Photography by Joel Plotkin
Nassau Valley Vineyards in Lewes, Delaware’s first winery, continues to pile up awards at wine competitions.
The emerging wine industry that is spreading across Delaware, southern Pennsylvania and Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a lot like a precocious teenager, sometimes showing flashes of brilliance, sometimes having its stumbling moments, but always growing. Whether you live above or below the canal, there are at least a dozen wineries within an hour’s drive of your home.
Not surprisingly, 2015 has been a year of continued development and activity, with several emerging or accelerating trends.
The good wineries continue to get better. Va La Vineyards is achieving cult winery attention from national wine media, for example, while Nassau Valley Vineyards continues to pile up awards at wine competitions. Paradocx Vineyard, Grace Winery, Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, and Penns Woods Winery are finding their way onto wine lists in fine restaurants.
Trained winemakers from elsewhere are swarming into the area. Crow Farm and Vineyard, Paradocx, Borderland Vineyard, Harvest Ridge Winery, Grace and Galer all have vintners with winemaking degrees or winemaking experience in such places as Argentina, California and Canada. Owner-winemaker Gino Razzi of Penns Woods still makes wine in Italy as well as Pennsylvania. Similarly, more wineries are hiring national vineyard and winemaking consultants, such as Lucie Morton and John Levenberg.
This influx takes nothing away from talented, self-trained winemakers, such as Peggy Raley-Ward of Nassau Valley, John Weygandt of Stargazers Vineyard & Winery, Mario Patone of Patone Cellars Winery & Vineyard and Anthony Vietri of Va La, but it does show that professional winemakers and consultants see promise here.
Wineries also serve as settings for social functions once reserved for fire halls, churches, community centers, local pubs and shopping malls. Young people are flocking to wineries for first dates, girls-Saturday-out, yoga classes, weddings and receptions, while a slightly older crowd uses them as local hangouts and places to hear music. Many wineries offer activities for children.
Wine blends are gaining some of the attention that only varietal wines once enjoyed. Exciting blends, often of seldom-seen grape varieties, are being made. Va La offers both red and white. Patone features a new Meritage red. Grace produces two interesting red cuvées.
Local wines are now being sold in every kind of container. Paradocx is perhaps the most inventive. A few years ago, the winery got national attention by selling wines in paint cans with a tap. It has since added wine pouches.
Local wines are easily available. Going to a winery is fun, but the Pennsylvania wineries also sell at farmers’ markets and specialty stores. Delaware and Maryland wine selections are now frequently stocked in wine shops. Kreutz Creek Vineyards operates a BYOF facility—bring your own food—in downtown West Chester.
Delaware is also becoming more relevant as a winegrowing state. For a long time, Nassau Valley was a pioneer with no followers. The state now has four wineries.
Local wineries have also experienced some setbacks. Alice Weygandt, cofounder of Stargazers with her husband, John, died earlier this year. She was well-known in local wine circles for her marketing efforts for Stargazers and her love of vineyard work. Twin Brook Winery in Gap, Pa., closed, with the vineyard land to be used for other purposes. Tim Jobe, Twin Brook’s talented winemaker, has since joined John Weygandt at Stargazers as its winemaker and vineyard manager.
November is a great month to explore our local wineries. Check out our list of 16 must-visit locales. We also tell you about 11 local wines that you really need to try and restaurant cellars that truly match the food with the wine. So raise a glass to our local industry. Salute!