It’s late September and the sun is setting over the vines at Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery. As the light becomes that particular shade of buttery yellow, the Troxell family — father Galen, mother Sarah, and daughter Erin — pour tastes of their award-winning Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners for a cadre of industry folks, wine writers, and social media influencers.
The evening spent at this stunning Lehigh Valley winery was part of Camp Pennawine, a showcase for the state’s wine regions. Hosted by the Pennsylvania Winery Association, these quick getaways involved plenty of sipping and snacking, but the real heart of the experience was the opportunity to meet with winemakers and take a deep dive into PA’s thriving industry.
The first “camp” this year took place in the Lehigh Valley, where podcasters, journalists, and tourism industry professionals were treated to a crash course in the region’s mature, dynamic wine scene.
“Out of the gate, the thing that struck me was just the stunning beauty of the Lehigh Valley,” said Greig Santos-Buch of WineTraveler.com. “This is my first time tasting wine in Pennsylvania. Being able to come to such a beautiful region for me is such a big part of the experience when I come to any sort of wine country.
“That sunset tour of Galen Glen was followed by a multi-course meal paired with local wines by Philadelphia-based sommelier Alex Cherniavsky of The Love restaurant. First up was cheese fondue and, fitting for the celebratory mood, a glass of Stony Run Winery 2017 Sparkling Brut made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay. Husband-and-wife team Melanie Young and David Ransom host The Connected Table, a radio show and website focused on the food and beverage industries. A couple with experience tasting wines all over the world, they were excited by some of the vintages they tried.
“I was gobsmacked by Galen Glen’s Grüner Veltliner,” recalled Young. “I like it better than Grüners I’ve had from Austria. I thought the pairings that Cherniavsky did were just awesome, particularly the Tolino Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc with the poached pear and blue cheese salad. It was a surprise — it paired beautifully.”
Another wine that wowed the group was Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery’s Pinot Noir. Not only did they sample the 2016 vintage during dinner, but winemaker John Skrip III cracked open a barrel in the winery’s aging room the following day, offering a preview of the maturing 2018 iteration.
“You just know it’s going to be a beauty,” said Young.
That tasting was part of a behind-the-scenes tour and al fresco lunch at the Lehigh Valley winery. Attendees gripped glasses of sparkling Vidal Blanc as they explored the tank room and asked questions about the bottling line. The Clover Hill team then paired pierogies — a local specialty — with a selection of their wines.
Camp Pennawine Lehigh Valley closed out with a trip to Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery just up the road. The crew was in the midst of harvest, and attendees watched them dump bright yellow crates of grapes into the crusher to be pressed into juice.
Later, second-generation winemaker Sam Landis talked the group through a prized series of red blends. Every year, Vynecrest takes the best grapes from their vineyard and puts them together in a flagship wine. The blends are named consecutively for the number of harvests since the winery’s inception. Tasting #37 (2014), #38 (2015), and #39 (2016) in order was a marvelous way to understand those vintages. It also underlined the maturity of the winery, which has been making wine for over 40 years.
The following week, another group of wine professionals spent a busy 24 hours in the Brandywine Valley.
The excitement started at The Inn at Grace Winery, which doubled as both their luxe accommodations and the site of the first tasting. Comprised of historic buildings — including one wing of guest rooms built in 1734 and one built in 1815 — the property boasts an on-site vineyard and winery.
Camp Pennawine Brandywine Valley was made possible thanks to a partnership between Visit Philadelphia, Visit Bucks County, Visit Delco, and the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau. A lively dinner took place at Terrain Garden Café in nearby Glen Mills. Local wines (selected from the 2019 PA Sommelier Judgment winners) were poured with each course. The winemakers joined the party, sharing the stories behind their prized vintages.
To start things off, two different local rosés were offered alongside a massive spread of local cheeses.
“It takes a lot for me to want to have a second glass of rosé and both of those rosés — the one from Galer Estate and the one from Penns Woods Winery — were very good,” said Robin Shreeves, a wine columnist for the Courier Post and contributor to Edible Philly, VinePair, and Wine Enthusiast. “They had lovely flavor. When I find rosés that I want to drink again, I’m always pleased.”
The irony is that Galer’s impressive rosé, made from Cabernet Franc, was the result of an improvisation. 2018 was a tough year for red wine grapes in southeastern Pennsylvania — epic rainfall prevented fruit from ripening properly. Winemaker Virginia Mitchell decided to pivot and use the grapes in a zippy rosé.
“It was so fascinating to hear Virginia talk about how she just didn’t make her Cabernet Franc,” explained Shreeves, noting that their 2015 vintage won Double Gold at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. “For her not to make that wine — when people are probably looking for it because it won that prestigious award — is gutsy.”
Other wines paired with the menu included a crisp 2017 Pinot Gris from Grace Winery, a supple 2017 Cabernet Franc from Chaddsford Winery, an oaked 2016 Chardonnay from Karamoor Estate Wines, a bold, inky Carmine from Wayvine Winery & Vineyard, a lush, off-dry Vidal Blanc from Crossing Vineyards & Winery, and an aromatic 2017 Chambourcin Reserve from Paradocx Vineyard.
The next morning started with some vino in the vines. Penns Woods winemaker Davide Creato offered the group — who braved some light drizzle and a bit of atmospheric fog — a tour of the vineyard. The attendees tasted Cabernet Franc and Moscato grapes fresh off the trellis while sipping on wines made from those same varieties. Meanwhile, Creato detailed how the winery made the decision to stop using herbicides on their soil and instead planted cover crops to control weeds, creating a healthier ecosystem for their vines.
“I’m always interested to hear how people are changing to be better for the land, especially with wine,” said Shreeves. “Your soil and your vineyards are everything. If you ruin it, you’re ruining your livelihood.”
After retreating to the winery’s covered patio, the team from Penns Woods wowed group with a vertical tasting of Chardonnay — wines from five different vintages — to demonstrate how weather and technique can radically impact the final product. That was followed by a locally-sourced lunch and bottles from their archive.
The afternoon’s itinerary included more rain — according to the winemakers, not altogether unwelcome after a very dry late summer — and more wine. Fortunately, there was delightful refuge to be had. Attendees noshed on local cheese and pastries in Paradocx Vineyard’s new tasting room overlooking the wet vines. That restorative snack was followed by a tank tasting down in the production winery. Standouts included their upcoming Chambourcin and Pinot Grigio.
After sampling wines from a total of eight local wineries, Virginia-based wine writer Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like, was impressed.
“There are a lot of similarities between Virginia and Pennsylvania,” he said. “The same varieties are thriving. The Cabernet Franc that I’ve tasted here is kind of earthy and more Old World than New World. The diversity is something that stuck out — just how many different grape varieties are being grown here and cultivated for wine.”
Overall, Camp Pennawine was a chance for Pennsylvania wineries to flex a little bit, showing off the beauty of their properties and the sophistication of their winemaking. It’s the ultimate example of showing rather than telling, and it seems we’ve minted a few more ambassadors for PA wines.