As you know if you follow my blog, one of my favorite things is wine. What I love most about wine is not just the wine itself, but the experience connected with the wine. To me, there is nothing better than visiting a vineyard, talking with the winemaker, and tasting the wine where it’s made.
While there are plenty of famous wine labels out there with the power of massive distribution behind them, there are many more small wineries that have taken their love of wine and turned it into their own small business.
I love wine tasting at local wineries any time of the year, but I really love it in the spring. Often, wineries are starting to release some of their new wines from the previous year’s harvest. It’s also a time when the weather is starting to break, and you can enjoy sitting outside with a glass of wine looking out over the vineyards.
I recently visited a couple of wineries in my local area. Keep reading to find out more about them, with some tips to help you plan your wine tasting trip!
PENNSYLVANIA HAS WINE?
When most people think of wine, they think of the big wine regions. In the U.S., you think of the Napa Valley in California. Those with a little more knowledge might think of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, or maybe even the Finger Lakes in New York.
The fact is that wine is produced in all 50 states in the U.S. Of course, most of the wine is produced in California, Washington, Oregon and New York. But, there are several states that are making quite a name for themselves in the wine-making business, and Pennsylvania is one of them.
Currently, there are more than 200 wineries throughout Pennsylvania, with over a dozen different “wine trails” that you can check out. You can find more information about wineries across the state at www.pennsylvaniawines.com.
In the Philadelphia, there are two main areas where the wineries are located – Bucks County and Chester County.
Bucks County is located northeast of the city of Philadelphia. The Bucks County Wine Trail (www.buckscountywinetrail.com) has 8 wineries included on it. However, there are also several wineries in the area that are not an official part of the trail. You can read more about several wineries on the trail that we visited last fall, along with my tips for taking a day trip to the area here:
A few weeks ago, I visited a few new wineries in Bucks County. Here are my tips for visiting these wineries, as well as my thoughts on the wine.
STONE & KEY CELLARS
Stone & Key Cellars is located in Montgomeryville, PA and was started in 2013. It’s a bit different than most tasting rooms, as the facility is not located on a vineyard – it’s strictly a wine making facility. Stone & Key actually sources their grapes from many of the more well-known wine regions in California and Washington, and then makes the wine here in Pennsylvania.
Tip #1: When you visit Stone & Key Cellars, don’t be surprised to pull up to what looks like a warehouse facility in a strip mall. That’s what it is! You won’t get the ambiance of visiting an actual vineyard. However, the wine is good and it’s worth your time to stop in and taste.
For a $5 fee, you can taste four of their wines. Here are the wines that I tasted:
2016 Sauvignon Blanc: The grapes for this wine were sourced from Washington state. I found the wine to be very citrusy, with a little bit of peach. Just a little tart.
2014 Old Vine Zinfandel: These grapes were sourced from California, which is famous for its Zinfandels. This wine didn’t disappoint, with lots of vanilla and some berry as well. This would be a great wine to drink with a nice steak.
2014 Tempranillo: While most Tempranillo’s come from Spain, these grapes came from California. I’m a big fan of Spanish Tempranillo’s, but this one was disappointing. It was just too much of a mineral taste for me, which gave it a kind of “funkiness”. There was not enough berry and too much acid.
2015 Pinot Noir: The grapes for this wine were sourced from Washington, which is known for its Pinot Noirs. I enjoyed this one, which had a lot of vanilla and oak on it. While it wasn’t a stand out for me, it was a nice wine.
Strawberry White Merlot: This would be a really good summer wine. It was sweet, with lots of strawberry on it. Not a bottle I would drink in the winter, but a nice patio wine to be served chilled in the summer.
Stone & Key Cellars also has hard cider available for tasting. They have a lot of events and programs, including a “design your own wine” program that allows you to participate in producing a barrel of wine that you help design. For more information, visit their website at www.stoneandkeycellars.com.
BISHOP ESTATE VINEYARD & WINERY
Bishop Estate Vineyard & Winery is located in Perkasie, PA. Unlike Stone & Key, this is located on an actual farm. The farm dates back to the 1800’s.
Tip #2: While the property is large, the tasting room is small. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon when they were hosting a chili cook-off, which may have led to a larger crowd than normal. When we walked in, the small tasting bar was full and we had to wait in line for a spot to open so we could do our tasting. I was a bit disappointed that no one behind the tasting bar acknowledged us or made an attempt to squeeze people together to find room for us. According to their website, they are working to move their tasting room into a larger space on the property, which should help.
When we were finally able to make it up to the tasting bar, one of the owners – Kevin – did our tasting for us. While he was clearly knowledgeable of the wines, because they were so busy, I felt like I was rushed through my tasting and wasn’t really given a lot of attention.
Currently, Bishop Estate has 16 different wines available. For a $6 fee, you can taste 6 of their wines. Here are the wines I tasted:
Overworked Dry Riesling: Very floral on the nose, but with a citrus taste. This is a very dry Riesling, so not for you if you are a fan of the sweeter versions of this wine.
Initiative Marquette: This was introduced to me as the grandson of the Pinot Noir. It had a lot of pepper on the nose, and a lot of spice and pepper on the taste. This is a wine that you need to drink with a steak or some other fatty food, to cut down on the pepper.
Bishop Cabernet Sauvignon: This was very sweet for a Cabernet Sauvignon, which really threw me off. A little too sweet for me for this style of wine.
Dark Bishop Whisky Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon: This version of their Cabernet Sauvignon was partially aged in a whiskey barrel, which was done to take off some of the tannins. This wine had lots of cherry on it, and would be great paired with a very dark, bitter chocolate. Although when I suggested that to the owner, he said they had a hard time finding a chocolate that they thought worked with the wine during a recent wine and chocolate pairing event.
ODA Shiraz: This wine was not made from local grapes, but from grapes sourced in Australia, which is a region known for its Shiraz. Again, I found this to be very sweet for a Shiraz, and it was missing the peppery bite that I normally expect from that style.
Tipsie Cow Sweet Riesling: If the dry Riesling wasn’t your thing, this is the wine to try. It was very sweet, but still had the floral and citrus hints you would get from a Riesling.
Cowabunga Concord: This is basically adult grape juice. Very sweet.
Bishop Estate Vineyard & Winery is open daily, and holds a number of events on the weekends. Check out their website at www.bishopestatepa.com for more information.
VIVAT ALFA WINERY
During our last visit to this region, a few other wineries had suggested we check out Vivat Alfa. We ran out of time on that trip, so I was excited to make sure I got a visit in during this trip. The winery is located in Doylestown, PA. They pride themselves in their wine making process. All of the grapes are sourced locally, with no added sugars.
Tip #3: If Rick, the winemaker, is in the tasting room, be sure to say hello. He’s quite a character. Also, if Rick’s homemade sausage is set out, grab some! It was delicious.
While I wasn’t a big fan of any of the wines, the ladies behind the tasting bar did an excellent job of explaining the wines and keeping our glasses full. They allow you to taste as many wines as you want for free. When this is the case, I always feel it is proper etiquette to buy a bottle after the tasting, which I did in this case. Here are the wines I tasted:
Riesling: Their Riesling was very dry. It came across as almost having a “corked” taste to it. I thought at first that it might have been the style of the Riesling, or that I just got a taste from a bad bottle, but I found that similar characteristic throughout their wines.
Chardonnay: Chardonnay is not my favorite varietal of wine, because I find the typical Chardonnay is over-oaked. This was not aged in oak, so I thought I would give it a try. It was very dry and almost had a smoky taste to it. I found it had the same odd taste as the Riesling.
Gewürztraminer: This was my favorite of the whites, as this did not have the same taste I didn’t care for. However, it was very light. Almost too light, as I didn’t get a lot of flavor from this wine.
Pinot Noir: This Pinot Noir was aged for 3 years in French oak barrels. It was very dry and had a lot of raspberry on the nose.
Cabernet Sauvignon: This was their 2015 vintage. It was very light, so I didn’t get the complex tastes I would normally get on a Cabernet Sauvignon. Oddly, one of the tastes on the wine is olive, which is not a favorite taste of mine, so this was not my favorite red.
Lemberger: This varietal is not very well known. The varietal originated in Austria, which makes it a variety of grape that can be grown in colder regions. This was my favorite of the reds. Very smoky and deeper in color and taste.
Blush: This semi-sweet wine is a blend of their Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. It starts out sweet, but has a dry finish.
Riesling Semisweet: This is the same Riesling as the first one I tried, but the grapes are left on the vine a little longer before they are harvested. There were hints of pear and pineapple. I also got a lot of honey on the nose and finish.
Magic Spice: This is their dessert wine. While they wouldn’t share what grapes went into the blend, it was definitely a sweeter wine. It was served warm.
Vivat Alfa’s tasting room is only open on Saturday and Sunday. Check out their website at www.vivatalfawinery.com for more information.
Chester County is located southwest of Philadelphia. Known for its Brandywine River, the region is home to lots of attractions and wineries. The region also has a wine trail – the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail – which contains five wineries and a cidery. I visited several of the wineries last fall as well, and you can read about them here:
Again, there are other wineries in the area that are not part of the wine trail. We did a quick visit to one this past weekend.
GALER ESTATE VINEYARD AND WINERY
Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery is located just behind Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, PA. Many years ago, the winery was known as Folly Hill Winery. Frankly, I was not a big fan of Folly Hill. I didn’t care for their wines, and the tasting room manager was honestly a turn off from visiting and doing a tasting.
With new owners, a new winemaker and a new name, I tried Galer Estate again a couple of years ago. In my opinion, the quality of the wines has improved significantly, and the tasting room is now a nice place to visit.
Tip #4: Galer Estate does not allow anyone under 21 at their winery. While many wineries have tapped into the “family experience” by allowing children and in some cases (so long as they are outside) dogs, Galer Estate is trying to create an adult-only experience in their tasting room.
We visited the tasting room while they had live music, which was a nice way to spend a Saturday evening. You can bring in your own food, or they have cheese platters available to order as well.
Their tasting price is a little on the high side. It’s $10 for a flight of four wines. However, their wines are good quality. Here are the wines I tasted:
2017 Huntress Vidal Blanc: This was a very nice wine. A lot of citrus along with tropical flavors like mango. It was a very light and crisp white.
2017 Gruner Veltliner: While I didn’t do this as part of my tasting, my husband did and we decided to buy a bottle to share while we sat and listened to the music. Very floral on the nose, this was a light and crisp wine that I really enjoyed.
2015 Cabernet Franc: This wine won a Double Gold at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. I can see why it won, as I really loved this Cab Franc. Very smoky.
2015 Reserve Red Blend: This wine is made primarily of their Cabernet Franc, with some Petite Verdot blended in. I got a lot of tastes of chocolate and cherries.
2015 Huntress Red: This is their Bordeaux-style blend, with a lot of Merlot in it. While I’m not a fan of Merlot, I do typically love the Bordeaux blends, and I liked this one as well.
Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery is open for tasting Thursday through Sunday. When the weather is nice, they have a nice outdoor deck overlooking the vineyard. Check out their website at www.galerestate.com.
So, now that you know more about some of the great wineries in Pennsylvania, I hope you’ll create your own wine tasting trip and check them out this spring!
Have questions about the wine tasting regions in Pennsylvania, or any of the wineries I visited? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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