When one thinks of the agricultural bounty of our region, vineyards don’t immediately come to mind. And yet, vinifera grapes grown in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio are producing excellent wines. As with many things, vineyards that play to their strengths and work with what soil and climate allow are doing the best job. All of the wineries highlighted are open for tours and tastings, and a visit to each region makes for a fun-filled getaway.
PINNACLE RIDGE WINERY is located in Kutztown, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Founded in 1993 by Brad Knapp, a chemist whose appreciation for wine compelled him to purchase a hillside bank barn that stays cool in the summer and is ideally suited to wine making, the winery began with sparkling wines and has moved toward dry table wines including Chardonnay and an excellent Pinot Noir. Chambourcin, a grape that grows well in the region, is also produced. Sarah and Galen Troxell are the owners of Galen Glen Winery, housed on a sixth-generation family farm in the Lehigh Valley. Chemist Sarah and engineer Galen ditched the corporate world to return to the land and have embraced the challenge. “You can only learn so much in a lifetime about your property and soils,” says Sarah. “There’s a reason it’s generational. We’re still trying to fine tune what will grow in our micro-climate and our soil.” The winery produces more than 20 wines most years and is keen to introduce lesser-known dry whites to the consumer including Gruner-Veltliner and a dry Riesling.
WALTZ VINEYARDS in Lancaster County is a boutique winery known for bold reds including Baron Red, a Cab/Merlot blend. Owners Jan and Kimberly Waltz are considered to be among the preeminent grape growers in the region. At ALLEGRO WINERY in York County, owner Carl Helrich is the maestro behind a suite of wines including blends dubbed Prelude and Cadenza. The winery’s tasting room is a lively place, as the name suggests.
THE CENTRAL MARKET in both York and Lancaster County is the place for fresh bread, fruit and cheese to accompany your wine experience, and each market is housed in a soaring, centuries-old building. John Wright Restaurant in York County is a glass-walled space overlooking the Susquehanna River where you’d be wise to dig into the crab cakes. Dinner at John J. Jeffries in Lancaster City is one of the best dining experiences in all of Pennsylvania. At this farm-to-table restaurant, chefs Sean Cavanaugh and Michael Carson make wholesome foods sparkle. The restaurant features numerous Pennsylvania wines on its list. Rest upstairs at the Lancaster Arts Hotel, a modern fantasy whose rooms are studded with original art, all of it for sale. The Arts Suite is replete with Jacuzzi tub amid exposed brick walls and soft wood furnishings.
Loudoun County, Virginia is happy to call itself “D.C.’s Wine Country” and the pastoral setting an hour west of our nation’s capital counts horse farms and estates among its many wineries. Perched atop a picturesque hillside, BLUEMONT VINEYARD partners with nearby Great Country Farm, a CSA farm, to grow grapes including Viognier, Merlot and Petit Manseng over 12 acres. Owner Bob Rupy, a former technologist, is grateful for the strong collaboration between growers and wine makers in the region. “A great network of experience enabled us to hit the ground running six years ago and we also go down to Charlottesville for the outreach from Virginia Tech.” The result is a Viognier whose fruit comes through along with a silky Merlot, and these and other varietals can be enjoyed from the vineyard’s expansive deck overlooking a fertile valley.
Diane and Mike Canney took the proceeds from the sale of a high-tech business and poured it into SUNSET HILLS VINEYARD, a “hobby out of control,” says Diane. The couple tends more than 60 acres of grapes at two locations and conducts tastings inside a lovingly-restored 1870s Amish barn. It’s a green production at Sunset Hills since the Canneys use no herbicides or pesticides on their plants and own one of the largest solar installations in the county. The skill of award-winning young wine maker Nate Walsh shines in his Chardonnay, Viognier and a stellar Reserve Cabernet Franc.
Another young wine maker, Jordan Harris, is the guiding spirit behind TARARA WINERY and his joie de vivre is evident in wines named Long Bomb and Honah Lee, and the whimsical labels describing them. The many blends are casual and approachable and a Premier Tasting includes a dozen wines over two hours accompanied by assorted cheeses and patés. At Notativa Vineyard, owners Shannon and Stephen Mackey put their music industry background to good use by offering up wines with suggested music pairings. Their Viognier and Cabernet Franc hit the high notes.
Grab a bottle or two from any vineyard and bring it to PATOWMACK FARM, a restaurant on an organic farm in Lovettsville. A view to the Potomac River enhances the flavors of seasonal ingredients and inspired preparations by Chef Christopher Edwards. A lighter but no less delightful bite can be had at FireWorks Pizza in central Leesburg, the county seat. Post meal, cruise around the many boutique and antique stores in the district. Spend your nights at the Lansdowne Resort, a sprawling four-season resort where golf is king, though the 12,000 square foot Spa Minerale is no second fiddle. Wine dinners are held at the resort’s On The Potomac restaurant, there’s a summer concert series and your suite is the place of dreams. Don’t leave without a stop at the Steven F. UDVAR-HAZY CENTER, which houses overflow aircraft from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and is home to the recently-retired space shuttle Discovery.
Lake County, Ohio is the U.S. answer to Niagara-on-the-Lake, both ideal growing regions for ice wine, a sweet dessert wine whose grapes have frozen while still on the vine. The grapes are quickly picked and pressed and the resulting wines can be white or red.
FERRANTE WINERY is a third-generation winery in the Grand River Valley boasting 48 acres of grapes alongside a gracious restaurant brimming with Italian specialties. The Reserve Chardonnay goes well with the food while the winery’s Golden Bunches blend, an off-dry Riesling, calls for Thai food. Vidal Blanc and Cab Franc dessert wines are easily best of class and the warmth of the ever-present owners adds immeasurably to a visit. St. Joseph Vineyard is another estate winery and was the first to grow Pinot Noir grapes in Ohio. Owner Art Pietrzyk is a perfectionist who doesn’t believe in shortcuts. “To make the best, we follow what they do in France” and that includes leaf plucking vines by hand. This attention to detail produces a lovely Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc. Cindy Lindberg, owner of Grand River Cellars, is a former school psychologist who parlayed years of helping out at local wineries into a place of her own. The winery’s Vidal Blanc ice wine is proof positive that Lindberg made the right move. South River Vineyard is known to many as the “church winery” since owners Gene and Heather Sigel house their operation inside a century-old church purchased for $1 in nearby Shalersville, then dismantled and reassembled piece by piece in Geneva, Ohio. Pause to reflect on hand-crafted wines including a rich Semillon and red blends sporting names like Exodus, Karma and Trinity.
Enjoy the region’s bounty at GREENHOUSE TAVERN in Cleveland, 45 minutes away. Chef Jonathon Sawyer’s table along the chic East Fourth Street corridor is the first certified green restaurant in Ohio and a soulful study in re-purposed materials. Expect a stellar meal from one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2010. The TUDOR ARMS HOTEL in Cleveland’s University Circle district is a grande dame gone glam thanks to suites featuring hardwood floors and custom furnishings. It’s an easy walk to Severance Hall for a performance by the Cleveland Orchestra, and the new East and West Wing at the Cleveland Museum of Art enhance what is already considered one of the top museums in the country.