Friday, April 4, 2014

Around here, "Napa" is for car parts.....

(Full disclosure: I stole that phrase from some other wine region which has now slipped my mind.)

It’s also for grapes, but those grapes are from California.  Around here, I’d like to think that when most people mention “Napa” they’re referring to the local car parts store, but something makes me wonder if that’s all that’s going on….

As some of you know, we make wine for other wineries.  At times, these wineries are happy to be associated with us (Karamoor in Fort Washington and the Vineyard at Grandview in Mt. Joy) and we’re happy to work with them as well.  Other times, the contracting winery would rather it not be public that we made anything for them.  Either way is fine for us; winemaking is our strength and we’re glad to do it.

In the last couple years, I have been approached a few times by wineries who would like us to make some dry red wines for them.  The second question usually is, “Can you use some, uh, California fruit?”  Whereas I am happy to make wine for anyone, I draw the line there.  At no point will any West coast grapes ever be allowed in our winery.  All of the fruit will be grown as locally as possible.  The crazy thing is, I think some of these folks think that the quality of our dry reds must come from sourcing fruit from California.  I don’t know this for a fact, but that’s the insinuation.  It pisses me off.

I am extremely proud to be making wine here in this little part of Pennsylvania.  I know in my heart of hearts that we can make amazing wines, mind-blowing wines.  I’ve already tasted them.  It’s now just up to us to push the envelope a little further….and do it with consistency.  It’s why we’re planning on planting another ten to fifteen acres of Bordeaux varieties.  This is our commitment to this area.

That said, I can safely say that I have tasted wines—with the word “Pennsylvania” on them—that definitely had to have Cali fruit in them.  (Depending on the percentage, this could in fact be legal.)  Yes, they were nice wines.  BUT, they weren’t from here!  We have our own styles and flavors here, and we know that California grows 90% of the fruit in this country and that most of you probably drink more than your fair share of wines from there.  That’s fine, and I don’t have a big problem with that.  It just bugs me when there’s no transparency.

Most importantly, I think you the consumer and local winery supported needs to know about one of the little known fact about wine labels.  If you ever see a bottle of wine that says “American”, please do yourself a favor and ask where the grapes were grown.  A wine made 100% from PA fruit can be called American, as can a wine made from 100% California fruit.  But if there’s too much non-PA fruit in the wine to call it “Pennsylvania”, then the only legal resort a winery has is to call it “American.”  And, believe me, I’ll bet if it says “American” it’s mostly not from here.

Usually in this part of the world, you see a lot of French-American hybrids grown.  These you may or may not be familiar with, but they have names like Vidal, Chambourcin, Traminette, Cayuga, Chancellor.  You’re pretty much guaranteed that these grapes were grown somewhere on this coast, although not necessarily in Pennsylvania.  In addition, there are a lot of European grapes that we also grow over here in the East, such as Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc among others. 

But there are varieties you’ll never see grown over here—or at the very least—grown well, such as Zinfandel, Grenache, Nebbiolo, Camenere, Malbec.  These are varieties that are grown in hot climates and make some amazing wines when grown in the correct places.  Central PA, unfortunately, will never produce a good Zinfandel. 

So, the next time you’re out at your local winery, looking at some local vines while checking out the local views and talking with the local people about buying fresh and buying local, let’s make sure we’re all drinking wine made from local grapes.

Drink like you live here, damn it.



  1. I am not sure the title is fits your piece. The majority of California grapes do NOT come from Napa, so I am curious as to why that title? I completely agree with drinking local wines (and beers) and eating locally-produced foods, wherever one may be, and I also appreciate you explaining to your readers a bit about how wine labeling works. We should all question the sources of our beverages and foods. Cheers!

  2. Hey, Beth. I know most of the grapes (and maybe most of everything in CA) is actually grown in the central Valley. Napa is just the easiest target for us, especially since it's homonymous to the parts store. Drink like you live here!


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