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.