Would you like some international flavor with your local wine? Several of the state’s top wineries boast staff with a global bent. We chatted with a few of these expatriates, discovering what brought them to Pennsylvania and what excites them about the state’s ascendant industry.
Ana Trigo, Portugal, Mazza Vineyards
Before coming to Pennsylvania, Anna Trigo worked in the wine regions in her home country of Portugal, as well as in France, Australia, and New Zealand.
“The U.S. was always the next place on my list,” she says. “When this opportunity came up, it seemed to be the right time to take the chance.”
She joined the team at Mazza Vineyards in the North West region of PA. Some of her favorite varietals to work with include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Merlot. She enjoys the freedom that comes with winemaking in a relatively new industry — one without centuries of built-up conventions.
“Not carrying heavy cultural and traditional regulations allows New World wine regions to be more open to reaching for new technologies and marketing tools,” she explains. “This will have a huge influence on how you work, what you can produce, and how you will sell it.”
“New varieties are constantly being brought and planted in the region,” she adds. “This not only gives a sense of diversity and uniqueness to PA wines, it also allows you to try different styles, learn from mistakes, and improve to reach higher quality.”
Salvatore Cullari, Italy, Cullari Vineyards & Winery
“I was born in Italy and have been drinking wine for literally most of my life,” says Salvatore Cullari. “But as a child and even as an adult, I never really planned to enter this industry until recently.”
Originally trained as a clinical psychologist, he opened Cullari Vineyards and Winery in Hershey about 10 years ago. He echoes Trigo’s sentiments about embracing the new frontier of winemaking in the northeastern United States.
“A strength of Pennsylvania viniculture is that it is new,” he explains. “There are no hard and fast rules, restrictions or barriers that are common in countries such as France, Italy, and others. I really think that in Pennsylvania, we are still in an ‘experimental’ stage as far as wine. It’s kind of what the 1960s and 1970s were to music — almost anything goes, and for the most part, I think that’s a good thing.”
He does have to contend with the dynamic climate which is often “too wet, too humid, too cold, or too hot, depending on the season.” It is an ongoing process to figure out which grape varietals will work best over the long term. Cullari especially enjoys making dry reds using traditional European methods — those are the wines he loves to drink.
“I think a strength of our winery is my experience as a wine drinker, and my ability to predict what our customers will like,” he says. “We actually started off making mostly dry wines, but in Pennsylvania, most of my customers like sweet or semi-sweet wines. I learned very quickly that if I was going to survive as a business, I would need to adapt to their tastes. Now we have over 35 different wines, each of which is unique and really covers almost everyone’s taste preferences.”
Gabriel Rubilar, Argentina, Paradocx Vineyard
Argentinian, Gabriel Rubilar, made wine in his home country and in California before arriving at Paradocx Vineyard in Chester County.
“Pennsylvania was a new world for me,” he recalls. “I felt that there were more opportunities here to discover new terroir and set standards. I am passionate about the diversity and the honesty a wine can share with every sip, the story behind each bottle.”
He is a true believer in creating wines that showcase the region’s “unique” strengths — Pennsylvania has “its own personality and characteristics that will add to our wines a different profile, and wines should not be intended to emulate other regions.”
Paradocx Vineyard is owned and operated by the Hoffman and Harris Families (the name is a play on words: the four principals are practicing physicians — “Pair of Docs”). With more than 100 acres of land, the staff grows 14 different varietals, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Chambourcin.
Rubilar has a couple favorites, including Viva La Rosa, a dry rosé, and Leverage Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Verdot, aged in French and American oak barrels for 13 months.
Davide Creato, Italy, Penns Wood Winery
“I became interested in winemaking as a child,” recalls Davide Creato. “My father and I planted a vineyard at our property in Abruzzo [Italy]. He and I started making wine together and my passion grew from there.”
Creato was working for a winery in his home region of Abruzzo when he met Gino Razzi, the owner of Penns Wood Winery in Chadds Ford. He initially planned to spend a year in Pennsylvania, expanding his knowledge of wine and viticulture, but life intervened: He met his wife and decided to stay.
The vineyard specializes in Chardonnay, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc; and when it comes to reds, the top varietals are Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
“Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are harder to grow and take care of, but yield extraordinary fruit,” he adds. “We have different programs, from ready-to-drink wines that are available just a few weeks after harvest to others that wait up to three years before being released. People seek out our wines because we have become known for producing ultra-premium wines from estate-grown grapes. We are a small team of incredibly hard working people that put forth a lot of effort, time, knowledge, and love that brings high-quality value to every single glass.”
Joe Maxian, Slovakia, Sand Castle Winery
When Joe Maxian was growing up in Bratislava, Slovakia, he was surrounded by wine. His home region hosted vineyards since well before the Roman era, his father was an amateur winemaker, and his uncle owned a winery and restaurant. But when a cousin in Bucks County invited him to Pennsylvania, he leapt at the chance to forge a new path.
“European wineries have been in existence for centuries and have a proven record of growing the varietals, harvest and wine making,” he says. “On the East Coast of the U.S., we are writing our own history for the future generations.”
Maxian landed at Sand Castle Winery in Tinicum Township. The vineyard is perched on a hilltop overlooking the Delaware River, an ideal spot with rocky soil and high moisture. He finds the dynamic Pennsylvania climate to be both a challenge and an opportunity.
“[The state] has a quite variable geology and temperature span, so it offers ideal conditions for many varietals of grapes,” he explains. “We can grow cold climate grapes like Riesling and warmer climate grapes like Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon.”
“High mineral complexity of our grapes allows the wines to be aged for several years in our underground wine cellar before bottling,” he continues. “This results in soft taste with a powerful finish in whites as well as reds.”