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Sipping the U.S.A.- Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley

Located in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania The Lehigh Valley is one of this state’s five AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). There are more than two dozen wineries in the Lehigh Valley; most are family owned. An early autumn visit in 2019 arranged by the Pennsylvania Wine Association and Discover Lehigh Valley associations introduced us to the appellation and a few of its producers.

 

Pennsylvania is the nation’s seventh largest wine producing state.

But you need to visit to taste most of the wines. By law, Pennsylvania wines are mainly sold by state-run wine and spirits retailers, or in restaurants. Wineries can also sell direct to consumer, and many welcome visitors to their tasting rooms. It’s a great reason to plan a wine destination road trip to Pennsylvania, especially now if you are into driving trips on the East Coast.

Besides, the area is beautiful; picture rolling farmland dotted by red barns. We learned the Pennsylvania Dutch, descendants from Germany who settled in the region, had an affinity for the color red which is a symbol of love. The red paint was also used to seal in heat to endure the harsh winters.

Galen Galen Winery

Many of the grapes cultivated here are heartier to withstand the temperamental weather which includes very cold winters and hot, humid summers. Lehigh Valley’s southeast location has a longer growing seasons; soils are limestone and shale which allow for excellent drainage. Both vitis vinifera and French American hybrids are cultivated.

Among the European varieties we tasted and liked include the whites, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay, Reds include, but are not limited to, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Lemberger (also known as Blaufränkisch ) and Syrah.

Chambourcin is the most widely planted red grape. Photo: Tolino Vineyards, Lehigh Valley

The Chambourcin hybrid is the most widely planted red in the Lehigh Valley. We tasted wines from this variety ranging from dry and supple to off dry, both still and sparkling. Baco Noir and Noiret, both with a Cabernet character, are also prevalent here. Hybrid whites include Sevyl Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Vignoles.

At Vynecrest Vineyards. Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Wine Association

All the wines we tasted during our brief visit were a pleasant surprise. We look forward to returning to Pennsylvania to spend more time in other viticultural areas.

Lehigh Valley wineries to visit:

Galen Glen Winery. Galen Troxell, formerly a chemical engineer,  and wife, Sarah, a chemist, left their corporate careers to take of his family’s 200- year- old farm, located on a hill overlooking a valley (a.k.a. the “glen”). They established the winery in 1986. Sarah serves as chief winemakers, now joined by daughter, Erin.

Most are vitis vinifera plus a little Chambourcin and Cayuga, another white hybrid. Galen Glen was the first Pennsylvania winery to plant Grüner Veltliner and also the second in the U.S.A. to do so. Sarah was inspired to plant this variety after reading an article in Food & Wine Magazine about how well it pairs with vegetables. Grüner is definitely a standout here, but we also enjoyed Galen Glen’s Gewürztraminer and Fossil Riesling, notably the library wines we tasted. www.galenglen.com

Galen Glen Winery vineyards

Clover Hill Winery

This winery was formerly a Christmas tree farm when John Skrip, a physician, and his wife, Pat, acquired it in the 1970s. Initially thy planned to grow grapes and make wine as a hobby but friends and locals wanted more of their wine. In 1986, it became a licensed winery and now producers around 400,000 cases. John Skrip, Jr, serves as winemaker now and works with his sister, Kari, who oversees marketing.

A pierogi tasting with a selection of Clover Hill Wines

During our visit, we tasted several Clover Hill wines paired with a selection of pierogi made by a local family, a nod to the German influence in the Lehigh Valley. If you visit, try the sparkling Vidal Blanc wine and the Chambourcin Port, both unique to this winery and the area. We also enjoyed Clover Hill’s Pinot Noir but sadly they are ripping out the vines that were damaged from storms. If you see one of their Pinot Noirs at a store, buy it! www.cloverhillwinery.com

Chambourcin Port Barrel Tasting- Clover Hill Winery
Barrel tasting of Chambourcin Port 2017 at Clover Hill Winery

Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery

Established in 1974, Vynecrest is the oldest winery in the Lehigh Valley and one of the founding members of the AVA. Its facilities are housed in an 18th century barn. Also family-run, Vynecrest is owned by John Landis and wife, Jan. Our visit took place during harvest, and it was all hands-on deck for John’s sons.

John Landis, Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery
John Landis, Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery

Of the wines tasted, we enjoyed the white Traminette 2016, a Gewürztraminer hybrid and the Lemberger 2017. Landis’ son told us “Lehigh Valley is mainly a white wine region that does red really well.” www.vynecrest.com

The Landis brothers harvesting grapes at Vynecrest

We did not visit Stony Run Winery or Tolino Vineyards but we tried their wines at our welcome dinner and would suggest trying more (we want to!). We tasted Stony Run’s delightful sparkling brut cuvée made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, made in the Charmat method. Tolino Vineyards’ barrel aged Cabernet Franc (2017) was elegant and underscored why we are fans of east coast Cabernet Franc wines. www.stonyrunwinery.com www.tolinovineyards.com

Gathering with the Lehigh Valley Vintners
Gathering with the Lehigh Valley Vintners

Further afield: Maple Springs Vineyard

This stunning piece of property may be pushing the Lehigh Valley borders and it took a while to find but, but it was well worth it! Maple Springs Vineyards is owned by Marianne Lieberman, whose work in her family’s airport advertising business in Manhattan. In 1995, she acquired the farm and named it “Maple Springs” in memory of Marianne’s grandmother, Helen Maple Doern.

Winemaker Jeb Stebben at Maple Springs Vineyards
Winemaker Jeb Stebben at Maple Springs Vineyards

The “Springs” are a nod to the underground springs on the property. Lieberman planted Chardonnay vines in 2008 and two years recruited winemaker, Jeb Stebben, who worked in California at Opus One and Carneros Creek. The Maple Springs Chardonnay is a stunner as was the Pinot Noir. www.maplespringsvineyard.com

The springs at Maple Springs Vineyards

If you visit Lehigh Valley

The city of Allentown offers plenty to see and places to dine. For something a little more “away” and romantic, consider the Glasbern, an historic on 150 acres of farmland with walking trails. Our king bed room came with a spacious seating area and large hot tub that overlooked the heated pool. The restaurant serves as fabulous breakfast and a small, seasonal dinner menu. Special event facilities and a spa are also on-site. www.Glasbern.com

Welcome committee of alpacas on the ground of the Glasbern Inn during our trail walk.
Gardens at the Glasbern Inn, Foglesville, PA www.glasbern.com

More info:
www.pennylvaniawine.com
www.DiscoverLehighValley.com

Listen to our podcasts on The Connected Table LIVE with these Lehigh Valley producers:

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Sipping Hamilton Russell Oregon Pinot Noir

 

We have a soft spot for South Africa after a visit to the wine country and the bushlands in late 2006. So, it was a pleasure to visit with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, proprietors of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a producer of estate-grown wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near the fishing village of Hermanus in Walker Bay. It’s one of the southernmost wine estates in Africa and benefits from a cooler maritime climate, ideal for producing their Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. (listen The Connected Table Sips)

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is one of the southernmost wineries in South Africa

Now, after producing 40 vintages in South Africa, the Hamilton Russells have spread their wings and have invested in making wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Their first two releases, vintage 2018 deliver classic Pinot Noirs with opulent fruit and spice balanced with masterful restraint and purity. The wines are available through Vineyards Brands in the U.S.A.

The couple had looked into investing in Burgundy but decided the Willamette Valley offered a better opportunity to work with some of the region’s best AVAs, Eola-Amity Hills and Ribbon Ridge.

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in South Africa with Vineyard Manager Johan Montgomery and Winemaker Emul Ross

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is recognized for its iron- rich volcanic soils formed by ancient lava flows combined with marine sediments and alluvial deposits. The maritime climate allows for a steady cooling sea breeze during the long, warm growing season Ribbon Ridge is a sub-appellation within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Here, the soil is uniformly marine sediments with fine silt, sand, and mud.

“After sanctions (in South Africa) were lifted in 1992, we knew we wanted to expand long-term. We visited the U.S. often and saw an extraordinary opportunity in Oregon with Pinot Noir. While Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa exhibits a bit more austerity, the Oregon wines capture the more purity of fruit. Interestingly, the alcohol levels, acidity and PH balance are almost the same,” said Anthony Hamilton Russell.

Hamilton Russell Oregon wines, both 2018, are like fraternal twins. They share a similar DNA – Willamette Valley Pinot Noir -but exhibit different character, due to terroir. Olive Hamilton Russell has a culinary background and is a passionate forager. She shared some pairing tips for each wine.

 Zena Crown Oregon Pinot Noir 2018, Eola-Amity Hills is aged 14 months in French oak.  SRP $85.99. Olive says, “This wine has darker fruit and spice. It exhibits more austerity and fine tannin. I suggested pairing with a rack of lamb, slow roasted meats, or a mushroom risotto.”
Bramble Hill Pinot Noir 2018, Ribbon Ridge is aged 14 months in French oak. Bramble Hill Vineyard is recognized for producing grapes for some of Oregon’s finest Pinot Noirs. SRP $85.99. Olive says, “Here, the wine has more open red fruit and lively minerality. Consider pairing with turkey and cranberry sauce with Brussels sprouts and date syrup; cod and miso or duck with orange sauce.”

Listen to our podcast with Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell #TheConnectedTableSips (under 12 min.)

 

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AOC Cairanne: Discovering the Newest Côtes du Rhône Cru

Established in 2016, AOC Cairanne is the newest of the Côtes du Rhône’s 17 crus. Located on the left bank of the Rhône River thirty minutes from Avignon, the village of Cairanne is perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by vineyards. In the distance one can see the craggy peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Considered a gateway to the southern Rhône Valley, Cairanne’s climate is Mediterranean- dry and sunny with frequent gusts from the mistral winds which cool and purify the air, an ideal setting to cultivate healthy vines. Many vines in this region are more than 50 years old.

Cairanne Village-LAURENT PAMATO
The village of Cairanne is located in the Vaucluse department of the Rhône Valley. Photo: Vaucluse Tourism. Copyright: Laurent Pamato

Red wines make up 96 percent of Cairanne’s production. AOC guidelines require that the reds be a minimum of 40 percent Grenache, blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, but no variety can exceed 30 percent of the total blend. The end result are red wines that display sultry spice, fresh red fruits, smooth tannins, and elegant finesse.

Though only four percent of total production, Cairanne whites, also follow stringent AOC guidelines, comprised mainly of Clairette, Grenache Blanc or Roussanne. Bourboulenc, Picpoul. Viognier or Marsanne may be used in smaller amounts. The whites are all aromatic with a bright balance of floral, fruit and spice.

Selection of Cairanne wines

Conservation is important in Cairanne where 26 percent of planted areas are organically farmed, and sulfites are kept to extremely low levels. Most of the vines are gobelet-trained to safeguard against the wind and to preserve the freshness of the fruit. Cairanne is divided into three growing areas. To the west near the Aygues River, vineyards are planted on steep terraces with extremely stony topsoil over calcareous clay. The hilly slopes just north of the village are alluvial clay and silt with limestone. In the flat southern region, the vegetation is shallow scrubland, known in the Rhône Valley as les garrigues. Each contribute to the consistent style and character of Cairanne wines which producers unanimously refer to as more “refreshing and elegant.”

Cairanne is a winemaking community consisting of 50 independent vignerons, 35 négociants and seven cooperatives. Locals talk about a youthful vitality in Cairanne; after all, it is the newest Cru in the Côtes du Rhône. The reference is also a nod to the region’s younger winemakers who are working together with an eye on preservation, sustainability, and recognition for AOC Cairanne in the global wine market.

With Jean-Etienne Alary , Domaine Alary, in the rocky vineyards
For more information visit: www.vins-rhone.com

Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers:

Domaine Brusset. The Brusset family has been producing bottles wine since 1947 in Cairanne as well as in other appellations in the southern Rhône Valley. (Adrian Chalk Selections/MS Walker)

Domaine Alary. Jean-Etienne Alary is one of Cairanne’s young winemakers whose families have been producing wine in the region for many years. Domaine Alary has existed since 1692. Jean-Etienne represents the 11th generation. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)

Domaine André Berthet-Rayne. André Berthet-Rayne’s great grandfather started with 15 acres; his father, Paul expanded it substantially. Today the winery is run by André with daughter, Alexandra, taking on winemaking duties. (Santa Armosa NY)

Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint- Martin. Brothers Frédéric and François Alary represent the 10th generation of this winemaking family whose winery dates back 300 years. (North Berkeley Imports)

Domaine Les Hautes Cances. This winery was acquired in June 2019 by the Amadieu family, négociants based in Gigondas. They also produce a second label in Cairanne named Pierre Amadieu. (Alain Bradley Imports)

Domaine Boisson. Sixth generation winemaker, Bruno Boisson, studied and worked in Burgundy for several years, which is why the wines have a Burgundian flare to them, notably the barrel-aged white, L’Exigence (Verity Wines)

Domaine Le Grand Bois. An estate founded in 1920 by Albert Farjon now run by his descendent, Mireille Farjon, and her husband, Marc Besnaudeau, who worked as a sommelier in Paris before joining his wife’s family business. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)

Maison Brotte. The Brotte family are négociants with three estates in the Rhône Valley including Domaine Grosset in Cairanne (Monsieur Touton Selections)

Learn more about AOC Cairanne. Listen to The Connected Table SIPS. Each podcast is 12 minute.

Domaine brusset
With Laurent Brusset, Domaine Brusset
Domane Roche
With Romain Roche, Domaine Roche
Jean-Marie Amadieu, Pierre Amadieu, and Frédéric Alary, Domaine de l’Oratorio Saint Martin
At Domaine Berthet-Rayne with André Berthet-Rayne , daughter Alexandra, wife Marina and son-in-law, Axel
With Bruno Boisson, Domaine Boisson; Mireille Besnardeau, Domaine Grand Bois; and Thibault Brotte, Brotte