Pennsylvania Wine Finds Focus

Pennsylvania’s wineries are up against Prohibition-era laws but they are pushing forward and producing exceptional wines such as Merlot and Chardonnay.
Illustration by Kavel Rafferty

William Penn didn’t just found the Province of Pennsylvania. He also launched its first vineyard in 1683 in what is now Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Today, the state is the nation’s fifth largest grape grower, but much of Lake Erie’s “Grape Belt” is devoted to juice and jelly.

Vineyard:

Approximately

14,000 acres

(2,800 of wine grapes)

200+ Wineries

Production: More than
1.6 million gallons annually

Leading wineries:

Allegro Vineyards
Galen Glen Winery
Karamoor
Penns Woods Winery
Pinnacle Ridge
Va La Vineyards
Waltz Vineyards

Important grape varieties:

Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal Blanc

AVAs:

Central Delaware Valley
Cumberland Valley
Lake Erie
Lancaster Valley
Lehigh Valley

Wine grapes claim 2,800 acres across the state with a diversity of soils, climates and grapes, including native, hybrid and European varieties. Many of Pennsylvania’s top producers are found in the south-central and southeast regions, where varieties like Merlot and Chardonnay thrive. But Prohibition-era laws have stunted growth and distribution, even within the state’s borders.

“To be established as a significant wine growing region, we need to be prominent in our own state and have wineries with renown in the global wine arena,” says Sarah Troxell, winemaker at Galen Glen Winery in Andreas.

“Not being able to say that we are good at ‘X grape’ has meant that there has been an unfocused industry struggling to find an identity,” says Carl Helrich, of Allegro Vineyards in Brogue.

Great Sites, Great Wine

Identity crises notwithstanding, the state’s distinctive mesoclimates, spread among five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), are ideally suited for quality vinifera. A small band of outliers and iconoclasts are redefining the potential of Pennsylvania wines. The group includes Va La Vineyards, outside of Philadelphia; Galen Glen, which sits between two hillsides; and Helrich’s remote, low-vigor vineyards just north of Maryland.

Different Wines from Pennsylvania.
Photo by Meg Baggott

Troxell and her husband, Galen, focus on cool-climate grapes from their higher-elevation site north of the others. There, you’ll find the country’s second-oldest Grüner Veltliner planting, as well as Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Zweigelt. Further south and west, Helrich’s focus is traditional Bordeaux varieties, while Va La’s Anthony Vietri makes a series of field blends from Italian varieties like Barbera and Nebbiolo.

The High Vineyards of Colorado

After many years of stagnation, laws are changing, and renewed interest in Mid-Atlantic wines could mean a bright future for the Pennsylvania wine industry.

“The future of Pennsylvania wine will stay diverse, but there are some of us out here who are starting to hone in on what we see and taste as our strengths,” says Helrich, who offers praise for the state’s aromatic whites and Bordeaux varieties. “[T]his is the most exhilarating time to be making wine.”

Published on July 28, 2017
Topics: Wine Regions


SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories
Please enter a valid email address
privacy policy