A Very Happy Hour @ Ripepi Winery

     The second Friday of the month is a very special time at Ripepi Winery Monongahela, Pa. It’s special because that’s the monthly Happy Hour from 5 – 8 PM. If you would like to enjoy a good Pa. wine with friendly people in a festive winery setting mark your calendar for these events. You’ll get to meet Rich Ripepi and his stellar staff while tasting Ripepi’s large selection of wines.

When you visit be sure to talk with owner/winemaker Rich Ripepi. His warm and welcoming personality will make you feel right at home. Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss wine and wine grapes with him. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject and is one of the very few Western Pennsylvania wine makers that grows his own wine grapes. Take a minute before you enter the tasting room to savor the view of his ten acre vineyard next to the winery.

During our conversation on that Friday evening Rich told me his vineyard had made it  through this past winter in good shape but had experienced an unusual frost event after the flowers had emerged. Rich and I went out into the vineyard where he showed me how frost had covered the ground and coated the tops of the vines roughly five feet above the

Frost Damage

ground. The strange thing was that there was a zone between three and four feet off the ground that did not frost. The flowering tops of the vines in that zone remained frost-free and undamaged despite the lack of overstory growth to protect them. What caused this curious phenomenon is hard to say but while a frost is never welcome it didn’t damage enough of the flowers to have a negative effect on this years crop.

Rich pointed out the young Cabernet Sauvignon vines he had planted to replace the “Old” Cab vines he had lost to winter damage a couple of years ago. While his new Cab vines continue to mature Rich will buy Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Lanza Vineyard in California. The Lanza Vineyards are in the Suisun Valley just east of Napa Valley. Grapes from Lanza are used to produce the exceptional wines of the Wooden Valley Winery. Pete Abdulovic, winery manager at Ripepi told me an interesting side note on their grape purchase. During a recent visit to the Napa Valley he made a stop in the Suisun Valley and when he was tasting there he heard that the Caymus Winery had leased a considerable

Lanza Vineyards Suisun Valley, California Photo Courtesy : Pete Adbulovic

amount of vineyard acreage surrounding the Lanza Vineyards and throughout the Suisun Valley to supply grapes for their iconic Caymus wines. It will be very interesting to follow the transformation of these grapes from start to finish and taste what characteristics Rich can coax out of them. 

At the end of the evening as we were saying our goodbyes Rich told me he had ordered Saperavi vines to plant in a one half acre section of his vineyard from Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, NY. He was hopeful that they would be able to fill his order because the demand for these vines has created a supply shortage. The increasing popularity of this grape is due in large part to the very good wine that the only four North American producers of Saperavi are offering to the public. When Rich gets his vines he will become the second vineyard in Pennsylvania to grow Saperavi commercially joining Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg. Chuck Zaleski, owner/winemaker of Fero planted his first Saperavi vines in 2010 and released his first vintage from the 2013 harvest.

 

Cool Climate Grapes

     When I was in Monongahela, Pa recently I visited my friends at the Ripepi Winery & Vineyard. I couldn’t have picked a better time to visit because Rich Ripepi and Pete Abvulovic had just unpacked their new Hanna Total Acid and Ph machine for the lab and were setting it up. Rich said the vineyard had come though the winter in great shape. Today turned grape book1out to be my lucky day because Rich had a book he thought I would enjoy reading. Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada by J. Stephen Casscles. It is a comprehensive work covering every aspect of propagating cool climate wine grapes in the northern U.S. and Canada.

He approaches the subject from an expert’s point of view drawing upon his lifetime of experience in the Hudson Valley of New York. This publication can be viewed as the most in-depth account of the history of  hybridization of cool climate grapevines ever published. Casscles has cataloged the genetic heritage of an amazing number of hybridized grapes by the person or organization that developed them. I think you will be surprised to learn where the genetic material of your favorite grapes came from and why they exhibit the characteristics they do. You may also be disappointed to find out that there is no such thing as a pure strain of grape. The truth is they all have genes from other strains in their genetic profile. To prove this fact Casscles uses the example of the “pure” Chardonnay grape. Chardonnay is a combination of a Pinot

Title Page Signed by J. Stephen Casseles

Title Page Signed by J. Stephen Casscles

Noir clone and the bulk white wine/table grape Gouais Blanc.

This book is a must read for anyone growing or wanting to grow wine grapes in a cool climate region of North America. It provides the reader with an immense amount of information and has references to almost any information resource you may need. If you are looking for a handbook/field guide/reference publication for cool climate grapes this is the book for you.

Published by:  Flint Mine Press     http://www.flintminepress.com                      

 

Ripepi Diamond is Forever

  

Diamond Grapes Photo Courtesy: Cornell University

Diamond Grapes Photo Courtesy: Cornell University

  The white grape Diamond is a cross between the Concord and Iona (Vitis Vinifera –labrusca hybrid) grape developed in Western New York during the mid 1880’s. This grape had a major influence on winemaking in the Eastern U.S. during most of the 20th century. The high sugar content of this grape also makes it a desirable table grape as well as an excellent source of grape juice. Despite being one of the few white American grapes varieties used to produce dry wine the recent plantings of Diamond have declined with the trend toward European varietals. Although Diamond can be found in many AVA’s in the U.S. and around the world it is most prominent in New York and Pennsylvania.

Diamond 1  Rich Ripepi at Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa has taken this traditional American grape and updated it to suit the taste of today’s wine drinkers. Ripepi Diamond is a dry wine but not so dry that the fruity taste of the Diamond grape is lost in translation. It’s body comes across as being lighter and crisper because of it’s lower residual sugar, making it a wine that is easy to drink. Stylish and balanced are the two words I would use to describe Ripepi Diamond. I have tasted plenty of Diamond, most are too sweet, one even had a large red-hot pepper in the bottle, but I can honestly say that Ripepi Dry Diamond was the best Diamond that I have tasted. I think that if the Diamond grape is going to experience a revival it will have to be made in a non-traditional style. Rich Ripepi has told me many times that when it comes to winemaking “It’s all about the style.”

Life’s a Bed of Roses

rose wine

With the official start of Summer just a few days away thoughts of picnics under brilliant blue skies and sunsets enjoyed with friends while sipping Rosé start to fill the minds of winter-weary romantics everywhere. Pennsylvania wine makers have produced a variety of easy drinking wines that will offer the perfect accent to any of your summertime activities.

     Briar Valley Winery Proprietor’s Rosé is a dry Rosé made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Lemberger. A great easy drinking wine that displays  soft cherry and berry notes with subtle tannins and nice acid. You can enjoy this Rosé along with all the Briar Valley offerings, plus the added bonus of live music when you visit the B.V. tasting room on Pitt St. in the metropolis of Bedford, Pa. on the first Friday of each month.  

     Fero Winery owner/winemaker Chuck Zaletski shows the wide range of his winemaking skills with his Sweet Blush. Sweet Blush is a rose-colored semi-sweet, not dry wine with smooth flavors of fruit. Chuck calls it his “Party Wine” and it would be great over ice, especially after running the Wine-N-Mile through the Fero Vineyards in Lewisburg, Pa. on May 29th. 

     If it is a blush made from a blend of four grapes that you are looking for, then Arrowhead Winery has the wine for you. Four Winds Blush has a light body with a smooth semi-sweet fruit finish but don’t take my word for it. Arrowhead Winery has just opened its newest wine shop inside Schramm Farm Market in Harrison City, Pa. Connie and Joanne will be happy to lead you through a free tasting of the wines of your choice.

Valley Sunrise is a fresh and sweet blend from Rich Ripepi at the Ripepi Winery. Rich has struck a balance with Valley Sunrise that produces a very drinkable wine perfect for any casual gathering. Stop by the Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa. for the “Summer Sip Series” to experience live music and great food plus group vineyard tours + tastings.

The Vineyard at Hershey winemaker L. Paul Vezzetti has produced a spot-on wine for a summer evening of music in the open air of their vineyard. Twisted Kiss is a blend of white Vidal and red Chamboursin. This wine has hints of tropical fruit and subtle strawberry flavors. There is no excuse for having a boring weekend when you can go to The Vineyard at Hershey Middletown, Pa and dance to live music and drink fun wines under the stars at their “Decked Out Live” concerts.

     No trip into the Laurel Highlands would be complete without a stop at the C.W. Klay Winery Chalk Hill, Pa. The “Pavilion Music Series” at C. W. Klay fills the air with the sound of free live music. You can relax and listen to a concert under the pavilion by the lake with a bottle of Chestnut Ridge Sunset. This wine is a delicate semi-sweet crimson blush with a hint of cherry aroma in a Zinfandel style.  

These are just a few of the possibilities that you have available to you in Western & Central Pa. A complete directory of winery and brewery events can be found on the website: West Pa Winery & Brewery

     

2nd Annual “State of the Vineyard” Address

 

Spur and Kane pruning on same vine @ Briar Valley Vineyards

Spur and Kane pruning on same vine @ Briar Valley Vineyards

     Welcome to the 2nd Annual ” State of the Vineyard” address. the purpose of this post is to give everyone a first look at the 2015 growing season as seen through the eyes of the people who know it best, the growers and wine makers of Western and Central Pennsylvania. After a winter that broke records for cold and snow I found unexpected good news on all fronts. But don’t take it from me read what the experts had to say.

We will start in Central Pennsylvania with Paul Vezzetti winemaker at The Vineyard at Hershey. Paul tells me that their vineyards made it through the winter relatively unscathed by the sub-zero temperatures, even the normally cold sensitive Chardonnay and Riesling showed little damage and with pruning complete he is looking forward to a really big year. A year that will see a new block of vines added to the vineyard that will consist mostly of Muscat but also some Sauvignon Blanc.

      Staying in Central Pa. our next stop is Lewisburg and Chuck Zaleski’s Fero Vineyards & Winery. Chuck grows only vinifera vines and over the last two winters his vine injury has been limited to only a “couple percent”. He feels fortunate to have his vineyard in the Middle Susquehana Valley on a small hilltop in a wide river valley at 41ºN latitude and 600 feet above sea level. He attributes his site for his excellent survival rate that his vineyard has experienced over the years. I want to congratulate Chuck on winning a Double Gold medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) with his 2013 Estate Lemberger and a Gold with his 2013 Saperavi also at FLIWC.

We now move west into Washington County the home of Ripepi Vineyards & Winery. Rich Ripepi is pleased with how his vines came through this winter. He lost some of his Cabernet Sauvignon vines last winter but the ones that survived made it through this winter in fine shape. The bud count is very good and is a product of an extremely strong growing season in 2014. The only negative Rich could report was a little damage to his 28-year-old Chancellor vines but he couldn’t put his finger on the exact cause. With all the primary trimming complete and half of the secondary done Rich could only express the highest hopes for this coming growing season.

I can never go to Bedford County without stopping to see Tod & Jean Manspeaker at Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery. Tod tells me that this winter was better than the winter of 2014 for their vineyard. The 2014 winter had two freeze events with the second damaging some vines by splitting their trunks and causing “Crown Gall” which will eventually destroy a vine once it’s infected. But this year was different, most of Briar Valley’s vines came through in good shape with the only exception being their Merlot. They had thought they lost 100% of the Merlot vines and had order new vines only to discover that a third of the vines had survived. Tod commented on how differently each variety of his vinifera grapes vines adapted to the environmental factors even though they were all on the same site. The Manspeakers are very busy now with about 1 to 1 1/2 weeks more of pruning to do on their 10 acre vineyard. They do all the pruning themselves to insure that the fruit meets their very high standards. The job this year was made even more difficult by the fact that all the extra canes left on last year had to be removed to prepare the vines for this years growing season. I am happy to report that Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery won two Silver medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine competition (FLIWC) with their 2010 Proprietor’s Red and 2012 Lemberger. 

Our next stop is Greene County to visit Rick Thistlewaite at Thistlewaite Vineyards in Jefferson. Rick told me his vines had a “little more die back” this year but overall damage was minor with it limited to one or two vines per acre. The bud count at Thistlewaite is reported to be good. A two tier pruning protocol is employed where the first pruning leaves a long cane to develop buds that is then cut back with a second pruning after the first frost to give protection against late frost bud damage. When I asked Rick if he thought the site was a contributing factor in this year’s losses, he said that he didn’t think it was because his five acre vineyard is on a hilltop and is planted with all French hybrid vines. His opinion was that this past winter was wetter than last year and he had less snow cover to protect his vines. Thistlewaite Vineyards are planted with nine different varieties of wine grapes with the majority of the vineyard composed of Chambourcin and Traminette. Rick is anticipating another above average harvest this year.

For our last stop in Pennsylvania we will travel to the heart of the Laurel Highlands and make a visit to Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill. I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Klay recently and had the opportunity to hear for myself how the winter effected her vineyard. Sharon said this winter wasn’t nearly as destructive to her vines as the last winter was. I could hear the lingering lament in her voice as she recalled losing two acres of her oldest Chardonnay last year but she quickly brightened when she reported the lack of damage this year and the promise of another banner year that lay ahead. I laughed as she told me the resident flock of wild turkeys at the vineyard had discriminating palates for which grapes they ate while leaving others varieties relatively untouched. On the day we talked her son, Christian had just received government approval for his distillery. After becoming fully operational it will offer a synergy with the winery by not only producing its own distilled spirits but using C.W.Klay wine to make grappa, brandy and other distilled products.

     No report would be complete without checking in with our friends in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. Martha “Marti” Macinski reports the vines at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery Hector, NY do not seem to have suffered damage from this winter. She said the current bud count numbers are showing minimal damage, so minimal that “We did some samples twice”. Last year the samples also showed minimal damage and the crop was of normal quantity with overall quality outstanding. Riesling and Gewürztraminer continues to be strong varieties for Standing Stone with positive growth in the New York Metro area due to the efforts of distributor Fredrick Wildman. When visiting FLX a stop at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery is a must for any wine lover.

Thank You to everyone that helped me with this post. I wish all the vineyards and wineries the best of luck in 2015 and I hope to see you soon.    Rich

 

Ripepi Winery & Vineyard

Ripepi logo

Winery Manager: Chuck Abvulovic (L) Owner&Winemaker: Rich Ripepi(R)

Winery Manager: Pete Abvulovic (L) Owner&Winemaker: Rich Ripepi(R)

     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