Life’s a Bed of Roses

rose wine

With the official start of Summer just a few days away thoughts of picnics under brilliant blue skies and sunsets enjoyed with friends while sipping Rosé start to fill the minds of winter-weary romantics everywhere. Pennsylvania wine makers have produced a variety of easy drinking wines that will offer the perfect accent to any of your summertime activities.

     Briar Valley Winery Proprietor’s Rosé is a dry Rosé made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Lemberger. A great easy drinking wine that displays  soft cherry and berry notes with subtle tannins and nice acid. You can enjoy this Rosé along with all the Briar Valley offerings, plus the added bonus of live music when you visit the B.V. tasting room on Pitt St. in the metropolis of Bedford, Pa. on the first Friday of each month.  

     Fero Winery owner/winemaker Chuck Zaletski shows the wide range of his winemaking skills with his Sweet Blush. Sweet Blush is a rose-colored semi-sweet, not dry wine with smooth flavors of fruit. Chuck calls it his “Party Wine” and it would be great over ice, especially after running the Wine-N-Mile through the Fero Vineyards in Lewisburg, Pa. on May 29th. 

     If it is a blush made from a blend of four grapes that you are looking for, then Arrowhead Winery has the wine for you. Four Winds Blush has a light body with a smooth semi-sweet fruit finish but don’t take my word for it. Arrowhead Winery has just opened its newest wine shop inside Schramm Farm Market in Harrison City, Pa. Connie and Joanne will be happy to lead you through a free tasting of the wines of your choice.

Valley Sunrise is a fresh and sweet blend from Rich Ripepi at the Ripepi Winery. Rich has struck a balance with Valley Sunrise that produces a very drinkable wine perfect for any casual gathering. Stop by the Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa. for the “Summer Sip Series” to experience live music and great food plus group vineyard tours + tastings.

The Vineyard at Hershey winemaker L. Paul Vezzetti has produced a spot-on wine for a summer evening of music in the open air of their vineyard. Twisted Kiss is a blend of white Vidal and red Chamboursin. This wine has hints of tropical fruit and subtle strawberry flavors. There is no excuse for having a boring weekend when you can go to The Vineyard at Hershey Middletown, Pa and dance to live music and drink fun wines under the stars at their “Decked Out Live” concerts.

     No trip into the Laurel Highlands would be complete without a stop at the C.W. Klay Winery Chalk Hill, Pa. The “Pavilion Music Series” at C. W. Klay fills the air with the sound of free live music. You can relax and listen to a concert under the pavilion by the lake with a bottle of Chestnut Ridge Sunset. This wine is a delicate semi-sweet crimson blush with a hint of cherry aroma in a Zinfandel style.  

These are just a few of the possibilities that you have available to you in Western & Central Pa. A complete directory of winery and brewery events can be found on the website: West Pa Winery & Brewery

     

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China Star Rising

Chateau Changyu, Beiyujia Vineyards, Shandong, China

Chateau Changyu, Beiyujia Vineyards, Shandong, China

I read an article recently about how China has now surpassed France for the amount of land dedicated to wine-making vineyards. China now boasts 1.9 million acres of vineyards, passing France for second place and behind the number one grower, Spain. China remains the 7th largest producer of grapes due to production inefficiencies. The increase in vineyards is in direct response to the need for more wine grapes to satisfy the explosive rise in demand for wine in China. China has experienced a cultural evolution toward drinking wine over the past 15 years that is directly tied to the increase in disposable income. Red wine is preferred by the majority of Chinese wine drinkers so it is no surprise that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape variety in the country.

China is a huge country with many sub-climates and even more micro-climates, not to mention the countless soil types and varying terrain. I believe when you have that many variables combined with an ancient culture that thrives on challenges and ingenuity the only logical outcome from Chinese wine makers will be superior and creative wines. The wine business in China will continue to focus on products and production to satisfy domestic demand. But as we have seen the Chinese do in so many other arenas, they will be constantly comparing their wine to the best in the world to judge their progress and making changes to excel.

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2nd Annual “State of the Vineyard” Address

 

Spur and Kane pruning on same vine @ Briar Valley Vineyards

Spur and Kane pruning on same vine @ Briar Valley Vineyards

     Welcome to the 2nd Annual ” State of the Vineyard” address. the purpose of this post is to give everyone a first look at the 2015 growing season as seen through the eyes of the people who know it best, the growers and wine makers of Western and Central Pennsylvania. After a winter that broke records for cold and snow I found unexpected good news on all fronts. But don’t take it from me read what the experts had to say.

We will start in Central Pennsylvania with Paul Vezzetti winemaker at The Vineyard at Hershey. Paul tells me that their vineyards made it through the winter relatively unscathed by the sub-zero temperatures, even the normally cold sensitive Chardonnay and Riesling showed little damage and with pruning complete he is looking forward to a really big year. A year that will see a new block of vines added to the vineyard that will consist mostly of Muscat but also some Sauvignon Blanc.

      Staying in Central Pa. our next stop is Lewisburg and Chuck Zaleski’s Fero Vineyards & Winery. Chuck grows only vinifera vines and over the last two winters his vine injury has been limited to only a “couple percent”. He feels fortunate to have his vineyard in the Middle Susquehana Valley on a small hilltop in a wide river valley at 41ºN latitude and 600 feet above sea level. He attributes his site for his excellent survival rate that his vineyard has experienced over the years. I want to congratulate Chuck on winning a Double Gold medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) with his 2013 Estate Lemberger and a Gold with his 2013 Saperavi also at FLIWC.

We now move west into Washington County the home of Ripepi Vineyards & Winery. Rich Ripepi is pleased with how his vines came through this winter. He lost some of his Cabernet Sauvignon vines last winter but the ones that survived made it through this winter in fine shape. The bud count is very good and is a product of an extremely strong growing season in 2014. The only negative Rich could report was a little damage to his 28-year-old Chancellor vines but he couldn’t put his finger on the exact cause. With all the primary trimming complete and half of the secondary done Rich could only express the highest hopes for this coming growing season.

I can never go to Bedford County without stopping to see Tod & Jean Manspeaker at Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery. Tod tells me that this winter was better than the winter of 2014 for their vineyard. The 2014 winter had two freeze events with the second damaging some vines by splitting their trunks and causing “Crown Gall” which will eventually destroy a vine once it’s infected. But this year was different, most of Briar Valley’s vines came through in good shape with the only exception being their Merlot. They had thought they lost 100% of the Merlot vines and had order new vines only to discover that a third of the vines had survived. Tod commented on how differently each variety of his vinifera grapes vines adapted to the environmental factors even though they were all on the same site. The Manspeakers are very busy now with about 1 to 1 1/2 weeks more of pruning to do on their 10 acre vineyard. They do all the pruning themselves to insure that the fruit meets their very high standards. The job this year was made even more difficult by the fact that all the extra canes left on last year had to be removed to prepare the vines for this years growing season. I am happy to report that Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery won two Silver medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine competition (FLIWC) with their 2010 Proprietor’s Red and 2012 Lemberger. 

Our next stop is Greene County to visit Rick Thistlewaite at Thistlewaite Vineyards in Jefferson. Rick told me his vines had a “little more die back” this year but overall damage was minor with it limited to one or two vines per acre. The bud count at Thistlewaite is reported to be good. A two tier pruning protocol is employed where the first pruning leaves a long cane to develop buds that is then cut back with a second pruning after the first frost to give protection against late frost bud damage. When I asked Rick if he thought the site was a contributing factor in this year’s losses, he said that he didn’t think it was because his five acre vineyard is on a hilltop and is planted with all French hybrid vines. His opinion was that this past winter was wetter than last year and he had less snow cover to protect his vines. Thistlewaite Vineyards are planted with nine different varieties of wine grapes with the majority of the vineyard composed of Chambourcin and Traminette. Rick is anticipating another above average harvest this year.

For our last stop in Pennsylvania we will travel to the heart of the Laurel Highlands and make a visit to Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill. I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Klay recently and had the opportunity to hear for myself how the winter effected her vineyard. Sharon said this winter wasn’t nearly as destructive to her vines as the last winter was. I could hear the lingering lament in her voice as she recalled losing two acres of her oldest Chardonnay last year but she quickly brightened when she reported the lack of damage this year and the promise of another banner year that lay ahead. I laughed as she told me the resident flock of wild turkeys at the vineyard had discriminating palates for which grapes they ate while leaving others varieties relatively untouched. On the day we talked her son, Christian had just received government approval for his distillery. After becoming fully operational it will offer a synergy with the winery by not only producing its own distilled spirits but using C.W.Klay wine to make grappa, brandy and other distilled products.

     No report would be complete without checking in with our friends in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. Martha “Marti” Macinski reports the vines at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery Hector, NY do not seem to have suffered damage from this winter. She said the current bud count numbers are showing minimal damage, so minimal that “We did some samples twice”. Last year the samples also showed minimal damage and the crop was of normal quantity with overall quality outstanding. Riesling and Gewürztraminer continues to be strong varieties for Standing Stone with positive growth in the New York Metro area due to the efforts of distributor Fredrick Wildman. When visiting FLX a stop at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery is a must for any wine lover.

Thank You to everyone that helped me with this post. I wish all the vineyards and wineries the best of luck in 2015 and I hope to see you soon.    Rich

 

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Nectar of the Gods

     When Matt Falenski, owner/meadmaker, of the Laurel Highlands Meadery received state approval for his operation in 2011 his timing couldn’t have been better. Mead is the oldest beverage known to man dating back to approximately 7000 B.C.. It is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity fueled by the wave of craft micro-breweries and their adventurous patrons. Commonly known as “Honey wine” mead is made from honey, yeast, fruit or spices depending on the style of the meadmaker. Laurel Highlands produces a full menu of mead for you to select from including: Traditional, Bochet, Maple, Hopped, Blackberry and Chocolate. Their meads come in sweet or dry table wine and dessert wine. Matt has plans for a tasting room but for now his mead can be found at All Saints Brewing Greensburg, Beaver Brewing Beaver Falls, Four Seasons Brewing Latrobe, Piper’s Pub Shiveouthside, Pittsburgh and are always available to order on his website  Laurelhighlandsmeadery.com

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Happy Easter

lilly     May the spirit of hope that Easter brings, fill your life with love and joy.

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Uptown Funk

bridges_moscato_front__200     From Pittsburgh’s East End the Bridges Wine Company will be bringing their wines to the Pittsburgh Public Market, 2401 Penn Ave. in the Strip District for the next two weekends.  Get a taste of what Bridges Wine has to offer on Saturday March 14th & 21st from 9-5 and Sunday March 15th & 22nd from 10-4.  The newly released 2014 Washington Moscato will be available for $15 along with the Bridges 2012 Pinot Noir and 2012 Zinfandel.  James and Rebecca McCeney will also be offering special discounts on multiple bottle purchases.

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West Pa. Winery & Brewery Website

antenna     West Pa. Winery & Brewery is the companion website to this blog.  I started this site as a comprehensive source of contact information for many of the wineries and breweries in Western Pennsylvania.  The homepage allows you to choose directories for wineries and breweries that list addresses, phone numbers, and links to these businesses.  Links to this months and next months scheduled events can be easily accessed by clicking on the desired months tab.  You can view photos either on the gallery page or on the scrolling slide show on the homepage.  The “More” tab contains pages for contacting me with your event info, a Finger Lakes Region winery directory plus a page linking you to some of my blog posts.  I started this website with the sole purpose of providing a place where you could find all the info about the wineries and breweries in West Pa.  I don’t have a hit counter on this site and had no idea if it was being used until  I was doing maintenance on it and I noticed it had 5000 Facebook “Likes”.  There isn’t a Facebook page for this site and I am asking everyone to help me promote it by giving it a “Like”, tweet, retweet, post, repost, well you get the idea.  I hope this site can be helpful in educating the public on what is available for them in the area of winery and brewery entertainment.  Thank You    twitter@wpawinepirate     West Pa. Winery & Brewery

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On the Edge of Glory

Fero Logo     I talked with Chuck Zaleski of Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg, Pa recently and got the inside story on “What’s New” at his winery.  When I asked about the 2014 harvest his voice filled with pride and excitement saying it was a record year in both quality and quantity.  The harvest was so good that he even sold some grapes this year.  It is a good thing that his vineyards are producing extraordinarily well because Chuck was planning on sales growth of 20% last year but it came in at 30%.  This year he will hold growth to 20% because his focus is always on the quality of the wine being maintained and improved.  Fero is the only producing Saperavi vineyard in Pennsylvania and Chuck’s plan is to double his acreage of Saperavi grapes as soon as he can acquire the vines.

Fero will be adding three new sweet wines to the menu this year.  The apple, cherry and peach wines will be made from the same Grüner Veltliner grapes grown in their vineyard that produced a Double Gold medal winner at the 2015 Pa. Farm Show.  Chuck makes great sweet wines but his real passion is for his excellent dry wines.  The judges at the 2015 Pa. Farm Show awarded Fero Vineyards & Winery 8 medals, they are: Double Gold: Grüner Veltliner , Gold: Pinot Gris, 3 Silver: Reisling, Pinot Noir and Saperavi and 3 Bronze.

This year’s fund- raising schedule is nearly full with only a very few dates still available.  New this year will be the Wine-N-Mile on May 29th.  This event is similar to a Beer-N-Mile where runners race a figure 8 course through the vineyard stopping at six stations to drink 2 ounces of wine at each.  After the race guests are invited to stay for live music and the summer “Happy Hour” kickoff.

If you would like more information about Fero Vineyards & Winery wine or events visit www.ferovineyards.com or call 570-568-0846

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Ripepi Winery & Vineyard

Ripepi logo

Winery Manager: Chuck Abvulovic (L)  Owner&Winemaker: Rich Ripepi(R)

Winery Manager: Chuck Abvulovic (L) Owner&Winemaker: Rich Ripepi(R)

     When you think of leaders in the resurgence of winemaking in Western Pennsylvania one name that should immediately come to mind is Richard Ripepi and his Ripepi Winery & Vineyard in Monongahela.  Rich showed great foresight when he founded his vineyard in 1987.  Those initial rows of grapes have now grown into a 10 acre vineyard containing nearly 5000 vines made up of 21 different varieties of wine grapes. 

     The day I visited Rich I found him to be the same welcoming and gracious host that I have come to know over the years, the kind that always makes you feel like one of the family.  While sitting in his tasting room I took the opportunity to ask him how the 2014 season had played out.  He told me it started out in early March with him leaving on extra buds because that was the consensus last year due to the extreme winter we had just experienced and the excepted damage it had caused to the vines.  In reality his vines sustained little if any damage with the exception being his Cabernet Sauvignon that required some vines to be replaced because of winter damage.  The spring brought rain and extra growth that prepared the vines for a huge volume of fruit to be set.  After June 10th normally the grapes should on the vines signaling it is time for the nets to go up and the spraying program to end.  It rained hard all summer and because of that the spraying had to continue to protect the crop.  By late August the vines were so laden with fruit Rich had to make a decision whether to drop a portion of the fruit or roll the dice on perfect fall weather.  Rich went with rolling the dice and he won.  September had abundant sunshine and little rain making conditions favorable for all of his grape varieties to ripen within a 3 week picking window instead of the usual 6 week harvest season.  Rich was both surprised and delighted with the resulting harvest that was the most bountiful and high quality of any in the history of Ripepi Vineyard.  Vines that usually average 7 to 8 pounds of fruit each produced 10 to 12 pounds per plant in 2014. 

     Work at a winery may slow in the winter but it never stops.  During my visit they were moving 800 gallons of wine outside to cold stabilize while Winery Manager Chuck Abvulovic was in the lab working to find the alcohol content of various wines.  Decisions were being made on which Ripepi wines would be sent to the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (F.L.I.W.C.) and which would be entered into the Pennsylvania Wine Association (P.W.A.) competition. 

     Rich honed his wine making skills by attending conferences and workshops sponsored by various universities and wine industry organizations.  During the early days of his winery he was helped immensely by two people that he met at these gatherings.  Rich made a special point to acknowledge the invaluable help given to him by his friends and viticulture experts, the late Robert Pool of Cornell University and the late Dr. Garth Cahoon of Ohio State University. 

     No trip to Ripepi Winery & Vineyard would be complete without tasting wine.  I tasted his award-winning DeChaunac, an excellent Merlot-like Chancellor and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Cab was especially enjoyable because it contained grapes that my wife and I helped pick during the 2013 harvest that was featured in my post ” Harvest at Ripepi Winery “.  For more information go to www.ripepiwine.com or follow him on twitter at @RipepiWinery     Phone: 724-288-3738 

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Fero Estate Lemberger 2013

Fero Estate Lemberger 2013

Fero Estate Lemberger 2013

     I have written several posts lately extolling the virtues off the Saperavi grape as the “Next Big Thing” for Eastern winemaking.  I have never written one single post about the forgotten role that the late-ripening Lemberger grape has been cast to play in the evolution of the wine industry above latitude 40° north.  Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg, Pa produces a superb example of what can be done with Lemberger grapes that have been painstakingly cared for and expertly transformed into their Estate Lemberger 2013.  The beautiful garnet color is the first thing you notice about this Lemberger followed by the notes of oak.  Chuck Zaleski is a master at using oak to coax out the hidden flavors from his wine while adding a sophisticated complexity at the same time.  Chucks light-handed use of oak with this wine brings out the red fruit and spice (think black pepper) taste while adding depth.  A medium body carries the soft tannins into a long and lingering spicy finish.  This wine has good acidity which makes it pair well with red meat, barbeque and even red sauce.  Note: Winemaker Chuck Zaleski suggested I should let it breath.  I not only let it breath I used an aerator on a couple of glasses. His suggestion was right on the mark, the added aeration opened it up and added a little something extra.  www.ferovineyards.com  Update:  Fero Estate Lemberger 2013 won a Double Gold medal at the 2015 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC).

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