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
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.
DeChaunac Wine Grape: Photo Courtesy: doubleavineyards.com
If you have ever tasted or even heard of DeChaunac you probably have been to the Northeastern U.S., Nova Scotia or Ontario, Canada. DeChaunac is a French-American hybrid red wine grape developed by legendary French hybridizer Albert Seibel (1844-1935). This grape is also known as Seibel 9549 and is believed to be a cross between Seibel 5163 and Siebel 793. It was named after Ontario, Canada wine industry pioneer Adhemar de Chaunac, but in a strange twist of fate, may not be bottled as a varietal under Canada’s VQA system.
When you first see DeChaunac your eyes will deceive you. After seeing this wines very dark and inky color in your glass you will be surprised by the light to medium body of such a dark wine. In my opinion a well-made DeChaunac will have a solid structure to carry complex flavors of black and red cherries, blackberry and prune with a bit of a musty nose.
This wine can be blended with other wine to impart an “aged” characteristic but the blend must be kept at or below 7% or it can through the wine off according to J. Stephen Casscels, author of “Wine Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada”http://flintminepress.com
Now that we have explored the heritage of the DeChaunac wine grape and discussed the wines made from it you might be curious about how it tastes. DeChaunac is not produced as widely as it once was but with a little research you can still find some excellent product. Here are two examples of how a wine made from the same variety of grapes in different styles can yield wines with similar but unique characteristics. The following are two fine Pennsylvania grown and made DeChaunac.
Ripepi DeChaunac: Dry oak-aged red wine made in a Chianti-style with medium body displaying flavors of black fruit complemented by velvety tannins and a lingering finish.
Ripepi Winery 93 Van Voorhis Lane Monongahela, Pa http://ripepiwine.com
Narcisi 2015 DeChaunac: Slightly sweet medium-bodied wine with flavors of oranges, plum and cherries. Balanced acidity and a tart finish
Narcisi Winery 4578 Gibsonia Road Gibsonia, Pa http://narcisiwinery.com
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.
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.”
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
The Monongahela Area Library Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tour Fundraiser was held Saturday evening under a spectacular blue sky at the Ripepi Winery and Vineyard. The guests were treated to a vineyard tour by owner and winemaker Rich Ripepi. Rich kept the crowd entertained with his ability to weave his encyclopedic wine knowledge and storytelling together to create an atmosphere of fun, humor and learning. We returned from the vineyard to find our tables had been set with a variety of cheeses to complement that evenings wines. Rich conducted the tasting with a detailed explanation of each wine while fielding questions. I had a great time at this event and urge any wine lover to take any opportunity to meet and talk to a seasoned winemaker because their abilities are truly impressive. Rich Ripepi has reason to be proud knowing that four of his wines had just won medals at two different wine competitions.
The 36th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, CA: Niagra – Silver Medal De Chaunac – Silver Medal
The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition: Diamond- Silver Medal Vidal Blanc – Bronze Medal
Congratulations to all the members of the Ripepi Winery family.