Wine-lovers—don’t hop on that plane just yet.
To find a great glass, all you really need to do is get in your car for a short drive to Halifax or the Newport area or down a winding road from Hersheypark. Some terrific, award-winning wines can be found within a half-hour of Harrisburg.
Linda Jansen keeps several of those wines behind the counter at CrossWinds Winery, just waiting for the next group to show up to her quaint tasting room on Hershey Road. In fact, every one of the rieslings entered from CrossWinds has won an award.
“We’re especially excited that we won four bronze medals at the Finger Lakes International Competition, which is the largest international competition on the East Coast,” she said.
The awards don’t come easy, the result of a “very mature” vineyard in Juniata County and 25 years of wine-making experience, Jansen said.
“(Husband) Ed has figured out the recipe in this mid-Atlantic weather in order to produce some really awesome wines,” she said.
October may be the perfect month to take a tour of award-winning quaffs around central PA, since it’s Pennsylvania Wine Month, suitably coinciding with a month synonymous with the harvest.
“PA Wine Month is a way to call attention to wineries,” said Dave Williams, vice president of the PA Wine Society. “Wine-making is pure agriculture, and agriculture is PA’s largest industry.”
Pennsylvania hosts more than 240 wineries and about a dozen wine trails. The state ranks seventh in the nation in winery count, according to the industry magazine Wines and Vines.
Jennifer Eckinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, credits the number and diversity of PA vineyards to its terrior (growing conditions) and geography. She noted that the microclimate of the Lake Erie region is quite different from the southeastern portion of the commonwealth.
To sample this diversity, most wine-lovers go straight to the source. In PA, 80 percent or more of a winery’s product is sold directly from vineyards, said Williams.
“Wine is a complete agricultural product,” he said. “Most wineries have a passion from beginning to end, in terms of growing the grapes, fermenting, bottling and selling.”
Ahead of California
Venture up to Bucks Valley Winery & Vineyards, overlooking a lovely valley in Perry County, and owner Michael Pelino is certain to share with you his signature dry wines, Vanilla Fe and Olde Worlde White.
“Vanilla Fe is a chambourcin and merlot blend,” he said. “This wine has 2-percent RS (residual sugar), which pulls the cherry out from the chambourcin. The American oak gives a vanilla finish.”
Olde Worlde White is a dry white made in the style of a Burgundian wine, he said.
“The aging process releases additional mannoproteins and polysaccharides which develop improved mouth feel and sense of sweetness,” he said.
Over in Manheim, Waltz Vineyards handpicks more than 130 tons of wine grapes a year.
“We only use our own grapes for our wine production,” said Kim Waltz. “We process, ferment, age and bottle everything at our winery premises.”
Like some of the better southern PA vineyards, Waltz specializes in dry wines, utilizing state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled tanks from Italy and superior quality oak barrels from France.
“Most of our wines have received awards in national, international and regional competitions,” said Waltz. “Our Old Line Chardonnay was chosen as one of the top wines in the competition at Nectar (Restaurant in Berwyn, Pa.), judging California wines vs. Pennsylvania, scoring ahead of all California wines.”
The Finger Lakes International Competition gave Waltz’s Stiegel Rose, Baron Red and Cherry Tree Merlot all gold medals.
Armstrong Valley Vineyard and Winery in Halifax offers a wide selection of award-winning wines. But it’s the array of more than a dozen fruit wines that might grab your attention.
Blackberry, cranberry, apple, strawberry and Midnight Desire all have won awards at the PA Farm Show Wine Competition, the PA Winery Association Wine Competition and/or the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
“Our fruit wines and ciders are made from 100-percent of that fruit,” said co-owner Dean Miller. “We try not to filter whenever possible, to retain flavor, aroma and color.”
But maybe you don’t visit area wineries principally for the vino. Perhaps you’re in it more for the experience, the scenery and the general goings-on. During PA Wine Month, many vineyards hold special events that celebrate their harvests, attract leaf-peepers and just bring on the fun during one of their busiest times.
CrossWinds, for instance, is featuring events with local artists and craftspeople and wine-pairing dinners. Waltz will host events for its Wine Club members and guests, and Armstrong allows visitors to tour its historic property, particularly stunning in the fall. Meanwhile, people flock to Bucks Valley as much for the from-scratch, New York-style pizzas, strombolis and calzones as for the wines and the view.
Other wineries across the state plan everything from concerts to yoga in the vineyards to celebrations of the autumn harvest.
“People can buy a bottle of wine at a bunch of different places now, so we want to give our patrons an experience,” said Miller of Armstrong Valley. “We want them to enjoy the tasting of the wines, tell us a story, tell them a story, and give them a total experience they cannot get elsewhere.”
To learn more about Pennsylvania Wine Month and all that’s happening around the region and the state, visit www.pennsylvaniawine.com.