Showing posts with label Concord. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Concord. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wine Country Pennsylvania - Lakeview Wine Cellars

We have visited Pennsylvania before in the Now And Zin Wine Country series.  At O'Donnell Winery, Norbert O’Donnell makes due in a cold climate quite nicely with grapes taken from slightly off the usual wine grape path.  Awhile back, O'Donnell wrote to suggest I get in touch with Sam Best of Lakeview Wine Cellars in northwestern Pennsylvania.  The pair met while taking some wine classes together and they hit it off famously.

Lakeview Wine Cellars is located in the town of North East, PA, even though the community is actually in the far northwestern corner of the Keystone State.  The name refers to its position within Erie County.

Best tells me that northwestern Pennsylvania is the largest grape growing area east of the Rockies, with some 30,000 acres under vine.  The Lake Erie appellation stretches over three states, from Buffalo, New York to Toledo, Ohio.  Best proudly notes that the Lake Erie Wine Trail is the fastest-growing wine country in the northeastern US.

Best estimates there are anywhere from 150-200 grape growers within 15 miles of his winery.  A lot are growing Concord grapes, while some grow Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay,  Gruner Veltliner and Riesling.  Best says there are three major growers in his area who sell their juice to winemakers.

Becky and Sam Best
The 5,000 cases of wine produced by Lakeview each year are currently produced with juice from these growers, but Best has plans for grapes of his own.  He actually has six acres of Concord, but he is in the process of removing those vines and replanting different varieties like Noiret.  That grape was developed by the wine department at Cornell University, an institution as indispensable to winemakers in the northeastern US as Cal Davis is to California vintners.

"Noiret is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon," says Best, "with the same type of color and tannins but a little higher in acid.  It has a peppery taste and is not as fussy as, say, Pinot Noir."  The one-acre plot could take five years to start producing, and Best is looking forward to planting more varieties, too.

Best says he specializes in dry reds and dry whites, although he sells about the same amount of sweet wine as dry.  His biggest seller at Lakeview Wine Cellars is Red Sky, a blend of Concord and Niagara grapes with a 5% mark on the residual sugar scale.  He uses only neutral Pennsylvania oak for fermentation and aging.  He also makes a wine using Steuben grapes.

Only four of Best’s 13 wines are sweet, clocking in between 3.5% and 5% residual sugar.  He makes a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and a Cab Franc ice wine infused with chocolate.  The grapes for his ice wine don’t come from the freezer.  They are picked frozen right off the vine.

Lakeview's Shipwreck Series of wines tips the captain's hat to the seafarers of Lake Erie.  Best claims there are more shipwrecks on Lake Erie than in the Bermuda Triangle.  He says that's due, in part, to an average depth in the Great Lake of only 58 feet.  It's the climatic effect of that relatively shallow water that keeps things temperate in the fall and spring.

I can’t wait to taste the wines made from Best’s own vineyard, although I’m sure he’s even more anxious.  Until those vines are ready, he will continue to use grapes grown by others - the best he can find - to fulfill his passion for winemaking.  If his Lakeview Wine Cellars customers can wait, so can he.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Wine Country: Pennsylvania - O'Donnell Winery

The first vitis vinifera grapevines planted in Pennsylvania were put there by William Penn in the 17th century.  That’s reason enough to name the whole state after him, if you ask me.  It took about a hundred more years for the first commercial vineyard to spring up, but it was the first in the country.  Now, here’s the part where we write how Prohibition devastated the Keystone State’s wine industry.  Sadly, it wasn’t until 1968 that the state government loosened restrictions on the making and selling of wine, even if only in a very limited way.

Today, Pennsylvania’s wineries number over 160 and are largely family-owned outfits.  It’s not a bad place to grow grapes, as the northern clime is mitigated by Lake Erie and the Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic.

Pennsylvanians claim eighth place in wine production by state, although I’ve seen lists that had them looking up at the top ten.

Norbert O’Donnell, of O’Donnell Winery, fell in love with wine while living in Washington state.  Upon his return to Pennsylvania, he missed the wines he grew to love.  So, he decided to make his own.

The winery is located in Berwick, Pennsylvania, a little bit southwest of Wilkes-Barre.  The grapes in the O’Donnell vineyard have not come in yet, so these wines are produced from grapes he sourced from the area near Erie, PA.

Rory Red - Here’s a sweet wine made from Concord grapes.  The grape millions love under the name “Welches” is a real delight here under O’Donnell’s banner.  A medium purple in the glass, there’s a slight frizzante upon pouring.  It looks rather like Pinot Noir, but the similarity ends there.  The nose comes on a bit like grape juice, but more like grape Fizzies, if you remember those.  There’s a slight tartness that tempers the sweet candy on the palate, so it’s a perfectly good table wine.  O’Donnell says, “I enjoy it chilled and even on the rocks as its lush flavors can support ice.  Very good with chocolate.”  I concur.

Snapper - This is a dry, oaked wine made from Corot Noir grapes.  It’s deep red with an extremely earthy nose - blackberries and cherries figure into the aromas as well.  The mouthfeel is medium weight with a crisp acidity, the kind of wine that takes a chill well.  The easy tannins often found in cold-climate grapes are true to form here, actually taking a backseat to the acidity.  O’Donnell recommends it with burgers on a picnic.

SlĂ inte - Pronounced Slawn-cha, which O’Donnell tells me is Irish for “Cheers” - is made from Geisenheim grapes.  Light and thin-skinned, these cool climate grapes originated in the Rhine region of Germany.  The pale wine has a nose that is subdued and lovely.  Peaches and apricots battle with a floral note and the aromas glide on an herbal wave.  The palate pulls a switcheroo with the fruit taking the lead and the green element accenting.  The finish turns things back around with the herbal aspect lasting long beyond the sip.  O’Donnell suggests you “drop a few fresh blueberries in the glass and enjoy them at the last sip.”  He says a fruit salad is a perfect pairing.  It’s sold as a sweet wine, but it really clocks in at off-dry to me.  It offers quite a bit more complexity than I expected from a sweet wine.

Banshee - This is an unusual Catawba wine.  Bone dry and golden, instead of sweet and red, as that grape often appears in the glass.  O'Donnell is particularly fond of this one, and it's not hard to see why.  The aromatic nose shows an earthy herbal flair, while the palate is loaded with what he calls "the mineral notes of an old world Pinot Gris and a wonderful citrus finish."  The acidity is racy and the wine feels clean in the mouth.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Realizing A Wine Dream: Pennsylvania's O'Donnell Winery

If you've ever thought, "Man, I'd love to own a vineyard and make my own wine," you have something in common with Norbert O'Donnell.  He's the owner and winemaker for O'Donnell Winery in northeast Pennsylvania. They have only been open a few weeks (as of mid-2012) but Norbert and his wife, Jeannie, are running full steam ahead.

Norbert is from the NEPA area, but he was bitten by the wine bug while living in Washington's Columbia Valley.  He grew to love the rich, voluptuous wines made there and found it a disappointment to return to his home state and the thin, sweet wines people seem to like there.  He says he wanted to turn around and go right back to Washington.

What he really did, though, is stay in Berwick, Pennsylvania and try to change the wine scene on his own.  O'Donnell's vineyard is still a year from first harvest, so he is sourcing grapes from Erie, PA for his first effort at a full scale release.  He currently has four wines in production, and made 1,000 liters each - about 110 cases for each wine.  That's quite a step up from the hundred he had been producing for personal use with grapes from California, Washington, Chile and Italy.

O'Donnell Winery is now one of 140 or so wineries in Pennsylvania.  The wine list shows two dry wines - his preference - and two sweet ones - the kind people like to buy in his area.  O'Donnell tells me sweet wines outsell dry by at least three to one in his part of the Keystone State.  He makes a dry Catawba, a Corot Noir, a Geisenheim and a concord.  The Corot Noir grape is a hybrid developed at Cornell University.  It's free of the "hybrid aromas" often found in North American grapes.  Geisenheim is a cross of Riesling and Chancellor grapes.

In his vineyard, O'Donnell watches over plantings of Chamboucin, Cameret (a Gewurztraminer clone) , Riesling and Merlot.  I hope to have a chance to taste his wines soon, and when I do I'll include O'Donnell Winery in the Now And Zin Wine Country series.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Wine Country: West Virginia

West Virginia has fewer than two dozen wineries.  The number eleven kept turning up in my research, but the West Virginia Department of Agriculture lists 19.  They don’t list much more than that about wine or grape growing, though.  The state does, however, boast three American Viticultural Areas.  The Mountain State has a piece of the Kanawha River Valley, Ohio River Valley and Shenandoah Valley AVAs.  

A lot of French hybrids are grown in West Virginia, due to the cold winters, but Riesling is said to be a mainstay in the northeastern part of the state.  In the Potomac Highlands, the shale soil is compared with that of Germany's Mosel Valley.  With about 47,000 gallons of wine produced in 2009, West Virginia comes in ahead of only Oklahoma, Maine and Montana in wine production.

A big thank you goes to my friend - and West Virginia native - Jim Thornton, and his wife Sue, who were kind enough to make it their mission to find these two wines for me on a trip back to Jim’s home state. Without them, there may not have been a West Virginia page for the Wine Country series.

Daniel Vineyards is in Crab Orchard, West Virginia, in the southwestern corner of the state.  The winery and vineyard is located at over 2,500 feet above sea level, so cold-hardy grapes are a must.  Owner and winemaker, Dr. C. Richard Daniel, has experimented with over 114 different grape varieties since his initial plantings in 1990.  Presently he grows 14 varieties:

     Cornell University Hybrids (Cayuga, Chardonel, Traminette)
     French-American Hybrids (Seyval, St. Vincent, Vidal, and Vignoles)
     Native American (Norton)
     Swenson Hybrids (Brianna, Esprit, and Sabrevois)
     University of Minnesota Hybrids (Frontenac, La Crescent, and Marquette)

The doctor says his blackberry and Port-style wines are his best sellers.
Daniel Vineyards West Virginia Red Table Wine 2008
The wine is brick red color and medium dark in the glass.  Light passes through it easily, and it has the look of a delicate Pinot Noir.  The nose is very intense blackberry, lots of earthy minerality. I would guess that this wine is made from Frontenac grapes, but I don't know for sure.

The palate is loaded with true blackberry flavor as well, the kind one gets from eating actual blackberries. There is a fruity sweetness, but an earthy taste is quite prevalent.  Fennel also shows.  The wine is quite dry and has a strong tannic structure.

Acidity is also high, which leads me to believe it will pair well with food.  I'd imagine this to be a great match with sausage, pork or pepperoni roll.  As a matter of fact, I might make the latter my first choice.  Anything type of peppery or spicy meat would likely pair well.

Kirkwood Winery is in Summersville, West Virginia, owned and operated by Rodney Facemire.  Kirkwood is Nicholas County’s first winery, and Facemire makes wine from fruits and vegetables.  There is also a mini-distillery on the premises, the Isaiah Morgan Distillery.

Kirkwood Winery Royal Blush NV
This pink wine actually looks more orange, or salmon, in the glass. It's gorgeous to look at, with an alcohol content of 11% abv.  On the nose, there's a "foxy" character that is often noticed in wines made from North American grapes.  Kirkwood does make a wine from Concord grapes, but I'm told the makeup of the Royal Blush is all Katoba grapes. I have never heard of that one, and I wonder if it might be a synonym for Catawba. The foxy aroma is so overpowering, I can't determine any fruit aromas at all.
On the palate, things change.  There is a very intense flavor of orange peel, and a vegetal/herbal angle I can't quite figure out.  While the nose did not make me want a sip, the taste of the wine is actually very interesting.  Orange candy on the finish takes away the memory of the nose.  

As a "mountain wine" from Appalachia, it has a certain cachet.  I would imagine if one is accustomed to drinking this, it's quite enjoyable.  As for me, if there's a white Zinfandel nearby, I'll take that instead.