Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Tod & Jean Manspeaker

 

 

On May 22, 2020, Jay and Joanna Bell, owners of Bella Terra Vineyards Hunker, Pa became the new owners of Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery Bedford, Pa

When Jean Manspeaker’s great-grandparents immigrated from Germany and settled on a hilly farm west of Bedford, Pa nearly 200 years ago they had no idea what a wonderful future lay ahead for their descendants. They planted a small vineyard and 170 years later that vineyard is still going. The seeds that would grow into Jean’s unlikely career were sown in her childhood as she watched her grandfather tending to the vines he loved all summer and then seeing him sell his prized grapes to his friends and neighbors for their jams, jellies, grape juice and of course homemade wine. Jean grew up on her family’s dairy farm and while her father worked the farm he also had a job outside the farm but somehow had time for a vineyard and made wine at home. Little did Jean know at the time, Tod her future husband was growing up on his family’s show and quarter horse farm in nearby Everett, Pa. Tod and his family are avid horseman and had numerous champion quarter horses.

Like Jean, Tod had never planned on getting involved in the very demanding business of growing vinifera wine grapes and making them into premium wines. Serendipity intervened and that’s when Tod and Jean’s future took an unexpected turn down a different path after visiting wineries on the East Coast. They fell in love with the vineyards and their fates as winemakers were sealed. After a great deal of research, numerous classes, and endless hours of reading everything related to winemaking they could get their hands on they hired a consultant to find out as much about growing vinifera grapes in Pennsylvania as they could. The die was cast and there was no turning back when Jean did an internship at a winery and Tod worked the vineyard. Their mission has always been to grow the best grapes possible and make them into exceptional wines. That passion to excel is palpable when you talk wine with them. 

From its inception in 2005 Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery has chosen to grow all it’s own vinifera grapes and make only dry wines. The B.V. vineyards are planted on a southeastern facing slope at an elevation of 1200 feet above sea level and consist of Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger. This determination to stay true to their vision and not to give in to making lesser quality wines to enhance the profitability of the operation is to be admired and applauded in an industry that often puts profits before quality. By following their dreams Tod and Jean have been able to pursue careers that they felt passionate about and that afforded the opportunity to see the results of their hard work at the end of the day. 

A tribute to those labors could be seen on display in the Briar Valley tasting room on E. Pitt Street in downtown Bedford, Pa. It was quite an achievement when B.V. won a Double Gold Medal and Best of Show for one of their Rieslings in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, home to the best Rieslings in the United States. Briar Valley has also won the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, as well as gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Briar Valley wines have received high scores from world-renown wine critic James Suckling and the International Wine Review. Their wines were  served at the State Department for the 75th Anniversary of the Blair House.

It is the intangible things that have given the Manspeakers the most joy and satisfaction over the years at the winery. They love their small

Briar Valley Case Club members share good times at the winery

town of Bedford and the community it supports. It is a town where the residents take great pride in their small town culture and the people that make it all possible. The Manspeakers and their Briar Valley Winery have added greatly to the “terroir” of the area and will continue to do so far into the future. Of all the experiences and memories that they will take with them from their time at Briar Valley Winery, the one thing they cherish the most is the friendships they have made over the years and that will continue as they embark on their next great adventure wherever that journey might take them.

In the end, success is not judged by financial gain alone but by the lives, you have touched and were made better because of it. Thank you Tod and Jean for letting us share in your dreams, all the great wine and the wonderful memories you have given us. Wishing you both all the best life has to offer.

Scroll down for more photos of Tod & Jean Manspeaker and Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery

Tod & Jean at the State Dept.

The B.V. tasting bar

Briar Valley tasting room in Bedford, PA

B.V. tasting room

B.V. Cab Franc

Smoke & Mirrors

Robert Mondavi “invented” Fumé Blanc because he wanted to

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

distinguish the high-quality Sauvignon Blanc he was making in the French-style from the other California Sauvignon Blanc that was widely viewed as ordinary “run of the mill” sweet wines. Mondavi realized that changing the name wouldn’t be enough to change people’s idea of California Sauvignon Blanc so he decided to age it in oak barrels. His bold move to rename his dry-fermented barrel-aged wine Fumé Blanc quickly paid off as demand for this “new” wine grew in California and across the United States. Mondavi’s decision not to trademark the name was a stroke of brilliance on his part because more people could use the name and by doing so increase its name recognition and acceptance worldwide. The name Fumé Blanc is commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States since the late1960’s. Robert Mondavi never intended to imply that Fumé Blanc was a specific style or method of making wine but only a name for his wine. There is nothing that dictates Fumé Blanc must be oak-aged. You can find Fumé Blanc that is not aged in oak and that is perfectly acceptable because under current U.S. law the terms “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Fumé Blanc” are synonymous. 

If you are curious I suggest you try Fumé Blanc from the winery

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

that started it all, the Robert Mondavi Winery. 2017 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley from Robert Mondavi Winery has aromas of peach, citrus and of course, smoke followed by crisp acidity and flavors of pear, citrus, and vanilla/buttery oak. 

The wine world is full of interesting stories like this and others where you may find yourself asking is it “Lemberger” or “Blaufränkisch”? Don’t even get me started with the marketing genius behind the “Syrah” or “Shiraz” campaign.LOL My advice is to ignore the marketing hype and drink what you like no matter what is printed on the label.  

Wine Me Dine Me

The Bogle family has farmed in the Clarksburg region of California’s Sacramento River Delta for six generations dating back to the late 1800s. Bogle has over 1800 acres of estate-grown grapes and sources grapes from some of the best-growing regions throughout the state of California. Their wines are often described as “Value wines” or “Everyday wines” but don’t be fooled because they are widely available and have a price point in the low teens if not lower. These wines are well made considering the size of Bogle’s production. Bogle Chardonnay is barrel fermented on the lees and hand-stirred once a month while the reds are aged in small oak barrels. These methods are rare in wineries the size of Bogle. If you are looking for quality wine at an affordable price that you can pair with your weeknight dinner and is always a reliable choice when you’re “out on the town” take a close look at the menu of Bogle wines. A good place to start is with Bogle Merlot. This is a very drinkable Merlot with notes of oak and slightly rounded edges because of its lower acidity and tannins, dry but not overly dry. Enjoyable flavor.  

Bohemian Rhapsody

If you like Sauvignon Blanc but sometimes want a wine with a little more body and complexity then you should try Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is the signature grape of Austria and has evolved almost entirely as the result of natural hybridization over time in the region. It is a white Vitis vinifera grape also called Grûner Mushateller but is better known by the colloquial name “Grūner”. Grüner Veltliner is a versatile grape that can be made into a wide variety of wines ranging from light and easy-drinking to rich and packed with varietal character. Grüner vines have medium-sized leaves with 5-7 lobes. It’s grape clusters are medium to very large conical clusters of medium density with round or oval greenish-yellow berries. These vines have adapted perfectly to the wet mineral-rich loess and loam soils of the lower vineyard sites near the Danube River. The lots higher up the hill are planted with Riesling. The rocky soils of these sites force the Riesling to struggle to survive but result in a wine that has concentrated flavors and complex taste profile. This farming practice utilizes the attributes of the land and yields the best grapes possible from the prevailing conditions. Although the largest plantings of Grüne Veltliner are in Austria and surrounding countries it has been dispersed throughout many of the wine regions of the world. While most Austrian Grüners are dry, full-bodied and acidic with flavors of citrus fruit, spice, and white pepper you can easily find others that are weightier with a more structured body that requires years to reach maturity in the bottle.

If you haven’t tasted Grüne Veltliner and you’re curious about where to start I would suggest trying a few from Austria first then expand your search to

The United States and Italy to find good Grūner at very reasonable prices. Here are a

South Shore Wine Company Gruner Veltliner 2015

Gruner Veltliner 2018 Photo Courtesy: Fero Vineyards & Winery

few to get you started on your journey.

AUSTRIA: Singing Grūner Veltliner 2017 Niederösterreich, Austria or Domane Krems Grüner Veltliner 2018 Kremstal, Austria 

ITALY: Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Grüner Veltliner 2018 Alto Adige, Italy

 

The United States of America: Grüner Veltliner Fero Vineyards & Winery

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,  Grûner Veltliner South Shore Wine Company North East, Pennsylvania or Grüner Veltliner Hosmer Winery Ovid, New York (FLX)

Hosmer Estate Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner

 

Places I Remember

Sometimes I like to go back and taste wines that I drank often years ago but somehow moved on from or just lost interest in. Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is one of those wines. When I revisit certain wines I realize why I don’t buy them anymore but with some like this Riesling, they seem to hold up and remind me how my tastes have and have not evolved.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling has been a reliable white wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley for years and because it is widely available it can be easily overlooked as a very drinkable option for the money. Riesling is often referred to as a “wine lovers grape” because with all of it’s outstanding qualities and punctuated by the fact it might be the most food-friendly of all wines it has never gained acceptance with causal wine drinkers. I once heard a CEO of Altria, the corporation that owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, describe the wineries in that group as ” a string of pearls”. Quite a fitting compliment when you consider they have managed to maintain a level of quality and consistency that is extremely difficult when you consider the scale of the operation.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2018 Columbia Valley is not dry by any means but isn’t sweet either. This wine offers ample body, flavors of peach and citrus that are enhanced by just enough acidity to tie it all together. It’s a solid choice when your dinner guests usually don’t drink wine with their meal and you need an approachable wine everyone can enjoy.

If you are unsure of what white wine to serve at any of your gathers play it safe and pick up some bottles of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.

Thanksgiving Dinner Wine List Suggestions

With Thanksgiving only a few days away the question of what wine to serve at dinner looms as large as the Garfield balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Over the years the traditional menu for this holiday has evolved for many but the problem of what wine pairs well with everything remains. The answer is that no single wine pairs well with everything. The solution: Buy several different wines and buy more than enough of each without going over your budget. My advice is the same as it would be if you were going bowling, ” Just roll it down the middle”. Here are four suggestions that will certainly score you some points with your friends and family this holiday season. 

Loosen Dr. L. Riesling is a great introductory German Riesling from Mosel. It’s not

Loosen Dr. L. Riesling

too dry or too sweet classic style means this low alcohol (8.5%) Riesling pairs well with a Thanksgiving dinner and @ around $13 it won’t “Break the bank”.

Leonard Kreusch-Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling. This is a very approachable Riesling from a legendary German producer in the Mosel river village of Zell. Fruity, crisp and easy to drink. You can find it for around $10 a bottle so stock up

Leonard Kreusch-Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling

now.

South Shore Gruner Veltliner is an excellent

South Shore Gruner Veltliner

Pennsylvania Lake Erie Wine Country wine. Fresh aromas and bright acidity make this a very food-friendly wine and a bargain at around $13.

Breitenbach Cranberry wine is both sweet and tart. This wine is always a hit especially with your guests that usually don’t drink wine. These seasonal

Breitenbach Cranberry Wine

offerings can be a little hard to find but worth the extra effort. You should be able to find one of these seasonal wines in the $15-$20 range.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and may the good things of life be yours in abundance, not only at Thanksgiving but throughout the coming year.

 

 

 

One Way Or Another

     Riesling has long been a stalwart for anyone frantically searching a wine list to pick a bottle that would pair well with everyone’s dinner. Riesling is hard to beat when you need a versatile food-friendly wine that can be easily found in styles ranging from sweet to bone-dry. In the past this varietal has labored under the misconception that the lower-quality sweet offerings that filled store shelves was the best this grape had to offer. This

Riesling Grapes

view of Riesling has begun to change as world-class Riesling are being added to restaurant wine lists, websites and store shelves worldwide.

     Riesling is a cool climate grape that has excels in rocky soils, like the ones found in the Rhine Valley and Mosel Region of Germany and the Alsace region of Northern France for centuries. Wine makers in the Columbia Valley of Washington, the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York have found great success with their Riesling vineyards. All three regions produce very good Riesling, each with its own special personality that is sure to please any wine lovers palate.

You could make a strong case that Riesling with its many incarnations is the most food-friendly of all wines, either red or white. It is the safe choice when following the rules for white wine by pairing it with seafood, chicken and salads. My favorite twist is to pair a sweet Riesling with spicy Mexican, Chinese or Thai cuisine. The extra sweetness cuts through the heat to give balance to your meal.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Dry: Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2016. (From a legendary FLX winery that received a Robert Parker Wine Advocate 90pt rating)

Off-Dry: Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling (A trendy favorite with a Wine Spectator 89pts)

Sweet: Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Riesling 2016 (Wine Spectator 87 pts and a bargain at $10.00 or less)

Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill

     It was a beautiful evening as we drove down the access road past row after row of

Photo Courtesy: Sand Hill Berries

manicured vines clinging to trellis on our way to Greendance Winery. We were driving through Sand Hill, a fruit and berry farm that is home to Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill. After parking in a nicely mowed field we were drawn to the winery by the music drifting through the trees. 

A crowd was lounging at tables spread throughout the patio area and it was easy to see why there was ongoing construction of an extended seating area to accommodate the ever-growing gatherings. 

Sand Hill was purchased in 1982 by Rick & Susan Lynn and Rob & Amy Schilling. When Rob asked if we would like to tour the facilities we gladly accepted. As we passed through different areas Rob described what function they served and some insight into the plans for the operation.

Tastings are free with the opportunity to do a tasting of all their premium wines for only $5. The Greendance premium wines are made from high quality grapes sourced from a grower in Eastern Pennsylvania. They are so particular about only using the highest quality Pennsylvania grown grapes in their premium wine that when the grapes are ready to pick they will sometimes send their own crews to harvest them.

Sweet wines are always the favorites at Pennsylvania wineries and it is no different at Greendance. Their Isabella is a blush that is on the sweeter side but is light in both body and alcohol. The soft and balanced structure of Isabella makes this easy drinking wine the perfect choice for a relaxing evening on the patio with friends. For the curious Greendance Winery has plenty of wine options for you to explore. The selections run the spectrum from red, white, sweet, dry, Rosé, blush, blends, Port, fruit and sparklers. An interesting new offering at the wine shop is Tango Red, a Greendance favorite, now being sold in a box.

Greendance Winery has a no outside food or alcohol policy but as my Australian friends say “No worries mate”because they have an excellent walk-up restaurant and a separate

Photo Courtesy: Greendance Winery

window that serves ice cream and desserts that are made on-site.

Sand Hill Berries and Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill are at 304 Deer Field Road Mount Pleasant, Pa. For more information please visit their websites.  http://sandhillberries.com  and  http://greendancewinery.com

 

Travel Tips: Finger Lakes Wine Region New York (FLX)

     For any wine lover the chance to take a short getaway to a wine region and enjoy all that it has to offer is something that is impossible to resist. So my question to you is “What are you waiting for?” Here is your opportunity to start planning a fun trip with that someone special or a lively outing with a group of friends and family.

My favorite wine region to visit in the northeastern U.S. is the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX). It is easily accessible to visitors from both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., as well as the Canadian provinces located just north of the Great Lakes.

The popularity of this area has grown exponentially over the past few years. Even with this growth the region has retained its charm and welcoming spirit. Even with this growth the region has retained its charm and welcoming spirit. While the wineries, vineyards and breweries remain the big draw one must not overlook the spectacular beauty of the eleven  Finger Lakes. Deep and ice-cold these lakes were carved out by glaciers approximately two million years ago. The countryside around the lakes is mostly rural and seems to be an endless session of family farms. Adding to the rustic atmosphere of the area are the numerous small family run businesses that run the gambit from artisanal cheese shops, handmade craft stores and Amish country markets. Always remember to show courtesy when you encounter a horse-drawn buggy on the roadways and please be respectful by not photographing members of the Amish community.

I have included a few suggestions to get you started on your FLX adventure. The real fun begins when you start exploring “Lake Country” because you will be making treasured memories as you discover your own favorite spots along the way. “Cheers and Happy Hunting.”

The two things that are essential for a successful visit to the FLX are a GPS and a plan. Since there are no bridges across any of the Finger Lakes you will be driving around the perimeter stopping at wineries as you pass them. Seneca Lake is 38 miles long, making it a 76 miles round trip. This is why it is advantageous to line up your stops in the order you come to them as you circle the lake. I am only going to say this once “Don’t Drink and Drive.”

The Hampton Inn in Penn Yan is a new hotel on the northern shore of Keuka Lake. We have stayed there and I we always ask for a room on a higher floor overlooking the lake. It is a good location to begin your tour of the wineries of Seneca & Keuka Lakes.

The East side of Keuka Lake:

McGregor Vineyards is the home of John McGregor and his FLX cult wine Black Russian Red, the winner of a Grand Silver medal at the Saperavi World Prize in Tbilisi, Georgia. Ravines Wine Cellars is a landmark winery. Weis Vineyards was Limeberry Winery before a former Dr. Frank winemaker bought it and began making European-style wine. Schedule some time to look around Hammondsport ,it’s a nice little town. The scenic views from on top of the hill going up the west side of Keuka Lake are spectacular. Heron Hill Winery and Bully Hill Winery both have fantastic views from their cafés. Dr Frank’s Winery is a must stop when visiting the Finger Lakes. This is where Dr. Konstantin Frank started the Vinifera movement that changed the Finger Lakes wine industry. Dr. Frank’s grandson Fred and great granddaughter Megan run the operation. We had the pleasure to visit with Fred last summer. Fred is a genuinely nice man and if you see him please tell him Rich wpawinepirate said “Hi”.

Starting at Watkin Glen and going up the west side of Seneca Lake on Rte. 14 we have always stopped at Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards. I think they are a premier Riesling producer. Fox Run Vineyard and Café is a mainstay on the western shore. Belhurst Castle is a landmark that is also an interesting winery, restaurant and hotel.

Coming back down the East side of Seneca Lake from Geneva. Ventosa Vineyard & Café is a beautiful Italian themed winery and café. 3 Brothers Wineries and Warhorse Brewing has three wineries and a brewery on the same property. Boundary Breaks Winery is a newer winery with good Riesling and nice lake views in the middle of several vineyards. It’s a little out of the way so bring your GPS. Lamoreaux Landing Winery has a great view from its tasting room. Wagner Vineyards and Winery, Brewery, Gift Shop and Restaurant is one of the best known FLX wineries. Standing Stone Winery makes excellent Riesling, Ice Wine and Sapravi. It was purchased by Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards last year and has just released their 2017 vintages. Finger Lakes Distilling produces spirits. The vodka and Grappa are favorites of mine. They also have a large vertical still that is worth seeing. Red Newt Winery is a classic FLX winery and café.

My recommendations:

Whites: Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Chardonnay

Reds: Cab Franc, Saperavi and Lemberger

Sparklers: Dr. Frank’s Chateau Frank offerings

del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo is an exciting evening after a day of wine tasting.

 

 

 

      

Coastal Confessions

Quinta de Santiago Alvarinho 2016

     The Portuguese white wine grape Alvarinho is the same grape as Spanish Albarino but the terrior of Portugal’s Minho Region makes a profound difference in the wine that it producers.

     Silver Coast Imports offers the 100% Alvarinho Quinta de Santiago 2016 in Pennsylvania by S.L.O. for $17.99 from the P.L.C.B. store or online at http://www.finewineandgoodspirits.com This Alvarinho varietal displays bright acidity and crisp mineralality with a taste profile of tropical fruit, like pineapple and lychee. It is stainless steel aged on its lees and is stirred to create complexity, aroma. enhanced flavor compounds, palate weight and texture. Portuguese cuisine is closely tied to the sea and this wine is a perfect match for any seafood.