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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 with Susana Balbo, Argentina’s First Woman Winemaker

Susana Balbo, Founder of Susana Balbo Wines, has a career history of firsts: The first Argentinian female winemaker, first Argentinean woman to become a global wine consultant and first Latin American woman to chair the W20 Summit. She has served as a member of Argentina’s parliament representing the Mendoza region, and she served three terms as President of Wines of Argentina during which time Argentinian wines gained global recognition and achieved record export growth.

Argentina’s Susana Balbo is woman of many firsts.

Balbo believes to lead is to set an example for future generations. Interestingly, her original dream to study abroad and become a nuclear physicist in the 1970s was discouraged by her parents. She told us at the time, things were different politically in Argentina, and her parents wanted her to stay closer to home in Mendoza. Instead, Balbo studied viticulture and became the first woman in Argentina to earn an oenology degree. Initially, she worked in her family’s viticultural business and then spread her wings and expanded her credentials by working with Michael Torino Winery, Martins and Catena Zapa and then consulting for numerous global wine brands in South America, Australia and Europe.

Susana Balbo Wines in Mendoza

After 20 years producing and consulting for other wineries, she founded Susana Balbo Wines in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza. Balbo said her vision was always to make high-quality wines  with beautiful fruit and elegant balanced finish, approachable when young but with promising ageabilty. Today, Balbo runs her eponymous winery with her daughter Ana, a graduate of University San Andrés in Buenos Aires, and son José, a graduate of Unversity California at Davis.  www.susanabalbowines.com

Luján de Cuyo is a cool, mountainous sub-region in Mendoza known for its Malbec

Balbo spends much of her time on the road. We were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with her to share her vision on leadership and mentorship for women on The Connected Table SIPS. Balbo discussed why she chose to embrace both the role of entrepreneur and public servant, holding a position in Argentina’s parliament and leading the W20 Summit, whose mission is to create a more sustainable business and civil environment for women in South America and beyond.

A portion of this sponsored podcast was donated to Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Carol Brock Scholarship, in recognition of the Founder of this prestigious organization of leading women in food, fine beverage and hospitality. www.ldny.org  www.ldei.org

Click this image to listen on iHeart. Also available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher and “The Connected Table Page” at Sante Magazine.


The U.S. importer for Susana Balbo Wines is Folio Fine Wine Partners. Here area few selections we tried:

Brioso 2016. A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 16% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot. Aged 15 months in 100% new French oak barrels. It shows sweet red and black fruits, subtle oak and a great backbone of tannins and elegant grip over florality from the Cabernet Sauvignon. Great aging potential.

 

Brioso Signature White Blend 2017 45% Semillón, 30% Torrontés, 25% Sauvignon Blanc. 4 months in 60% first use French oak barrels and 40% second use. An aromatic wine with floral and citrus notes combined with touches of fresh grass, white fruits and orange.  Its finish is mineral and persistent. Great potential for aging.

 

Nosotros 2013 – 100% Malbec aged 16 months, 80% in new French oak and 20% in second use French oak. This is Balbo’s iconic wine, vibrant. intense and elegant, a balance of dark fruits and spice. Great aging potential.