Winemaker Interview: Jerry Pompa

Pittsburgh born and raised winemaker Jerry Pompa started his wine journey at his childhood home in the close-knit neighborhood of Morningside. After earning multiple degrees including an MS in Comp. Sci. at the University of Pittsburgh Jerry made his home in the Pittsburgh area. While building a successful career and raising a loving and supportive family his passion for winemaking only grew stronger. Jerry’s path to becoming a winemaker is very similar in many respects not only to winemakers here in Western Pennsylvania but around the world. His first exposure to winemaking was when his father brought home a bucket of wine grape juice from a supplier in the “Strip District” of Pittsburgh. Today Jerry returns to that same part of the city to procure his supply of wine grapes with the same goal every year of making the best wine he can possibly make. After thirty years of making wine, countless events, seminars, and shows that saw Jerry become one of the co-founders of the American Wine Society’s Pittsburgh-East Chapter no one can tell Jerry Pompa’s story better than Jerry himself. The following is my interview with him in his own words.

How did you get started making wine?

The short version is that about 30 years ago, my Father who owned a small Italian groceria on Larimer Ave in East Liberty, would go to the Strip (we called it the Yards then) and one of his suppliers gave  him a bucket of juice and told him…” put it in your basement and in the spring it will be wine”…so he gave it to me and said the same. I figured there may be a bit more to it so I did some research, bought a kit (carboy, yeast, hoses, etc) and made my first Cabernet.  Really not knowing anything about it I joined the American Wine Society, entered that first wine in a competition, won a 2nd pace ribbon and was therefore encouraged to continue.
I have made wine since. The first 10 years or so from juice but now from grapes. Again, the rest continues as a long story.

Winemaker Jerry Pompa Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

How would you describe your winemaking style?

Primarily “big” reds are what I make. I have made whites and in fact this year I am making a Rosé (like everyone else) using a saignee method from a red Sangiovese I am making. Other style comments would be dry, tannic, and intended to be good food wines.  Consistency drinkable wine is another goal, maybe not style but each year I am trying to make the best wine possible.

 

 Who and what influenced your style of winemaking?

I suppose a lot of personal taste.  Doing it for so long and visiting so many wineries around the world I have learned a lot and still learning. But all of those experiences have certainly influenced my style. I have a strong Italian heritage, again growing up in an Italian Groceria started by my Grandfather in 1905 (which I worked in from – I claim – before I could stand on my own until the business was sold in 1990) I have been around food and wine all of my life. So again we make wines to go with food. That is the biggest influence.
Other people that have influenced me are Eric Miller, Rick, and Ron Lanza, Ron Casertano, “the Winemaker’s Podcast” and many more.

Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

What are your favorite varietals to work with?

For the past 10 years or so I have a group of very close friends who help out with the winemaking. Together we decide on the varietals for the particular year but generally, my favorite to make are Cabernet blends.  We also make Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Super Tuscans, and others.  Again all “big” reds. But my favorite is Cab because of its ability to show so much fruit, integrate the oak, age well, have a beautiful nose and taste, go well with food, etc.

What are your favorite wines, regions, and producers?

I wish I knew more about French wines but in life, there is only so much time. My focus has been on California, Italy, and Australia for the most part. I enjoy wines from everywhere, red, white, dry, sweet, etc. I really consider it food on its own and have taught my children (now all drinking age 😉 the same.  It is all about how it accompanies a meal.
It is so hard to specifically name producers since I try so many and tend not to just buy from the same.  Windy Oaks from Santa Cruz makes an amazing set of Pinot Noir, Wooden Valley (the Lanza brothers) from whom we recently buy our grapes does a fantastic job with Petite Sirah, Sangio, Cabernet, and really anything they grow. Gregg Hobbs (no relation to Paul in California) from Australia does a fantastic Shiraz.  Domain Huet makes an amazing Chenin Blanc, Antinori wines of any kind from Italy are excellent. Really there is not any one  or two from a producer or region.

 

Do you have any tips for someone just getting into winemaking as a hobby or as a profession?

Wow, now that is a question. Those are 2 very different questions.  As a hobby, I have plenty to say.  As a profession, I would love to do it myself but without the large fortune, I would never be able to make a small fortune.
Actually, I don’t like to say that I make “homemade” wines. Yes, I make wines at home but really people have a preconceived notion that a “homemade” wine will taste “bad, strong, vin
egary, etc” and often they are right. I instead prefer to say I make “Handmade” wines. I am doing exactly what a professional would do except on a smaller scale and I don’t sell it. But the tips are first to buy the best fruit you can afford (actually spend more than what you can afford) since wine is mostly made in the vineyards. Winemakers can stylistically change a few things, enhance some characteristics, but mostly they can either guide the grapes into a very nice wine or screw it up. Most of the work is in cleanliness, sterilization, good process control (e.g. with regards to yeast nutrition, oxygen management, temperatures, bacteria, etc). I have taken many classes (some at Penn State Enology), gone to both amateur and professional conferences, and read many many books to learn the proper process and techniques and am adjusting and learning more every vintage.

Jerry with his “Crew” Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

What wines are you working on now and what are your expectations for them?

Our 2019 wines are an 87% Sangiovese/13% Merlot (and a small experiment Rosé from the same) and an 80% Barbera/20% Primativo (Zinfandel).  The 2018 vintage, still aging, is a Cabernet blend and a Petite Sirah.  Expectations are high otherwise why do it ;-). Seriously so far they are coming along very well.

The interview continues after photos. Please scroll down.

 

Can you share what you’re planning next as a winemaker?

Well, as far as what I plan next as a winemaker is not much different than now. So, for now, because of a very busy day job, I will continue to make wine as an amateur but one day I will work in “the industry”. Not sure if that will be making wine myself and selling it, or working as a winemaker for one of the urban wineries, or working for some company in the wine industry one way or another. This all very much depends on my day-job for now. As an amateur, my next step is to finish the 2019 vintage and start planning for the 2020 vintage.  The plan is to improve in some way each year.

What are some of your most memorable experiences as a winemaker?

Most memorable experiences… I have fond memories of the classes I have taken, the people I have met at conferences, the camaraderie in making wine with my close friends. As far as a single event, although I don’t spend much time competing in wine competitions, I did win best of show twice at a regional conference. If you are not familiar with best of show, they take all of the best wines (first place winners) and then judge them and select one over-all “best of show”.

Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

 

You can follow Jerry on Instagram @jerrypompa

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Gervasi Vineyard = Tuscany in Ohio

Recently my wife and I had the pleasure of enjoying an overnight visit to Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Ohio. If you are looking to escape to a little piece of Italy for a day or two this is an excellent “No passport required” option. All the buildings and amenities at Gervasi fit

The Crush House

effortlessly into the 55-acre Tuscan-themed property. This premier destination winery

resort boasts fine Italian dining ranging from the “The Bistro” located in the meticulously restored original barn to the trendy “Crush House” with its casual dining choices and views of the winemaking operations. We did our wine tasting at the Crush House where we sat at the bar which afforded us the added entertainment of watching the chefs in the open kitchen work their magic. The small plates we ordered to accompany our flights were excellent.

Gervasi Vineyard makes three very good estate wines from the grapes harvested from the

Tanks in the Crush House

five acres of vineyards located on the property. The other wines they offer are made from grapes sourced mainly from California and the Finger Lakes of New York. We found these wines to be very well-made and enjoyable to drink. The menu also includes craft beer, select imported wines and distilled spirits made on site in “The Still House”. The Still House is a café  with a coffee bar by day then transforms into a cocktail lounge by night with live music, Gervasi signature spirits, draft beer, wine and snack food.

“The Piazza” delivers an alfresco dining venue where guests can savor the relaxing view of the lake. We chose to dine at “The Bistro” which offers patrons a rustic upscale Italian

North Vineyard

dining experience. We ordered Chef Jerry’s Famous Tuscan Beef Short Ribs and paired them with a Barolo from the Italian Piedmont. Everything at The Bistro was upscale, plentiful and presented in a friendly and helpful atmosphere. I found this attention to detail and customer service a constant in all of my interactions at Gervasi. 

We stayed in the newly opened boutique hotel appropriately named “The Casa”. The Casa has 24 individual suites with king-sized beds, gas fireplaces that light with the press of a button, heated floors and a covered patio overlooking the pond and courtyard. A complimentary Italian-style continental breakfast is available each morning and will be delivered to your room. 

“The Villas at Gervasi Vineyard” has been named “Best Wine Country Hotel” by USAToday

The Lake at Gervasi Vineyard

two years running and is a Four Diamond hotel. Each villa has four suites with fireplaces. A complimentary breakfast is also included at the villas. The villas can be reserved as an individual suite or as an entire villa. These accommodations are just a short walk from all that Gervasi has to offer. 

“The Farmhouse” is the property’s original 1830 farmhouse that has been completely restored and modernized. The Farmhouse sleeps 7-8 guests with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large wrap-around porch. 

Gervasi Vineyard is the perfect option for someone looking for a break from the daily routine of life. Whether it is a romantic getaway, girl’s weekend or even a business meeting Gervasi will leave you with “bei ricordi”.  The NFL Football Hall of Fame is only a short 15-minute drive from, Gervasi. One last thing, be sure to pick up a bottle of Gervasi’s very

Gervasi”s Courtyard Fire Pit

own imported Italian olive oil. “Delizios”

Gervasi Vineyard 1700 55th St NE Canton, OH 44721  (330) 497-1000  http://Gervasivineyard.com

Tips For Buying a Wine Cooler/Fridge

28 Bottle Freestanding Wine Cooler

Wine coolers aren’t just for professionals anymore, even the causal wine lover can enjoy the benefits of owning a wine fridge/cooler. Beside the obvious function of keeping your wine chilled they also keep it fresh and aging at the optimal temperature. Another advantage is that the extra space you gain can be used to your expand your wine collection. Now you can keep your wine organized  and accessible while it is being displayed in a stylish temperature controlled environment. With your wine bottles always at the perfect temperature you will never have to scramble to cool a bottle when you get unexpected guests or just want to open a bottle on the spur of the moment. Wine coolers can also be a great place to keep your oils and vinegar fresh.

     There are wine coolers on the market that will satisfy the needs of any wine enthusiast. The only question now is what your needs are and how to match them to the perfect cooler for you. There are several categories of wine coolers to choose from but there are many options to consider and that can make the job of deciding what’s best for you a little confusing.

     First you should decide if you want a freestanding unit or one that is built into your home. Freestanding units make the most sense unless you are building or remodeling your home plus freestanding units can be moved around your house or taken with you if you move. You can also expand the size and number freestanding units without the cost of installation.

     Once you have settled on either a built-in or freestanding cooler you now need to calculate the size and space you will need to fit it into your room. With all the choices on the market you should have little problem finding one that will fit your requirements.

     The next thing to consider is price. The larger the cooler and the more advanced the technology the higher the price. Smaller freestanding models can be found on the internet from under $100 to $300 while small built-ins are a couple hundred dollars more plus

installation cost. Larger units with advanced features can easily cost well over $1000.

     There are two types of cooling systems to consider, thermoelectric or traditional compressor systems. Thermoelectric systems are quieter and more energy-efficient while compressors offer stronger cooling in hot surroundings or for high-capacity models. Thermoelectric is a good choice if you need a relatively small wine cooler that is quiet and your home stays at a fairly constant temperature. If you need a higher capacity model or your home’s temperature fluctuates then you should look at a compressor model. The two special features I have found to be useful and worth the added cost are the dual zone cooling option that keeps your Red and White wine a different temperatures and the

Built-In Double Door Wine Cooler

digital thermostat to monitor those temperatures. 

There are coolers to fulfill anyone’s wish list but first you must know what those wishes are. After you complete your list of required features you can start your search for the perfect wine cooler. Use the internet to search the vendors offering wine coolers and I strongly suggest shopping around. These appliances are heavy so finding sellers offering free shipping can mean big savings. Here are a few sites to get you started: http://winecoolerdirect.com  http://bestbuy.com and of course http://amazon.com