Pa. Farm Show wine winners are best of the best
Growing European grape varieties in Pennsylvania has always been a big challenge. Beginning with pioneering efforts in the late 1960s, Pennsylvania wine producers endured years of frustrating trials in the face of frigid subzero winters, late spring frosts and damp summers to ripen varieties such as sauvignon blanc, grüner veltliner and cabernet franc.
Decades later the persistence is being rewarded. Recently outstanding, dry table wines made from each of these grapes won top wine awards at the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show.
“When you put in years of effort, it’s satisfying to see recognition of the progress,” says second-generation winemaker and grape grower Mario Mazza. His family’s wineries took home several awards for wines made near Lake Erie.
“The awards are not an end-all and be-all, but they remind us to redouble our efforts as customers increasingly hold Pennsylvania wineries to higher standards,” he adds. “It’s a process of constantly making little changes and building momentum.”
Try the following made from European grapes grown in well-placed Pennsylvania vineyards:
The Mazza family’s 2017 South Shore Wine Co., Grüner Veltliner, Lake Erie (PLCB code 9684; $13.99) took a Double Gold and the Governor’s Cup for Best Dry Wine. Morehead Vineyards, just down the road from the winery near Lake Erie, and Fero Vineyards near Lewisburg in the Susquehanna River Valley provide the grüner veltliner grapes.
“We taste our wines with the growers so they appreciate the quality of fruit we need, and we also visit the vineyards frequently to understand the challenges facing the growers,” Mazza says. “It takes close cooperation to succeed.” As soon as possible after harvest, the grapes arrive at cool temperatures at the winery for immediate gentle pressing.
Fermentation in stainless steel tanks helps capture freshness. The resulting wine offers grapefruit, ripe peach and white pepper aromas leading to crisp citrus flavors balanced by a fresh, dry finish. Pair it with pan-seared scallops with a beurre blanc sauce. Highly Recommended.
In 1982, Rick and Sue Lynn and their partners acquired an abandoned 400-acre farm in Mt. Pleasant Township, Westmoreland County. They started a commercial raspberry business named The Sand Hill Farm. In some years, excess berries created opportunities to make award-winning fruit wines. Commercial grape-based wine production began in 2007.
Now their 2017 Greendance — The Winery at Sand Hill, Sauvignon Blanc “Principe” (available online from the winery for $18) took home a Gold Medal. “We didn’t even know that sauvignon blanc grapes were available in Pennsylvania until our new winemaker John Levenberg directed us to small area in southeastern Pennsylvania in the Brandywine Valley,” Rick Lynn recalls. “Warm air from the nearby Delaware Bay influences the climate favorably and enables French varieties to ripen there in most years.” The soils at Stag Thistle Vineyard add another intriguing factor.
A refrigerated truck takes the hand-harvested grapes overnight to the winery across state in Westmoreland County. Gentle pressing occurs upon arrival before the fruit goes into temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The final wine offers marvelous quince, grapefruit and pear aromas and flavors. Underlying fresh acidity and mouthwatering mineral notes provide balance for the crisp, fruity finish. Try it with a niçoise tuna salad. Highly Recommended.
Back near Lake Erie, Mazza says relatively winter hearty, red-skinned cabernet franc grapes ripen in most years. But over the last 15 years, trials of growing grapes in more precise microclimates have identified vineyards to ripen the grapes consistently in optimal fashion. The 2016 Mazza Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Pennsylvania (available at the winery tasting room for $17.95) won a Double Gold. “We work closely on our cabernet franc with third- generation grape growers Albert and Marty Szklenski,” Mazza notes. “We push each other to make better wines.”
Since the vineyards sit close by the winery, fruit harvested in the morning goes into fermentation tanks the same day in the afternoon. Mazza destems the fruit, but uses whole, rather than crushed, berries for fermentation. This helps capture the fruit’s forward, silky style that Mazza prefers. Aging the wine before bottling occurs for up to 18 months in a combination of Hungarian, French and American oak with only a portion of the barrels being new.
“The aging in older barrels avoids overwhelming the wine’s subtleties and delicate fruit,” Mazza says. “Prolonged aging in barrel also allows the wine to soften. We aim to achieve good balance of all the wine’s components.” Ripe, round flavors with medium concentration and good freshness carry through the soft finish. Pair it with either pork roast or old-fashioned burgers. Highly Recommended.