Philadelphia’s Guide to Pennsylvania Wine
Aficionados of a certain vintage may scoff at the notion of Pennsylvania wine. But the state has become a wine hotbed in recent years. Here’s everything you need to know about what to drink, where to get it, who makes it, and the region’s best wine getaways. — edited by Kristen Schott & Erica Moody
Pennsylvania Vineyard Landscape | Meet the creators | 5 Pennsylvania wines to try | Where to Drink Pennsylvania Wine in Philadelphia | honoring vermouth | Wine Weekend Getaways | Wine Tasting Tips | Pennsylvania Wine Timeline
Drink Local: The Case of Pennsylvania Wine
When you think of Pennsylvania, wine probably doesn’t come to mind. Farmland, of course. But the wine? And good wine, too? Yet the drink has been part of our landscape since at least the late 1600s, when William Penn planted what is believed to be Philadelphia’s first vineyard, in Fairmount Park. In the centuries that followed, the state became known for sweet wines and those made with fruits other than grapes. Native grape varieties, some of which are sweeter, have prevailed as they are easier to grow here. Prohibition and lack of funding contributed to Pennsylvania’s stagnation on the national and international wine scenes. While the state hasn’t entirely abandoned that sweet status—in fact, many wineries today thrive on well-made dessert wines—there has been a shift in our reputation over the past two decades. . Keep reading here.
Let’s get away from the idea of a state grape. Every sub-region in Pennsylvania can find grapes that grow well – or several grapes that grow well.
—Virginia Mitchell, Pennsylvania Winery Association grants administrator and winemaker at Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery
Pennsylvania’s expansive wine landscape stretches from the southwest corner to the northeast corner and everywhere in between. Within these regions are five U.S. viticultural zones, or federally designated viticultural regions. Not all regions or wineries have an AVA; groups must apply for the appellation and prove that their terroir has specific characteristics that differentiate it and, therefore, their wine. Here is an overview of three of the most important.
- Lake Erie AVA: Known as the home of the Concord grapes (Welch’s!), this AVA shared with Ohio and New York—between 13,000 and 15,000 acres are in PA—is the largest contiguous wine region east of the Rockies. The cool climate lends itself to icewines (sweet iterations) and hearty whites like Riesling and Vidal Blanc (a hybrid) that can be picked early. Among the wineries: the 50-year-old Robert Mazza Inc. family of brands, including namesakes Mazza Vineyards and South Shore Wine Co.
- Lancaster Valley AVA: Located in the south-central part of the state and comprising Chester and Lancaster counties, with a somewhat warmer climate and chalky soil, a good setting for European grapes (vinifera). Waltz Vineyards is a great example, with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
- Lehigh Valley AVA: Created in 2008, this AVA includes segments from six counties: Berks, Schuylkill, Carbon, Monroe, Northampton and Lehigh. The hilly landscape features shale and sandstone soil – with morning mists – making it ideal for Grüner and Cabernet Franc, among others. Grüner pioneer Galen Glen Winery is located here, as is Stony Run Winery, which GG’s Sarah Troxell touts for its albariño.
The number of wine trails in the state. These include the Brandywine Valley Trail, where you’ll find destinations like Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in Kennett Square, a boutique winery specializing in fruity chardonnay (oaked, unoaked, and sparkling), dry rosé, and cabernet franc. .
Meet the creators
New owners and next-generation winemakers and vintners are changing Pennsylvania’s wine landscape. Many are educated and trained in the industry, have spent time studying in different parts of the world, and are taking forward what their families started. Here are four to have on your radar (from left to right):
5 local wines to try when you fancy a drink
There is a Pennsylvania wine for everyone. Trade something from out of state – or country – for these local picks. Keep reading here.
The PA rank in the nation for wine production. We produce about two million gallons a year, or 10 million bottles.
Where to Drink Pennsylvania Wine in Philadelphia
These Philadelphia restaurants, bars, and bottle shops guarantee you won’t have to leave town for a local drink. Keep reading here.
People who flock to visit wineries across the state each year, generating $476.5 million in tourism revenue
through tours, tastings, memberships and all those bottles you buy.
5 Wine Weekend Getaways in Pennsylvania
Being the designated driver while your partner drinks wine isn’t the most appealing weekend activity. Luckily, there’s a way to solve this familiar dilemma – by booking a weekend wine getaway. Whether they’re close to famous vineyards or wine destinations on their own, these hotels across the state will ensure everyone in your party can soak up as much as they want (within reason, though). sure). Think rest, leisure… and rosé. Keep reading here.
Praise of vermouth
Get in the mood near you.
The flavored, fortified wine Americans know best as a mix for cocktails like a manhattan or martini gets a Pennsylvania twist from local companies. Look for revolutionary vermouth, a collaboration between Stone & Key Cellars of Montgomery County and Philadelphia Distilling in Fishtown, made with French Colombard grapes and unaged brandy. The taste is somewhere between a classic dry vermouth and a sweet white. For something closer to a traditional sweet vermouth, opt for Plenum, a cherry and apple vermouth made by Plowman, the cider branch of Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County. Coming in 2023, the team behind Dumpster Juice vermouth, a pandemic project on Bloomsday, will open Fell to Earth, an urban “vermouth store” that is sure to become the hottest cold drink spot in town. — Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
Wine tasting tips from a Philadelphia expert
The background mechanics behind wine tasting often seem…pretentious. But there are reasons for all of this. Chloe Grigri, co-owner of Good King Tavern and Le Caveau, who oversees both establishments’ wine programs, explains how to (literally) drink wine — and have fun, too. Keep reading here.
Pennsylvania Wine Timeline
It all started with Bordeaux.
- 1683: William Penn planted Bordeaux vines (transported from England on his ship) on what is now Lemon Hill in Fairmount Park. Vinifera grapes struggle to survive in uncharted territory, but manage to pollinate native vines and produce America’s first hybrids, known as “wildings.”
- 1767: Farmer Thomas Livezey discovers grapes growing on his Wissahickon Creek property. He made wine from it and sent it to Benjamin Franklin in England, who reported that the drink was “excellent”. Praises from the statesman who once called wine “constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy”.
- 1768: Local wines are exhibited at the American Philosophical Society, attracting the interest of entrepreneurs like John Leacock, who buys a 28-acre Lower Merion plantation on which to grow wine. However, a little thing called the American Revolution gets in the way, leading Leacock to abandon his wine dreams.
- 1787: The Pennsylvania Vine Company, one of the first commercial wineries in the country, is established by Pierre Legal in Spring Hill, just outside Philly. Among its shareholders, powerful men include Aaron Burr, Johns Hopkins, Alexander Hamilton and Robert Morris. Legal is the first to grow these delicate vinifera grapes, producing over 20,000 mature vines.
- 1807: German church group Harmony Society is bringing commercial winemaking to southwestern Pennsylvania. Its stone cellars, which held up to 30,000 gallons of wine, can still be seen today on a tour of the Harmony Museum, located in (where else?) the borough of Harmony, which has 1,104 inhabitants.
- 1900: At that time, 67 counties in Pennsylvania produced approximately 200,000 gallons of wine per year, with Erie County leading the way. New Jersey is slightly ahead of us with 220,000 gallons. California, meanwhile, produces more than 20 million gallons a year.
- 1920: Pennsylvania’s wine industry comes to a halt with Prohibition. The production, distribution, and sale of wine were illegal until 1933, when Prohibition ended and Pennsylvania established the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) to oversee state stores. This marks the beginning of our state’s controversial liquor laws, which are among the strictest in the nation.
- 1968: The Limited Winery Act is passed, allowing wineries to make up to 50,000 gallons per year using state-grown fruit; their wine can be sold directly to the public as well as to restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and the PLCB. The following year, Almost Isle Wine Cellars and Penn Shore Vineyards become the first two licensed wineries in the state.
- 2022: Pennsylvania’s approximately 300 licensed wineries produce more than two million gallons of wine annually. New, innovative wineries are opening regularly, and people are (finally!) starting to appreciate the unique qualities of Pennsylvania wine again. —EM
Published as “Vines of the Times” in the October 2022 issue of philadelphia cream magazine.