Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Blocks at Cadenza Vineyards

The term "block" has been used in vineyards for years.  It's usually used to denote any acreage of a given variety of grapes.  Doesn't matter if it's an acre or ten acres.  It's just a "block."

In the photo to the right, you can see Block One in the bottom right corner, and then Block Two above it (towards the setting sun).  Block Six is off the the left and is planted more densely with closer rows.

Not sure how the terminology came about.  John used to refer to the "Upper" and "Lower" Chardonnay.....The "Upper" is now "Block Two."  Block Five--before it was referred to as such--was about five varieties.  When I needed to refer to it as a set of rows of vines, I just counted blocks and it became "Block Five."  Pretty straight-forward.  And that started the numbering of the blocks here.

We now have seven blocks of vines here at what we are now terming the Cadenza Vineyards.  Here's an overview list.....

1 - Chardonnay (0.5 acres)
2 - Chardonnay (1.5 acres)
3 - Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5 acres)
4 - Merlot (3.0 acres)
5 - (currently unplanted)
6 - Petit Verdot (1.25 acres) and Cabernet Franc (1.0 acres)
7 - Sauvignon Blanc (1.0 acres), Viognier (0.75 acres), Semillon (0.5 acres), and Albarino (1.0 acres)

Each block is a bit different, and there are reasons behind why each has a certain variety planted in it.  I'll try to sketch out my thoughts a bit here.

Block One
This is our young Chardonnay block, planted in 2015 to clone 548 and 96 on 101-14 rootstock from Mercier nursery.  548 is a small clustered clone, and 96 is not.  I felt like we needed more Chardonnay at the time, and being situated right next to our other block seemed appropriate.

Block Two
This block was originally planted in 1973 to the Wente clone of Chardonnay.  Rows are 12 feet wide and the vines were planted eight feet apart.  This was pretty strenuous on the Chardonnay vines, and after time I eventually inter-planted these two four feet apart.

Over time, vines that died were replaced with new clones: Martini clone 4 in the early 1980s, the Colmar clone and 96 in the 1990s, then in 2004 I added in 95, 124, and 548.  More 95 and 96 was to follow in 2012.  This field blend of clones is now the signature character of Chardonnay at Allegro.  While a lot of Chardonnays on the market are from one single clone or a blend of two, ours is host to so many clones that it's hard to pick out one distinct flavor.  (Most clones have specific clonal flavor tendencies.)  Our Chardonnay tastes uniquely like, well, our Chardonnay.

Block Three
The second of our two old plantings, this Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard was also planted back in 1973.  The original clones (and the replacements in the 1980s) are no longer known, but suffice it to say that they are undoubtedly from California.  All of the replacements (and interplantings like in the Chardonnay) have been of French clones.  These seem to ripen earlier and produce more deeply colored and flavored wines.

Block Four
This is most likely the premier site on the property with its southeast facing slope.  We planted Merlot clone 181 on 101-14 rootstock in 2015 at 1,895 vines per acre (that's seven foot rows with a meter between each vine.)  This is the density of all of our newer plantings, and it allows us to crop each vine a little lower in order to achieve even riper flavors than ever before.)

The Merlot vines were chosen due to the fact that this block contains a high clay content combined with high iron.  Viticulturally in the world, this matches with Pomerol in Bordeaux, widely known for their amazing Merlot-based wines.  Seemed like the obvious choice for the site.

Hindsight being 20/20, we now also know that the base of this block is one of the coldest on the property and we have sustained bud damage these past two winters.  Merlot may make some of the best wines we've ever grown here, but we wish it were just a little tougher in the field.
Block Five
Currently we have nothing planted in this block.  Historically there was Seyval, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Merlot, Traminette and Cabernet Franc.  I'm hoping that this is the future site of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (with some thought to maybe more Cabernet Franc and maybe Tannat if it can make it through the winter and how about some Mourvedre if we ever get enough heat for it and maybe Grenache because I really like Grenache and.....

Block Six
This block was part of our 2015 planting, and it had never been planted before.  We settled on Petit Verdot (both the 400 and 1058 clones) and Cabernet Franc clone 214.  The row orientation--the same as Blocks 1 and 2 and 3--doesn't lend itself perfectly for red grapes, and more aggressive leaf-pulling is required to make sure the pyrazines are tamed early in the ripening process.  We've been thrilled with how well the PV has performed (perhaps our most consistent performer) with the wines it has produced and how it has fared the winters.  The Cabernet Franc has been less consistent, and seems to have taken a hit last winter as well.

Block Seven
This block has a slight northeasterly slope to it, so when we planted it in 2016 the thought was that it was best suited for white grapes.  The soils seem to have less clay in them (which leads to a little more drought-stress than would be desirable for whites), but the slope angle will hopefully help retain more acidity and freshness in the wines.  Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon were chosen as they are classic Bordeaux varieties, and since we're all-Bordeaux-all-the-time, it was a natural fit.

As for the Viognier, I'm just in love with the wine.  I think it makes some of the most interesting and resonating whites I've ever tasted, and comes with its own voluptuous mouthfeel as well.  Now, if we could only get it to make it through winters ok as well as yield predictably I'd be happy!

Lastly, the Albarino is in the toughest part of that site, but it's also the toughest grape.  Thick-skins and cold-hardiness are what I call "insurance characteristics" and that's really why we planted it.  It usually makes lovely wines (as evidenced by our 2018 offering) and hopefully it will continue to perform consistently.

So, that's the overview of the vienyard.  Hoping this helps you all understand a little behind the curtain as to the why behind Cadenza Vineyards.  This is a special place, and I am grateful to be a part of it.  Thanks for your support of this project.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Why We Changed Our Labels--Guest Post from Emery Pajer

**The following post is written by Emery Pajer, Label Designer Extraordinaire and All-Around Nice Guy.  He is a self-employed graphic artist who has been helping us at Allegro in the tasting rooms and all around since 2011.  If you need any design work, check out his stuff at and  (He knows his way around map illustrations and a wine bottle or two! 


 Hi everyone. By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the new sweet and dry wine labels as they show up on your shelves. They are the result of a lot of research that Carl and I did over the past two years, and we thought it would be a good idea to share what we learned and give you some info to share with customers if they ask you about the new artwork.

We made several trips to wine shops in PA and MD with a couple of Allegro sweet and dry wine bottles in hand. We looked at wines in every category and price range. What we found was really pretty shocking. Turns out our shiny colorful labels had a hard time fitting in on the shelf next to other wines – especially the dry wines. We always thought that they looked great side-by-side on our shelves, and they do, but when you put them in a retail environment, they nearly disappear. And here’s why:

 Sweet wines.
We realized several years ago that our sweet wine labels were kinda dark, and could use some more color. So around 2012, I started pumping up the color and contrast across the board. This was definitely an improvement, but when we put the shiny bottle of Harmony on the shelf next to the other sweet wines, we realized that the shiny finish produced a glare, the ink coverage was so heavy that the label just looked dark and drab, and that the whole label was just too small. Everyone else had big bright labels with huge logos on them.

 So we redesigned our labels using a much larger format, got rid of the gloss and went with a matte finish, added more white and bright colors to the illustrations, enlarged the logo, enlarged the logo some more*, and put a brief description of the wine on the front of the label so that the style of wine could be easily identified by the consumer (Harmony means absolutely nothing to someone who has never tasted the wine). It wasn’t a total re-vamp. We liked what we had, and we knew that we already had a fan base out there that looks for the “purple label with the viola” on it. We couldn’t change it too much, we just needed to bring it up to snuff so that it looked better on a retail shelf.
 Dry wines.
This was even more profound. Pay attention next time you go into a wine store. All of the labels are white or off-white, and really large. They all have some sort mark, like an illustration, seal or emblem (sometimes all three). The colors are limited to two or three. They feel nice. They use textured paper, and typically have some sort of embossing or spot varnishing treatment. We didn’t have any of that. We had a very hard time finding any other bottle of wine that had a four-color photograph of any size on it. In fact, I’m not sure that we ever did. And absolutely no one had an image that covered the entire label. And shiny? Forget it. Again, we looked dark, small and out of place.

 So we set out to revamp the entire approach. We knew we wanted a big white label. We knew we wanted the logo to be bigger. We knew we wanted a limited color palette. We knew we wanted some sort of treatment like embossing or spot varnishing. That was easy, but the artwork was a problem. We wanted to keep the photography for continuity between the existing shiny labels and the new design, but we never found a solution that worked. Believe me, we tried. And then, it hit us. Use sheet music. We have a 4-page original composition (Themes and Variations for Woodwind Quintet) that was hand written by John Crouch, one of the brothers who founded Allegro back in 1979. You are probably familiar with the first page of it because we used it on the Bridge label for the past 4 or 5 vintages. Each of the new wine labels has a unique snippet from John’s composition. We tried to match the feel or look of the snippet with the style of wine: Cabernet Sauvignon is busy and complex, while Sauvignon Blanc is simple and light. It clicked immediately.

 But it wasn’t enough. We needed an emblem. We both always thought putting PA prominently on the front label might be a bad idea. As most of you probably know, a lot of consumers think PA wine can’t be any good. But we are very proud of being a PA product, and of how long Allegro has been in business. We wanted to include that information, but it had to be subtle. We developed the emblem, but we needed artwork. So we went back to Tim and John Crouch’s labels from 1980-2000. They used the outline of a grape leaf as the prominent image on their labels (see attached photo). That’s the same leaf that is in the center of the seal.

  And of course, the logo is a lot bigger. A lot bigger*.

 The new labels tie the present to the past. They feel good. They have lots of soft textured paper with subtle embossing on the logo and emblem. They have deep rich colors with scarlet varietal text that really pops. They are bright, bold, simple and easily identifiable. They are relevant, and they look and feel like a dry bottle of wine is supposed to look and feel.

 The "independent craft winery" line is a nod to microbreweries across the US. If a brewery produces less than 6 million barrels a year, and less than 25 percent of the brewery is owned by someone other than the brewer, they qualify. We align with, and respect that approach to brewing. Unfortunately, there isn’t an organization like that for wineries, so we made up that line and added it to the label. So far, not a single person has commented on or asked about it.

 So we hope you like the new labels. Yes, we understand that it’s a little more difficult to tell them apart from one another, but that’s pretty standard in the industry. I think we’ve come up with solutions that look good both in the tasting room as well as out on the shelves in grocery stores and liquor stores. Designs reflect the quality of the wine and tell a story at the same time. Designs that we can all be proud of.

 If you or any of your customers have any comments or questions regarding the label designs, I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to email me!


 *In the design world, there is an ongoing joke about “make the logo bigger”. Graphic designers hate it when their client’s ask them to do that, and believe me, it happens all of the time. Well, in this case I could not fight the overwhelming evidence. The logo on nearly every bottle of wine was at least 2 or 3 times larger than ours was. Here’s one of my favorite YouTube videos on the topic – you won’t be sorry you watched it – I promise.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Cadenza Thoughts for 2019

The new label
This is the year I've been dreaming about.

I remember first coming to Allegro in 2001 and speaking with Mark Chien (the former Penn State Winegrape Educator) about the potential for fine wines at this site.  We talked technical soil/viticulture issues, but what stuck with me was that he prefaced it all with this statement: "You're sitting on a gold mine here."

And like all gold mines, it's taken years to extract the value from it.  Initially, we couldn't afford to plant more vines.  Nor rehabilitate the old ones.  Nor the trellis.  But in 2014 we realized that we could move forward with some new plantings.

In 2019, the first red wines from those plantings will be bottled.  (For those of you in our wine club who have come back into the cellar with me to talk about them have gotten a chance to taste them and know what I'm talking about.  They are special.

This past November we released the first wine under our new "Cadenza Vineyards" label: our 2016 Cadenza Chardonnay.  From fruit from one of our original blocks of grapes (that I am now referring to as our Crouch Block), this wine is essentially what in the past we would have called our 2016 Allegro Reserve Chardonnay.  It is quintessentially Allegro, just with new trappings.

 This coming February we'll release our 2016 Cadenza Cabernet Sauvignon Crouch Block followed in May by the 2016 Cadenza Block Five (which will remind most people of our 2006 Bridge.)
Map of Cadenza Vineyards

Our first actual Estate Club shipment will come in June then, most likely with reprises of these same wines in some quantity or another.  The 2017 reds will be bottled around that time and I hope to have one in either that shipment or the next (September.)

As some of you may have heard me say, we have put some limits on our wine club membership for this club.  We're still not sure how much wine we will have available, especially after our 2018 vintage where we had much lower yields that anticipated due to Mother Nature just beating the heck out of us.  After telling most of the people in November that we will only take 100 members, I did some calculations and it turns out we can take more.  (This has all to do with what level the members sign up at.....Turns out that most people sign up for the six-bottle per quarter membership.  If it had been the case level, I would have stuck with our 100 member cutoff.)

As we all start to get into 2019 and wonder how the year is going to shape up, you all can think about us down here finally seeing the culmination of years of waiting and planning and planting and viticulture.  I'm looking forward to sharing these wines with you.