By: Brian Hickey, 10/30/2008
Not too far from where Gen. George Washington launched his
On that property, which was part of the original Colonial-era land grant from the King of England to William Penn, sits evidence of an industry that, in recent years, has started to put roots down across
"Weirdly, southeastern Pennsylvania is a great place to grow grapes, but don't think for a minute that we're trying to be California," warns Christine Carroll, whose family first got the wine bug in 1986 when 10-year-old son Tom Jr. declared that the historic land they purchased would be ideal for a vineyard. He later pursued his dream to
While the Pennsylvania wine industry is technically 40 years old--the state passed legislation allowing farmers to pursue winemaking in 1968--Carroll realizes that most people would still never consider it a wine-producing region, let alone an elite one. When you consider that the state rests on the same latitude as the south of
Today, the Pennsylvania Wine Association says there are 120 registered wineries in the state of all sizes, with more cropping up by the day.
"It's a fledgling industry, but people are starting to figure it out," says Brad Knapp, a chemist-turned-vintner who runs Pinnacle Ridge Winery just outside of Kutztown. "We're figuring out what grapes seem to be working, and the grapes are getting better. The industry is in a rapid state of evolution."
On the front lines of that evolution are people who've left other careers behind to pursue their winemaking passions.
Take Joanne Levengood. In 1991, the environmental engineer planted a 5-acre vineyard on her grandparents' farm as more of a hobbyist. But leaving her field in 1994, she headed west to earn her Masters in Viticulture and Enology from the
"My father always made wine in his basement, and I got a taste for it picking grapes at Buckingham Valley Vineyards while in high school, which is near to where I grew up in
Like her fellow vintners across the state, Levengood knows there's still a way to go, but that word is slowly getting out.
"I think public perception of
The same goes for Carl Helrich, who, along with his wife Kris Miller, purchased an established
"Take a huge pay cut.
That's what you have to do to get involved," Helrich
says with a laugh. "Almost everybody is overqualified. Other wineries may
be different, but we're drawn to wine here because we know we're on the cusp of
something potentially pretty great. Growing wine is especially a challenge
here. I like to say that people from
Knapp has seen the evolution manifest itself in Pennsylvania-grown wines starting to win awards in competitions against the traditional big boys as people are recognizing the investment necessary to get the job done well.
"There seems to be a strong group of growers coming from the chemistry, biology and medical fields, but you have another group of people who just have money and like to dabble in it," he says. "Now, you can take a day off and go out, stop by three or four wineries and find some really great wines. You may find some dogs as well, since it's not entirely ironed out, but
It's definitely happening up at the Carrolls' land just 45 minutes north of
Take a look around the land and you'll see a tasting room, located in a historically registered Federal-style home in which aviator Charles Lindbergh is said to have once slept. There, bottles of wines are festooned with medals from various national and international awards. (Their pride and joy is the 2005 Chardonnay that took Top Gold honors in the 2006 Starwine International Wine Competition.)
Outside sits a tent where the winery hosts weddings (there's even a bridal suite on the property) and other events, while also making a push toward wine-education classes. In this respect, they're actually a bit more like
"We're going for the whole lifestyle thing," explains Christine Carroll, who recently opened up a wine store in the Marketplace at
Today, a few feet from the vines that were set up with the help of an expert called "The Vine Whisperer," the Carrolls are expanding their operation so they have more room to process the grapes and produce more wines, while being that tourist destination that draws people in on their way to nearby New Hope.
"There's so much snobbery in the wine industry and we've been under a lot of it in
Brian Hickey is a free-agent journalist, freelance web-video producer, crossword aficionado and die-hard Cubs fan who is nursing the wounds of yet-another heartbreak.