When you think of leaders in the resurgence of winemaking in Western Pennsylvania one name that should immediately come to mind is Richard Ripepi and his Ripepi Winery & Vineyard in Monongahela. Rich showed great foresight when he founded his vineyard in 1987. Those initial rows of grapes have now grown into a 10 acre vineyard containing nearly 5000 vines made up of 21 different varieties of wine grapes.
The day I visited Rich I found him to be the same welcoming and gracious host that I have come to know over the years, the kind that always makes you feel like one of the family. While sitting in his tasting room I took the opportunity to ask him how the 2014 season had played out. He told me it started out in early March with him leaving on extra buds because that was the consensus last year due to the extreme winter we had just experienced and the excepted damage it had caused to the vines. In reality his vines sustained little if any damage with the exception being his Cabernet Sauvignon that required some vines to be replaced because of winter damage. The spring brought rain and extra growth that prepared the vines for a huge volume of fruit to be set. After June 10th normally the grapes should on the vines signaling it is time for the nets to go up and the spraying program to end. It rained hard all summer and because of that the spraying had to continue to protect the crop. By late August the vines were so laden with fruit Rich had to decide whether to drop a portion of the fruit or roll the dice on perfect fall weather. Rich went with rolling the dice and he won. September had abundant sunshine and little rain making conditions favorable for all of his grape varieties to ripen within a 3 week picking window instead of the usual 6 week harvest season. Rich was both surprised and delighted with the resulting harvest that was the most bountiful and high quality of any in the history of Ripepi Vineyard. Vines that usually average 7 to 8 pounds of fruit each produced 10 to 12 pounds per plant in 2014.
Work at a winery may slow in the winter but it never stops. During my visit they were moving 800 gallons of wine outside to cold stabilize while Winery Manager Pete Abvulovic was in the lab working to find the alcohol content of various wines. Decisions were being made on which Ripepi wines would be sent to the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (F.L.I.W.C.) and which would be entered into the Pennsylvania Wine Association (P.W.A.) competition.
Rich honed his wine making skills by attending conferences and workshops sponsored by various universities and wine industry organizations. During the early days of his winery he was helped immensely by two people that he met at these gatherings. Rich made a special point to acknowledge the invaluable help given to him by his friends and viticulture experts, the late Robert Pool of Cornell University and the late Dr. Garth Cahoon of Ohio State University.
No trip to Ripepi Winery & Vineyard would be complete without tasting wine. I tasted his award-winning DeChaunac, an excellent Merlot-like Chancellor and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cab was especially enjoyable because it contained grapes that my wife and I helped pick during the 2013 harvest that was featured in my post ” Harvest at Ripepi Winery “. For more information go to www.ripepiwine.com or follow him on twitter at @RipepiWinery Phone: 724-288-3738