When Matt Falenski, owner/meadmaker, of the Laurel Highlands Meadery received state approval for his operation in 2011 his timing couldn’t have been better. Mead is the oldest beverage known to man dating back to approximately 7000 B.C.. It is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity fueled by the wave of craft micro-breweries and their adventurous patrons. Commonly known as “Honey wine” mead is made from honey, yeast, fruit or spices depending on the style of the meadmaker. Laurel Highlands produces a full menu of mead for you to select from including: Traditional, Bochet, Maple, Hopped, Blackberry and Chocolate. Their meads come in sweet or dry table wine and dessert wine. Matt has plans for a tasting room but for now his mead can be found at All Saints Brewing Greensburg, Beaver Brewing Beaver Falls, Four Seasons Brewing Latrobe, Piper’s Pub Southside, Pittsburgh and are always available to order on his website Laurelhighlandsmeadery.com
West Pa. Winery & Brewery is the companion website to this blog. I started this site as a comprehensive source of contact information for many of the wineries and breweries in Western Pennsylvania. The homepage allows you to choose directories for wineries and breweries that list addresses, phone numbers, and links to these businesses. Links to this months and next months scheduled events can be easily accessed by clicking on the desired months tab. You can view photos either on the gallery page or on the scrolling slide show on the homepage. The “More” tab contains pages for contacting me with your event info, a Finger Lakes Region winery directory plus a page linking you to some of my blog posts. I started this website with the sole purpose of providing a place where you could find all the info about the wineries and breweries in West Pa. I don’t have a hit counter on this site and had no idea if it was being used until I was doing maintenance on it and I noticed it had 5000 Facebook “Likes”. There isn’t a Facebook page for this site and I am asking everyone to help me promote it by giving it a “Like”, tweet, retweet, post, repost, well you get the idea. I hope this site can be helpful in educating the public on what is available for them in the area of winery and brewery entertainment. Thank You twitter@wpawinepirate West Pa. Winery & Brewery
Western Pennsylvania has more than its share of myths and mysteries. The B-25 that crashed into the Monongahela River near Downtown Pittsburgh but was never found or the reported U.F.O. landing site near Kecksburg are just two of the myths I have heard recounted over the years. None is more intriguing than the one about an elusive Pennsylvania winery that produces vinifera wines in a dry European-style with grapes from their own vineyards. I was beginning to doubt the existence of such a winery when driving through the beautiful Bedford County countryside I saw a signpost up ahead that read “Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery.” This was no mirage it really was the only winery in Pennsylvania to make only vinifera wine from their vineyards of all vinifera grapevines.
Tod and Jean Manspeaker are the owners of Briar Valley with Tod managing the vineyards and Jean the winemaker. To pursue their passion for winemaking Tod packed up his degree in accounting and Jean her M.B.A. and English Lit. degrees and left the 9 to 5, five day a week business world to join the “Glamorous” 5 to 9, seven day a week lifestyle of the winery. This dedication to excellence is reflected in their mission statement ” It’s all about the wine” and it really is, even if it takes handpicking leaves to allow more sunlight to reach the grapes, rejecting any batch of grapes that doesn’t meet their high standards or only using $1000 French Oak Barrels instead of using a lower cost option the wine always comes first. With that goal in mind they planted a second vineyard on the 100 acre farm that Tod’s father purchased in 1950 where he and his family raised quarter horses. Tod said they corrected any mistakes made in the first vineyard by planting the second vineyard on a southeastern facing slope with grape varieties perfect for the slate soil. He laughed and told me the best thing about raising grapes on his father’s old farm was “I have never been bucked off a grapevine!”
The terrior of Briar Valley can be tasted in their Proprietor’s Reserve Estate White 2013. This white is a blend of 50% Gewürztraminer, 26% Riesling and 24% Chardonnay and while it displays crisp citrus flavors what really makes this offering a star is the driving minerality that it draws from the slate-rich soils of Bedford County. This came as no surprise to me because after talking with Tod I found out we are both big fans of the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard in the Finger Lakes, long known for their world-class signature dry-style Riesling. I usually judge a winery by their Cabernet Sauvignon but by default I have to judge Pennsylvania wineries by their Cabernet Franc because Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have proven to be difficult to ripen on the East Coast. I sampled a 2010 Cabernet Franc from Briar Valley and found it to be one of the best Pennsylvania Cab. Franc I have tasted. It has a full-body and supple tannins with flavors of red cherry and oak that has been fleshed out with the extra aging Jean gives her wines before release.
Tod could barely contain his enthusiasm for their newly released 2010 Chardonnay and soon-to-be released 2010 Merlot calling them “Spectacular.” Leading me through the tasting of the following three wines in his tasting room at 107 E. Pitt St. Bedford, Pa. he explained the nuances of each in a way only someone with an intimate knowledge of their production could. The following are my impressions of the wines I sampled that day. 2009 Proprietor’s Red: The award-winning 2009 Proprietor’s Red is one of the best reds grown and made in the state of Pennsylvania. Winemaker Jean Manspeaker has put her own spin on the quintessential Bordeaux blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes to produce a superbly crafted wine. Proprietor’s Rosé 2012: This is a truly dry Rosé made in the French Saignee method which produces the beautiful Rosé color and flavors we have come to expect from this traditional summer wine. Lively acidity and soft tannins combine with the flavors of red fruit to yield a very enjoyable Rosé. Chardonnay 2012: This is a dry Chardonnay but not at all like the bone-dry Chardonnay we have become accustom to from California. This wine has a good balance of acidity combined with a nice structure and the taste of citrus and apple. You can taste the terrior of Briar Valleys slate-rich soil in this Chardonnay.
The Manspeakers are not content to keep what they have learned about growing vinifera grapes and making winemaking to themselves. They have partnered with Juniata College to host the colleges’ enology students at the winery. The couple has been impressed by how intuitively the students understand every step of the winemaking process and their eagerness to learn the intricacies of the craft.
As the public’s taste in wine matures and evolves the Pennsylvania wine industry must continue to improve their products or lose customers to others that do change. Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery has taken a huge step in that direction with an innovative approach to the wine market. I wish them the best of luck but I know luck has very little to do with their success. Their success is built on a foundation of hard work, perseverance and smart planning. For more information go to http://www.briarvalleywinery.com or call 814-623-0900.
Much of my childhood was spent growing up on my mother’s family farm just across the road from our house. Many of my relatives live nearby in houses built on land that was carved out of the original tract of land that my Grandfather began farming in the very early 1900’s. The number one lesson I learned about the agriculture business was that no
matter how well prepared and thought out your plans were you are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Whether it is corn, wheat or grapes you will always have to be able to cope with constant change and overwhelming problems or you will not succeed. The vintners in Southwestern and Northwestern Pennsylvania along with their counterparts in the Finger Lakes Region of New York are dealing with the effects of one of the coldest winters in recent memory. The real damage in Pennsylvania occurred in the Northwest , especially the area around Lake Erie, while the Southwest corner of the state received above average but manageable damage. I have talked with several winemakers about how this winter effected their vineyards and the following is a summary of what they told me.
Rich Ripepi of Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa said that they were leaving on extra buds when they pruned to be safe but should have gotten through in “relatively” good shape. Ray Matthews, the vineyard manager at Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill, Pa is still accessing his vines but signs are good that the damage isn’t too severe. Ray told me of a study that he read that noted statistically a vineyard in the Northeast will be devastated on average once every ten years but he has been lucky to have been spared so far. Tod Manspeaker of Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery in Bedford, Pa grows only vinifera vines in his vineyard. Tod has observed that certain varieties have suffered more than others with the average bud loss in the 50% range. To compensate for the loss Tod is leaving secondary and tertiary buds by pruning less and leaving four canes instead of two. This makes more work this year and much more work next year to clean up but by doing this Tod is expecting a normal crop. Paul Vezzetti from The Vineyard at Hershey in Middletown, Pa tells me that South Central Pennsylvania was on the border of the coldest weather this winter. He attributes the many cultural practices implemented before their initial planting in 2009 for mitigating much of this years temperature issues. By postponing pruning until after the worst winter weather had passed Paul was able to adjust his pruning plan to compensate for any winter damage found in the vineyard. Paul also predicts that anyone that hasn’t been as fortunate as he was to experience only small losses can expect to face a substantial rise in cost when they have to buy grapes from another vineyard with whom they don’t already have an established relationship.
Marti Macinski of Standing Stone Winery & Vineyard in Hector, NY tells me the Finger Lakes Region was hit very hard with many vineyards losing 100% of this years crop. She is fortunate that her vineyard is on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake and benefits from a temperature moderating effect that has led to the area being nicknamed the “Banana Belt”. The Standing Stone Vineyard has received some damage but the damage can be offset by leaving extra buds to produce a nearly normal crop. Marti has to wait until the growing season gets underway before she can tell if there is any vine damage.
Marti and all winemakers know that maintaining a vineyard can be a brutal and unforgiving undertaking but one that does come with great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when everything goes right. I wish all the producers my very best and want them to know that I have the utmost respect for their perseverance and passion with which they pursue their craft.
Narcisi Winery will host a Regional Wine Dinner featuring the wine and cuisine of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. The event will be held at the winery at 4578 Gibsonia Rd. Gibsonia, Pa beginning at 6:30 pm on March 27, 2014. The cost is $55 per person and reservations can be made by calling 412-444-4744. I have included the menu for the dinner, click the link to view. TRENTINO+2+Main+Menu www.narcisiwinery.com