get their product into the state store (in Pennsylvania) or into the hands of many merchants in Maryland.

But that's not meant to downplay the continued great work of some of this region's standbys, one being Chaddsford in southeastern Pennsylvania. Can't think of another regional winery that carries more weight as an innovator and is known in more corners of the world that wine drinkers occupy. And the winery's win Sunday in the annual judging by the Pennsylvania Wine Society serves as a reminder of where winemaker and co-owner Eric Miller has set the bar at a winery that will celebrate its 30th birthday in a couple of years.

Society president Paul Beesom said that there were several precendents this year: no Chambourcin had ever won before and Miller and Chaddsford had never won before. Those streaks are over, off the win of the fabulous 2007 vintage. Those who follow the progress of the local industry will recall that Pinnacle Ridge's 2007 Chambourcin was the Farm Show's top winer in 2009.

It took awhile, Beesom admitted, for Chambourcin to even be allowed into the competition.

"I had mixed feelings and a lot of us had mixed feelings of whether to include Chambourcin," he said. "But the feeling was that it was so close to a vinifera species that it could almost be one and also that it was the one area that this state and this area could make its mark with. And it does very well here. So we agreed to include it."

The Society has been around since 1987, but has only been judging PA wines for its Wine Excellence competition for eight years. Wineries are invited to submit their wines to the organization, which narrows the entries to a more workable number. This year, according to the Pennsylvania Winery Association Web site, there were 11, including two each from Allegro, Manatawny Creek and NW Pennsylvania's Presque Isle.

And more and more, Beesom said, it has become a pleasureable experience. "They're getting better," he said of the state's wines and the ones in particular that wind up in the competition. "Better every year, and I say that after each event. I can honestly say that of the 11 wines that we [judged], every one of them could be on a fine-dining restraurant list."

That wasn't the case early, he added. There were two or three good ones, the rest a "little shaky. But they're just getting better. I think the winemakers are learning more as they go along on how to do things right in this area."

If you want to check out some comments on Chaddsford wine, here's a link to the Web site where Lee Miller has assembled a collection of praise from magazines and bloggers alike. These include insight from some of the folks I follow regularly, including Delawareonline.com's Roger Morris (who also blogs under the heading of Been There Tasted That) and theother46.com's Brian Kirby.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manatawny news: Syrah, new Web site

So what's coming up this year at Manatawny Creek Winery in central Pennsylvania, which sits on the western flank of the group of wineries that make up the Berks County Wine Trail.

Owner and winemaker Joanne Levengood had a short list that included the first-ever release of a Syrah, using grapes grown in her vineyard and a few others around the county. It's another arrow in the quiver, so to speak, in her mission to get more of her customers to at least try dry reds. "I just think it's a nice drinking wine," she said. "It's got real nice black fruit to it, got some peppery, some black peppery spice characteristics, and we aged it in Pennsylvania oak, so it has a nice oak component to it."

One of a half-dozen premium reds, this one sells at $15.95, about what you'd expect to find at a majority of the wineries in the midstate. She also said she'd like to get rid of some of the fruit wines she sells and make use of the Muscat grape as a dessert wine. "I have a little Muscat in the tank right now and I don't quite know exactly what to do with it. That's the only other thing that I can think of that would be new [in 2010]. I do want to continue the Syrah program and all the dry and just keep trying to get people to drink more of them. I'd love to eliminate the sweeter stuff," she said, laughing, but that's a tough business decision with the palate of most of her customers leaning toward the semisweet and sweet wines.

What's also new and fresh is the Manatawny Web site that includes a link to a unique description of sustainability in the vineyard.

On the other hand, what never gets old at Manatawny and others on the Berks County trail are the free tastings. Levengood said that while a few of the wineries have started to charge, they're planning to continue to offer the entire lineup for free. Well, with one exception. "After the [trail's] chocolate event last February, I had a bunch of people complaining to me about how they had to wait forever [to get up to the bar and be served]. And that spurred our decision to ask people to keep their tastes to eight wines and stop. But, you know, that's kind of a little bit of a loose rule. We're trying to plan that wine and chocolate event in February again and we are going to cut everyone off at eight. And I'm hoping that will alleviate the problem and not have to force us to charge to taste. Just about everybody who walks through that door buys a bottle, so I don't really want to charge for tastes. It's just another headache to deal with."

Taste of Thailand on menu at Serpent Ridge

Mentioned in a couple of posts about Serpent Ridge Vineyard in Maryland closing for a month. The Carroll County winery will reopen Saturday and also is taking reservations for a Taste of Thailand wine dinner from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 5.

Chaf Monique Washirapanya of L'Ecole Culinaire School of Cooking will handle the food end of the evening. Cost is $75/person plus tac. Here's a look at the menu, with the wine choice at the bottom of each course:

Tom Ka Goong
(Shrimp Coconut Soup)
Seyval Blanc

Taud Man Pla
(Fish Cakes)

Tam Taeng and Yam Nuea
(A duet of Northeast Cucumber Salad and Beef Salad)
Pino Grigio

Gaeng Ped Gai
(Red Curry Chicken)

Glazed Pineapple with Coconut Ice Cream and Pound Cake with Chocolate
Vintner’s Cabernet

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chaddsford wins Wine Society's top award

The Pennsylvania Wine Society selected Chaddsford Winery's 2007 Chambourcin as the overall winner of the 2010 Excellence Award on Sunday at the Harrisburg Hilton.

The other 10 involved in the competition included:

Chaddsford Pinot Noir 2007
Presque Isle Blaufrankish NV
Pinnacle Ridge Chambourcin 2008
Galen Glen Cabernet Franc 2007
Manatawny Creek Cabernet Franc 2007
Presque Isle Merlot 2007
Manatawny Creek Merlot 2007
Pinnacle Ridge Veritas 2007
Allegro Bridge 2007
Allegro Cadenza 2007

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Regional calendar offers classes, discounts

Three events to put your your calendar involving regional wineries.

1, The wineries of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley Wine Trail are offering a 10 percent discount on all their wines through the end of the month.

2, Fiore Winery in Pylesville, Md., has two classes on pruning scheduled for a pair of Saturdays in February, the 6th and the 20th. Call 410.879.4007 for information and to register.

3, Adams County Winery in Orrtanna, Pa., will hold wine appreciation classes on a pair of Saturday evenings (6 to 8) the next two months, one on Jan. 30 and the other on Feb. 20. The cost is $35 per person per class. Its next home winemaking class will be Sunday, Jan. 31, from 1 to 3 p.m. Cost is $25/person.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Serpent Ridge owners savor first year, start getting prepared for reopening Jan. 23

Carroll County, Md., winery Serpent Ridge closed for holiday on Dec. 23, 2009, and will be closed one more week before reopening Jan. 23. Owner Greg Lambrecht said it's a good chance to get a lot done around the winery in a short four-week burst, although they might not repeat this exact scenario.

"We may not do it next year; it may just be Christmas week we're closed," he said recently. Because we're small and because we still do everything by hand . . . we don't have have bottling line, we don't bring in a bottling line, everything is still done by hand. I think we can maintain that. We've upped our production by about 50 percent [to 1200 cases] this year and probably another 50 percent [in 2010] and then I'll have to consider where we are." With all that work, he continued, it just helps to have the unimpeded stretch of time to get things accomplished.

Lambrecht said he they're looking at bringing in someone else to work the tasting room and possibly an assistant to assist him with making the wine. And he said he thought that they would open on Fridays this year in addition to the weekends, maybe add a bit of Friday night entertainment.

Currenly they are producing six wines; he said they'd add a Pinot Grigio to the line this year, "one I've been holding back. It's actually from 2007. And we would like to do . . . I have a Vidal that I'm doing in more of a late-harvest style. We harvested it the second or third week of November, just before Thanksgiving. But it's going to be a small run. Testing the water with that one. My grower who is growing that; we're both kind of playing with a late-harvest style. I think it's going to be nice, but I think it will take some time before it's ready to go."

Overall, once he and his wife Karen opened the place in April 2009, things went smoothly. Business, he said, was so good that [the wines] moved veyr quickly, where almost to the point by the end of the year we had to start limiting the sales of some just so I could extend my inventory."

He laughed when asked what, in retrospect, they might have done differently leading up to opening.

"I need a bigger building," he said. "The actual wine production building. Everybody always told me when we started preparing to do this at least five, six, seven years ago, they always said build things better than you think you need them. And I always said I know exactly what I need. And now I'm telling all the new winery committees [to] 'build it bigger.' You know, bigger overall, just everything. I wish in the beginning I wouldn't have spent the money on smaller tanks, I wish I would hav spent the money on bigger tanks to begin with. I wish I had built a bigger building. Bigger everything, because you are going to grow."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Briar Valley, Cherry Valley garner Best of Show awards at 2010 Farm Show judging

Results are in from the 2010 Farm Show. Here's a list of the top winners off the state Wine & Wineries Web site, and a link to the list if you want to check out the wines receiving silver and bronze medals.

Gold Medals and "Best ofs"

Best of Show- Grape, Best Vinifera; Gold: Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery -- 2008 Gew├╝rztraminer

Best of Show - Fruit: Cherry Valley Vineyard -- 2009 Raspberry Wine

Best Hybrid: Presque Isle Wine Cellars -- 2008 Vignoles

Best Dessert: Greendance Winery -- 2008 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc

Best Sparkling: Pinnacle Ridge Winery -- NV Blanc de Blanc

Best American: Allegheny Cellars Winery -- NV Big Bend Blush


Arrowhead Wine Cellars: Dry Riesling

Arrowhead Wine Cellars: Vignoles

Benignas Creek: 2007 Chambourcin

Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery: 2008 Riesling

Chaddsford Winery: 2007 Pinot Noir

Clover Hill: Vignoles

Franklin Hill: 2008 Apple

Manatawny Creek Winery: 2007 Merlot

Mazza Vineyards: 2009 Riesling

Naylor Wine Cellars, Inc: Topaz

Naylor Wine Cellars, Inc: Essence

Nissley Vineyards: 2008 Chambourcin

Nissley Vineyards: 2008 Fantasy

Pinnacle Ridge Winery: 2007 Veritas

Presque Isle Wine Cellars: 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Rose Bank Winery: 2008 Vidal Blanc

Seven Mountains Wine Cellar: 2008 Traminette

Vynecrest Winery: 2008 Cherry Divyne

Waltz Vineyards Estate Winery: 2008 Baron Steigel Rose

Terrapin virtual tasting set up for Jan. 28

Couple of note from Terrapin Station Winery in Cecil County, Md., near Elkton. They have scheduled a wine dinner at Agro Dolca restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20. Cost is $55 per person. It's a five-course Prix Fixe menu paired with five wines from Terrapin Station. For details, go to the Terrapin Web site.

Have written on several occasions about the plans for a virtual tasting, the first that I'm aware of in this region. It has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28. And I'll steal the remainder of the commentary from the winery's latest e-letter.

"So what's a virtual wine tasting? Glad you asked!

Since our fans are located all over the state, we decided to steal an idea that Morris experienced once to enable people to try wines and talk about them online. This is how it will work:

1. You acquire the wine for the tasting at your local retail store so that you can taste along with the event. A complete listing of our stores can be found
here. If your local store does not have the wine we plan to try, tell them to call us and we will make sure they have it for you. The wine we are tasting at this event will be our 2008 Cabernet Franc.

2. Before the tasting visit
Talk Shoe. While it is not strictly necessary to set up a login account, it does make your experience better.

4. A few minutes before the show, login and join the show. During the show, we would taste and talk about a wine or wines while everyone online tried them along with us.

5. During the show you could ask or post questions or comments. If you use a telephone connection you will actually be able to speak and ask questions when the mic is open. Otherwise, you can always type your questions.

We ask in advance that you be patient as this is an experiment and frankly we'll be learning on the fly. A little genuine spontaneity isn't such a bad thing."

Wine Society to judge Sunday in Harrisburg

The Wine Society of Central Pennsylvania will hold its annual judging of Pennsylvania wines starting at 2:55 p.m Sunday at the Harrisburg Hilton. Cost is $35 per person for members and $45 for non-members.

Readers of this blog are familiar with Mark Chien and his insights into this state and its vineyards and wineries. Chien will be the guest speaker. Judges will pick a champion and runners-up from the following:

Allegro Bridge 2007
Allegro Cadenza 2007
Chaddsford Chambourcin 2007
Chaddsford Pinot Noir 2007
Galen Glenn Cabernet Franc 2007
Manatawny Creek Cabernet Franc 2007
Manatawny Creek Merlot 2007
Pinnacle Ridge Merlot 2007
Pinnacle Ridge Veritas 2007
Presque Isle Blaufrankish NV
Presque Isle Merlot 2007

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fiore Chambourcin is tonight's partner at dinner

Matched my favorite restaurant in York (Pomodoro's) with wine I brought along from one of my favorite wineries: Fiore, in Pylesville, Harford County, Maryland. We had stopped there several months ago and among the bottles we brought home was a Proprietor's Reserve Chambourcin. That was a 2005 vintage, selling for $16.99.

My wife's tastes don't agree with most reds, especially the tannic brews that pucker you up. But this one was all fruit and went down easy, and she didn't even look around for a white on the table.

You can see the tasting notes and the many awards this wine has won at this link. While I didn't quite eat the lamb or prime rib or veal that this wine is supposed to best complement, it went perfectly with my chicken cacciatore.

Overloaded with info to post over the next couple of days. Hope to catch up before my midwinter va-K ends.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Crossing Vineyards celebrating two accolades from recent Jefferson Cup competition

Two wines from Crossing Vineyards and Winery in Washington Crossing, Pa. have earned a Certificate of American Merit in the Jefferson Cup Invitational in Kansas City, Mo., a designation the competition says is comparable to a silver medal.

Appreciate Rebecca Felten looping me in on the e-mail.

The invitational event, now in its 10th year, pre-selects more than 600 wines from 23 states which it says, “exemplify viticulture and winemaking in America.” The Jefferson Cup, held Nov. 19-20, 2009, does not award golds, silvers and other medals. Rather, according to competition organizers, “the invited wines have all proven their excellence in competitions and tastings throughout the last year. We believe and try to publicize our belief that these are wines that are extremely deserving of the nation’s attention.”

Of the wines invited to compete for the Jefferson Cup award, some 350 received the “Certificate of American Merit.” One hundred and thirty two received medallions deeming them, “American Examples of Greatness,” and 78 of those were selected “Jefferson Cup honorees.” Fifteen received the Jefferson Cup award.

Crossing Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc '06 -- its most decorated wine from the 2006 vintage -- and its newly released estate-grown and bottled Vidal Blanc 2008 received the Certificate of American Merit. The recent honors bring to 84 the number of awards the winery has earned since it opened six years ago on a 200-year-old estate in Bucks County.


"This is Crossing Vineyards' first Invitational Competition, and we are very proud to have received Certificates of American Merit for two of our wines,” said Crossing co-owner and vintner Tom Carroll Jr. “The Cabernet Franc has been a winner many times over, and that's always a thrill. But the Vidal Blanc is newly released and is an estate wine: grown, produced and bottled at Crossing Vineyards. Now that's exciting!"


Head of marketing and PR Chris Carroll noted by e-mail a few days after this initial posting that she had sent organizers a group of wines last spring and they requested that five be entered in the competition. She wrote: "The invitation to submit is equivalent to a bronze medal: Viognier 2007, Riesling 2008, Vidal Blanc 2008, Cabernet Franc 2006 and Merlot 2006. We have won multiple awards for all of these wines.


"As for the fruit source of the [2006] Franc," she continued, responding to a question, "as you can see on the label, there is no single vineyard designation; we buy fruit from several growers and we actually Franc on our property; this wine is a combination of all of those."


Asked what the reaction is usually like to the announcement of an award, she said there's generally a flurry of activity for awhile afterward. "Sometimes, as with the Chardonnay 05 [World's Best-Starwine 2006] we sell out almost immediately [good and bad news!],' she wrote.

Judges in this year’s competition included: Glen Bardgett, a St. Louis restaurateur and a founder of the Missouri State Fair judging; Wayne Belding MS, past chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Boulder, Col. wine merchant; Laura dePasquale MS, one of the world’s few female Master Sommeliers; Bob Foster, writer, The California Grapevine; Frost; Patty Held-Uthlaut, former proprietor of Stone Hill Winery and a lifelong Missouri wine veteran; Robert Noecker, a midwestern wholesaler and 30-year veteran of the wine industry; Jeff Miller, a Kansas distributor with 25 years of experience; and Joyce Angelos, a Missouri wholesaler and industry veteran of 25 years.

It's an acknowledgement, wrote Chris Carroll, of the strides that American wines and their winery in particular have made. "This Jefferson Cup is a quality competition," she said. "It is all American wines. The win means more to us than just another medal. It is a statement about America earning its place in the world of wine and about the various regions developing their unique styles and identities. Americans is still a very young country when it comes to making wine. It is an exciting time to be involved in this industry.
"For a 9-year-old winery to receive two "Certificates of American Merit" for their wines [one which is 100% estate fruit-Vidal] is pretty remarkable."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Off and running in 2010 . . . chilling at Woodhall

Sorry about the delay in posting. Blame it on the holiday, on work, on getting out of the routine. So, with the Farm Show under way it's time to roll this out daily again, with plans to add social media to the mix as this year ages.

Would prefer to start where this all started, down at Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md., on Sunday, where several dozen visitors gathering to watch the Ravens in the tasting room. Others paraded through on the second part of a weekend library tasting, a rare commodity in this region. An annual event at Woodhall, the winery has blocked off a couple hours on a Saturday and Sunday in December and allowed case club members to saunter down the path to the winery and storage building, essentially down into the cellar. This year it was the second weekend in January, where they served a few wines with virtually no inventory (including a 1994 Vidal) and another dozen where the winery had perhaps a case or several left.

They went as far back as a 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 1993 Meritage and that Vidal that I mentioned. You probably don't want to keep your whites more than several years, but there are always exceptions. One was a 2001 Chardonnay they produced for Corks Restaurant in Baltimore. It still tasted good several years ago when I had bought a half case, and little had changed in the last couple of bottles remaining that were pulled out on Sunday. Same with the Vidal, which still held up its end even thought it's 16 years old. Took home two of the last five bottles left in storage, and we'll wait for a suitable occasion this year to open them.
Winemaker Chris Kent and former co-owner Al Kopp served as the guides at the tasting. Kopp noted that they would always put a case aside of every wine they would produce. But these tastings over the last few years have pretty much wiped out the cellar, so there's a good chance several years could pass before the next one. Not sure why some of the older wineries do not hold a similar tasting; but it's a question I want to ask as I catch up to the proprietors of wineries in Pennsylvania and Maryland that are 15 years or older.
Most of the bottles at Woodhall sold in the mid-teens up to 20 dollars; several of the Copernica Reserve Cabs (2002, 2005) were selling for $30. The most expensive was a Jubilee Reserve Merlot from 2007, acknowledged as a best vintage of the decade. That was going for $35.
This event done, the winery prepares for its annual wine and soup pairing starting next weekend and continuing into February. This has become a staple event there, as has the Valentine's chocolates and barrel tasting that will commence Feb. 13 and likely continue into March.