The wine industry has exploded in Pennsylvania. From humble beginnings, the number of wineries has increased from as few as 12 in 1976 to over 200 in 2014. Pennsylvania now ranks fifth nationally in terms of grape production. There are six distinctly different regions, and five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). In addition, there are 12 designated wine trails that each intersect with several different wineries. No matter where you are in the Keystone state, you are never more than an hour’s drive from a winery. Many of these wineries offer tastings, tours and host events and festivals on a regular basis. While nobody will be mistaking Pennsylvania for Northern California anytime soon, winemaking is here to stay, and wineries make for fantastic settings for your next large gathering.
The History of Pennsylvania Winemaking
The history of winemaking in Pennsylvania closely parallels that of the United States. As early as the 1600s, some of the first settlers in the New World were attempting to grow grapes and make wine. William Penn, the state’s founder and namesake, had vineyards along the banks of the Schuylkill River near what is today Conshohocken, about 12 miles from Philadelphia. These early plantings of European, or vitis vinifera, grapes were largely unsuccessful. The vinifera vines suffered from native diseases to which they had no immunity, and could not withstand the harsh winters. Yields were disappointing at best.
Commercial wine production in North America might not have happened if not for a happy accident. In 1740, James Alexander, a gardener working for Thomas Penn (William Penn’s son), discovered a new grape that was the apparent result of some vinifera vines pollinating native North American vitis labrusca plants to create a new hybrid grape. The Alexander grape is the earliest named hybrid, and led to the first large-scale production of wine in the American colonies. A wine made from Alexander was once famously reviewed as “not bad” by the Reverend Andrew Burnaby during his storied explorations of early colonial America. Just a couple of decades later, in 1787, the first commercial winery in the U.S. was started by a Frenchman named Pierre Legaux. It was located on the very same land that William Penn had attempted to cultivate a hundred years earlier. Founding fathers such as George Washington and Ben Franklin visited Legaux at his winery.
Wine production continued in the state throughout the 1800s with modest success. As recently as 1850, Pennsylvania was still the third leading producer in the country. In 1920, the 18th Amendment passed Prohibition into law, and winemaking ground to a halt. It was not until 1933 (and the 21st Amendment) that Prohibition was repealed. The 21st Amendment is also significant because under its terms states were allowed to set their own laws for the control of alcohol. Pennsylvania became a control state. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) had a negative attitude towards the wine industry in the state and made it nearly impossible for winemakers to do business. Wineries were only allowed to sell directly to the LCB, or out of state.
It was not until the 1960s that several growers in Erie County helped to bring forth the Limited Winery Act, which permitted Pennsylvania wineries to make up to 50,000 gallons of wine using Pennsylvania-grown fruit, and to sell their product directly to the public, hotels, restaurants, clubs and the PLCB. Today, the state’s wineries are using state-of-the-art technology and advanced winemaking techniques to create some wonderful wines. If you are looking for an outside-the-box idea for your next corporate gathering, or special occasion, consider your local winery to set the stage for a truly memorable event.
Where To Go: Bucks County
NEW HOPE WINERY
Just down the road from the hustle and bustle of New Hope’s Main Street is the lovely New Hope Winery. This place oozes country charm and boasts three unique spaces for hosting events. The loft, tucked upstairs in the 18th-century barn, accommodates 25 to 50 guests. Though larger, with space for up to 75, the Presidents Room retains the rustic feel that New Hope Winery shares with its guests. The oak-paneled ballroom is the largest space, with room for up to 175. The down-home look isn’t just a design element; New Hope Winery prides itself on its warm and friendly service. “Flexibility is a hallmark of what we strive for at New Hope Winery,” says Dori Corr, marketing manager. “We are keen on meeting needs. We’re not a one-size concept—instead, we are always thinking how we can serve the client best.”
CROSSING VINEYARDS AND WINERY
Crossing Vineyards and Winery was established in 2000 by the Carroll family. Located on a 200-year-old estate, it is less than a mile from the spot where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River and defeated the British on Christmas Day in 1776. The original farm on the site, known as Longmeadow, was part of the King of England’s land grant to William Penn in the 1600s. The winery produced its first vintage in 2002 and has been awarded with over 120 medals in the years since, including World’s Best Chardonnay at the Starwine competition in 2006. Both French and American oak barrels are utilized in the state-of-the-art wine cellar. Grapes grown on the estate’s 20 acres include a wide variety of vinifera and French-American hybrids.
“Crossing Vineyards and Winery is an ideal retreat for corporate meetings, team-building events and food and wine pairing classes. The setting Crossing offers is idyllic, the food is from farm-to-table and the award-winning wine is grown and produced on the site,” says Christine Carroll, director of marketing and public relations.
The beautiful Jonathan’s Garden and patio is available for private groups from April through November and can hold 45 seated or 100 for cocktails. The Vineyard Room, with vaulted ceilings and rustic original wood floor, is located in a restored barn loft atop the barrel room and is the perfect setting to enjoy corporate presentations or dinners. The Vineyard Room can hold up to 50 people for a sit-down meal and is available year-round. For larger outdoor events, the winery also has an elegant tent called Vistas. It has a permanent concrete floor, which provides a stable base for dancing and dining. As the name implies, the tent offers breathtaking views of the landscaped grounds. If the weather does not cooperate, the tent is outfitted with both heat and air conditioning. The tent is a spacious 3,600 square feet, more than enough for 160 guests to enjoy dinner, or up to 200 for cocktails.
Where To Go: Chester County
BLACK WALNUT WINERY
Black Walnut Winery opened in 2009 and is one of six wineries on the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. This winery was born when four friends decided to start winemaking. Their pastime grew into a passion over the years, and after a three-year restoration of a nearly 200-year-old barn, Black Walnut Winery was open. “We have multiple room sizes dependent on the number of guests and we can accommodate anywhere from 12 to 100 people,” says Jack Kuhn, a co-owner, along with wife Karen and Lance and Valerie Castle. Choose from the intimate reserve tasting room (with room for 12), the special events room (up to 35) or the main tasting room (up to 55). Additionally, the entire main floor of the winery, which accommodates up to 100 people, is available for rental outside of regular operating hours.
East Coast pioneers Eric and Lee Miller founded Chaddsford Winery in 1982. Located in the historic Brandywine Valley, just a 40-minute drive from Philadelphia, Chaddsford Winery makes an ideal location for your next corporate retreat. “We offer a cocktail party-style event with an open wine bar in the tasting room, as well as outdoors on the patio,” says Elaine Faso, manager of hospitality. “Guests are given exclusive use of the winery Tuesday through Friday evenings (typically from 6:30-9:30 p.m.). We are a local winery and people seem to enjoy the unique setting, and if the guests are interested, we offer a tour of the entire winery and offer tastings straight out of the barrel [if prior arrangements are made].” Chaddsford has built a reputation on making fun, easy drinking wines that do not intimidate the casual consumer. The winery has a full range of 21 different wines to appeal to all tastes. Catering is done by any one of a number of recommended local caterers, and the winery can host up to about 100 guests. Chaddsford Winery is located on the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, which offers numerous lodging and dining options for your group.
Where To Go: Lehigh County
BLUE MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS
Blue Mountain Vineyards was started on 5 acres in New Tripoli in 1986. That first planting included hybrid varietals such as hambourcin, vidal blanc and vignoles. It soon became apparent that the Lehigh Valley possessed many of the same soil characteristics as some of France’s most storied wine regions. Shale and limestone-rich soils proved to be ideal for vinifera grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, syrah, petite syrah, riesling and chardonnay. The vineyards were expanded several times over the years, and currently have harvest grapes from 50 acres of bucolic land, with plans to expand to as many as 100 acres in the near future. Blue Mountain has a large glass-enclosed indoor event space that can host groups of up to 100 people. “It’s a beautiful atmosphere and the room, which looks out on the vineyard and ponds, is very lovely,” says Vickie Greff, who owns the vineyard with her husband, Joe. There are daily tastings, candle-lit barrel room tastings, grape-picking parties, themed nights and live music every Sunday. Blue Mountain wines are also available at a variety of retail outlets, including the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
David Robinson is a restaurant professional with 20 years of experience at some of Philadelphia’s
top restaurants. He studied with The Court of Master Sommeliers and has served as a consultant
for Allied Beverage Group in N.J. Contact him at email@example.com.