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Tastings embody Pittsburgh Wine Festival experience

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Tim Gaber uses a wine thief to pull some wine out of a cask at the Pittsburgh Winery May 2, 2014 in the Strip District.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The casks at the Pittsburgh Winery May 2, 2014 in the Strip District.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The casks at the Pittsburgh Winery May 2, 2014 in the Strip District.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Winery May 2, 2014 in the Strip District.
Clos LaChance
John Salley
Clos LaChance
Vegan Vine Wine

Wine festivals give vintners a chance to make a statement.

“They are good opportunities for us,” says Tim Gaber, owner of Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District. “We are able to let people know about our dry reds, which is not something Western Pennsylvania wines are known for.”

Cheryl Durzy, vice president of marketing for Clos LaChance Winery in California, is coming to Pittsburgh to advance word on their vegan wines.

“Wines are more than grapes and water, which is what many people think,” she says. “We saw the growing vegan movement and decided to let people know all wines aren't vegan.”

Gaber and Durzy will be among almost 170 vendors at the Pittsburgh Wine Festival on May 8 at Heinz Field, North Shore. Dale Markham, general manager of the Pittsburgh Wine and Whiskey Festival, expects attendance of about 2,800 wine enthusiasts, a figure the organization has felt comfortable with in the past three years.

He says the wine event differs from the whiskey festival held in the fall.

“The whiskey festival has a very party nature, but this is really a tasting,” Markham says. “It's the nature of the beast.”

It is a growing beast, according to Wines & Vines, a California-based trade association. Wines & Vines reports a 7 percent growth in the wine industry for 2013, climbing to yearly sales of $7.3 billion. That figure is for off-premises sales not consumed at the site.

Dealing with the reality of the wine industry is the essence of going to wine festivals, says Nicolette Chilton, director of marketing and sales for Narcisi Winery in Gibsonia. Knowing she will be surrounded by well-known brands, such as Washington state's Chateau Ste. Michelle or California's Mondavi, Narcisi staffers will try to show “Pennsylvania wines are well-crafted and can stand up to bigger wine-making regions,” she says.

The Narcisi winery will offer tastings of its riesling, its biggest seller, which is more popular than its well-knownStella, a dry red. But it also will offer Brezza Marina, a dry rose Chilton believes has a more individual taste.

Gaber is trying to show an element of speciality in a different way. He believes most wine fans think of area products as light and fruity; the Pittsburgh Winery focuses on a dryer, “more urban” drink.

He says it accomplishes that goal by using wines it buys from California and South America.

The results are its cabernet sauvignon and malbec, two types generally not considered Pennsylvania products.

“I think we really benefit from the expectations of the people at the festival,” Gaber says of the surprise factor.

Durzy says LaChance is dealing with surprise of a different kind. She says some people who are vegan drink wine without a second thought.

But all wines are not vegan, largely because of a filtration process called “fining,” in which winemakers try to remove “floaters” from the pressing by dropping agents that will clump them together and allow the wine to be filtered. Those agents include animal products, she says. Instead, Clos LaChance uses a clay product in fining its wines.

The company makes a wines under its own name as well as Hayes Valley and Vegan Vine, but all three are vegan, Durzy says.

At the wine festival, Vegan Vine tastings will be poured by John Salley, who played in the National Basketball Association from 1986-2000 and now is co-owner of the brand.

Wine festivals also give vintners a chance to get a look at their public.

Chilton sees a “huge uptick” in the interest in wines.

In itself, that growing fascination is a reason for these kind of events, says Elizabeth Chiarelli from Dark Star Imports in New York City.

“You try to show all the varieties, because that is what you are,” she says. “That is why you go to festivals.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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