The Pirate & The Pearl

I didn’t know of any Petite Pearl being grown or made in Pennsylvania so when I had

The tasting room at Greendance Winery Photo Courtesy: Greendancewinery.com

the opportunity to do a barrel tasting of a Petite Pearl wine that was grown and made just a short drive from my home I couldn’t wait to try it. First, a little background on the Petite Pearl wine grape and the winery growing and making it.

Petite Pearl is a relatively new red wine grape hybrid that was recognized by the federal government as a varietal in 2014. It was developed by renowned Minnesota grape breeder Tom Plocher and was introduced to grape growers in 2010. Petite Pearl has many of the traits vintners in the Upper Midwest value, mainly its cold tolerance (-32ºF) and the ability to ripen well in cool conditions. 

I visited Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill in Mount Pleasant, Pa on a cold day in early March. I met with Rick Lynn, one of the owners of Sand Hill and his fellow winemaker Robert Blosser. Robert has been a winemaker at Greendance since it opened in September 2007. I asked Rick and Robert about the barrel fermenting technique they used to make their Petite Pearl. Rick said they destemmed the grapes and wrestled them into oak barrel then we all laughed when Robert told me of a mishap they had along the way. Even with all the modern technology available wine making will always remain an artful expression of a wine maker’s skill and intuition. They decided to put this barrel on Petite Verdot skins in an attempt to enhance the overall quality of the wine. Petite Verdot has a very thick skin and is very helpful in adding structure to a wine while increasing its acidity and tannin character. The skins used on this Petite Pearl had been used on a batch of Merlot before being added to the barrel and as a result we thought the remnants of the Merlot had rounded and softened the Petite Pearl. The wine I sampled was light-bodied and smooth with low acidity. It’s dark red color may have been lighted by the time it spent on the Petite Verdot skins but it still was a darker cool-climate red. In my opinion when this wine is ready it will be a very enjoyable wine and a solid first effort for Rick and Robert. They are already talking about the things they might try on their next harvest of Petite Pearl. Rick will be expanding his Petite Pearl vineyard this year to ensure he will have more grapes to work with as he hones in on how to coax all the flavors and aromas out of this intriguing new grape. The unrelenting desire to improve their wines with every vintage is the one trait that is a constant in every winemaker I have every met.

That day I got a bonus barrel tasting of Greendance Chardonnay that was made from grapes they sourced from Equivine Vineyard near Coatesville, Pa. Still early in its timeline

Greendance Chardonnay in new oak barrels

this Chardonnay displayed a very promising profile that should produce a good Pennsylvania Chardonnay.

If you are looking to spend an enjoyable afternoon in a picturesque setting consider visiting Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill. For directions and a list of events go to http://greendancewinery.com

Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill

     It was a beautiful evening as we drove down the access road past row after row of

Photo Courtesy: Sand Hill Berries

manicured vines clinging to trellis on our way to Greendance Winery. We were driving through Sand Hill, a fruit and berry farm that is home to Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill. After parking in a nicely mowed field we were drawn to the winery by the music drifting through the trees. 

A crowd was lounging at tables spread throughout the patio area and it was easy to see why there was ongoing construction of an extended seating area to accommodate the ever-growing gatherings. 

Sand Hill was purchased in 1982 by Rick & Susan Lynn and Rob & Amy Schilling. When Rob asked if we would like to tour the facilities we gladly accepted. As we passed through different areas Rob described what function they served and some insight into the plans for the operation.

Tastings are free with the opportunity to do a tasting of all their premium wines for only $5. The Greendance premium wines are made from high quality grapes sourced from a grower in Eastern Pennsylvania. They are so particular about only using the highest quality Pennsylvania grown grapes in their premium wine that when the grapes are ready to pick they will sometimes send their own crews to harvest them.

Sweet wines are always the favorites at Pennsylvania wineries and it is no different at Greendance. Their Isabella is a blush that is on the sweeter side but is light in both body and alcohol. The soft and balanced structure of Isabella makes this easy drinking wine the perfect choice for a relaxing evening on the patio with friends. For the curious Greendance Winery has plenty of wine options for you to explore. The selections run the spectrum from red, white, sweet, dry, Rosé, blush, blends, Port, fruit and sparklers. An interesting new offering at the wine shop is Tango Red, a Greendance favorite, now being sold in a box.

Greendance Winery has a no outside food or alcohol policy but as my Australian friends say “No worries mate”because they have an excellent walk-up restaurant and a separate

Photo Courtesy: Greendance Winery

window that serves ice cream and desserts that are made on-site.

Sand Hill Berries and Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill are at 304 Deer Field Road Mount Pleasant, Pa. For more information please visit their websites.  http://sandhillberries.com  and  http://greendancewinery.com

 

Ridge Runner Distillery

     When I promised Sharon Klay that I would visit her son Christian’s newly opened Ridge Runner Distillery I had no idea that it would take me more than a year to keep that promise. Christian Klay built his distillery directly across the road from the Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill, Pa with the idea of not only providing the Laurel Highlands with a top-notch attraction but also to take advantage of a great synergy with the family winery.

     My wife and I made our drive to Fayette County under brilliant blue Western Pennsylvania skies. As we topped the Summit on Route 40 near Uniontown I was reminded of the comments of first-time visitors to the Laurel Highland about the deep verdant color of the landscape. I was also reminded of the lyrics from a classic bluegrass song which I sang out with my best “Grand Ole Opry” twang “On the sunny side of the mountain where the ripplin waters fall.” It seemed appropriate for the time and place 🙂

Ridge Runner Distillery offers free tastings of all their products. I would suggest starting with their menu of moonshine which is composed of two flavored 50 proof spirits, Apple Pie Moonshine and Peach Pie Moonshine and the 100 proof straight corn mash  Ridge Runner Moonshine. These moonshine are easy to drink and polished making them a far cry from the backwoods “Shine” of folklore that was of unknown origin and made its rounds in old plastic milk jugs. {Or so I have heard :-)} While you are there you shouldn’t pass up the chance to taste their own 80 proof Vodka and Rum.

Thanks to Ridge Runner Distillery for the quality product and the friendly and knowledgeable staff that made our trip over the mountain well worth it!

RRD sign2

 

 

Our tasting guides Tia & Melissa.
Our tasting guides Tia & Melissa.
Bottles of Moonshine, Rum and Vodka for sale @ Ridge Runner Distillery
Bottles of Moonshine, Rum and Vodka for sale @ Ridge Runner Distillery

Lavender Festival at C.W.Klay Winery

 

Sharon Klay's "Gator" sits outside the tasting room
Sharon Klay’s “Gator” sits outside the tasting room

     The 3rd Annual Lavender Festival at the C.W.Klay Winery in Farmington, Pa was held on one of the most beautiful days of the year.  Blue skies and warm breezes greeted guests as they arrived to stunning views of the winery and the surrounding Laurel Highlands.  C.W.Klay owner and winemaker Sharon Klay was on hand, as well as her friendly and knowledgable staff, to welcome visitors to the tasting room where they were served plentiful and free samples of the C.W.Klay wines that were available for purchase. The tasting room also has a collection of wine themed merchandise so you can find the perfect gift for the wine lover on your list.  The cool jazz sounds of Harold Betters filled the air on the lawn along with the scent of lavender coming from the vendor tents.  Most of the offerings included lavender in them and ranged from hair care produces, soaps, chocolate, lavender plants and of course C.W.Klay’s very own speciality lavender wine.  The Klay Winery has a list of events that varies from their weekly “Pavilion Music Series” to a Lobster Clambake and Murder Mystery Dinner Theaters that can be found on their website http://www. cwklaywinery.com.  C.W.Klay wines will be at the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival in Twin Lakes Park  Greensburg, Pa from Thursday, July 3rd through Sunday, July 6th, 2014.