Pennsylvania Wine Trails

Friend of IT Emily King just got back from York and Adams Counties in southern Pennsylvania, in search of the region’s best food and drink.

There are 123 wineries in Pennsylvania. I’m no oenophile, but I was floored by this fact. Amish baskets and potato chips maybe, but wine? Curiosity got the better of me, so my boyfriend and I headed north, on an otherwise dreary weekend, to check out one of the state’s 11 wine trails.

Admittedly, we chose the Uncork York trail because of its proximity to D.C., but I like to think we chose it for the clever name. The guidebooks will tell you York is the “factory tour capital of the U.S.” as it’s home to Harley-Davidson, Utz (potato chips), Snyder’s of Hanover (pretzels), and Wolfgang Candy Company–all of which, and more, offer guided tours through their factories. And while York is a decidedly industrial city, the outskirts look more pastoral than industrial, and there’s nary a smokestack in the center of town.

Day 1: We arrived around 7 pm on Friday night, and checked in at the Yorktowne Hotel, the one non-chain hotel in a city of Holiday, Quality, and Hampton Inns. Rooms are big, if dated, but its proximity to York’s downtown shops and restaurants make it one of the more convenient stays of choice. Locals head to Left Bank for those semi-special occasions, but pouring rain kept us inside and we tried the hotel’s AAA four-star restaurant, The Commonwealth Room. We were a good 30 years younger than the average patron, but the food was good, especially that rabbit confit appetizer.

Day 2: As we’d previously learned on other wine country trips, a good day of wine tasting MUST be preceded with a substantial breakfast. Easy enough. We made the short walk on Saturday morning to York’s Central Market. This is a treasure: 70 or so vendors manning fruit, sustainable meat, baked goods, and granola stands–all under a 120-year-old roof, in a National Register of Historic Places building that spans a city block. The market is only open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. We didn’t have time to buy our groceries for the week, but we did manage to stuff ourselves with omelets and the unforgettably moist and not-too-sweet mango raspberry French toast ($8.95, right) at the market’s hoppin’ breakfast joint, Mezzogiorno.

Now to the wine.

The six wineries we’d chosen were not exactly next door to each other, so I plotted each point on a Google map before departure, then we used Patten’s iPhone to do the rest of the navigating. (You can also access maps here, or at the Visitor’s Center in downtown York). Our first stop was Nissley Vineyards in Bainbridge (Lancaster County),

home to an 18th-century mill and modern, stone-arch winery…and

300 acres of land. Like most PA wineries–as we’d soon learn–Nissley

specializes in sweet. “Ninety percent of Americans drink sweet wine,”

says winemaker Bill Gulvin, “so that’s what we focus on.” After a tour

of the tanks (no barrels used here), we gathered with another ten or so

folks outside to taste the wines. Most were too sweet for us–with names

like “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Whisper White”–but we did take home two

bottles of their decadent black raspberry dessert wine ($14), which

Patten wants to pour over ice cream.

Low-key best defines our next stop. Moon Dancer Winery

in Wrightsville may look like a French château from its exterior, but inside it’s

another story. Elmer the dog greats you at the door, and when you take

a seat at the tasting counter, you get the feeling you’re hanging out

in your buddy’s kitchen. Judging by the locals around us

who have come for a full glass of wine (not tasting sips), the tasting

room seems to double as a bar. The walls are smothered in local

art–there’s a good chance the artist will be on site, hawking his work.

Ask for a look-see at the tanks and barrels in the “cellar,”

essentially an unfinished basement filled with wine-making doodads.

After a quick lunch at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville (try Vinny’s Famous Cheese Steak; $7.50), our next stop is Allegro Vineyards (left) in Brogue.

The tiny winery’s parking lot and gift shop are swarmed with people when

we arrive. Soon enough things settle down, and we chat up the owner and

winemaker Carl Helrich, who does not take his job lightly. Like his

competitors, he produces sweet wines to “pay the bills,” but his

passion involves dry French wines. If you ask, he’ll give you the whole

run-down, from his philosophy to his process. (Interesting for sure,

but I’ve got three more wineries to cover!). We are impressed with his

reds, particularly the flagship, Bordeaux-style wine, 2005′s Cadenza

($35). We take one of those, along with a 2007 Merlot ($17)–the

smoothest thing we’ve tasted all day.

It’s nearly 5 p.m., and while a nap back at the hotel sounds tempting,

we forge on. We know we’re in for a treat as we pull up the lane to Naylor Wine Cellars in Stewartstown,

greeted by a colorful mural with the owner Dick Naylor’s bearded face

smiling down on us. In person, Dick does not disappoint. Not only is he

Southeastern PA’s veteran winemaker (he’s been at this for over 30

years), he’s well regarded by his winemaking peers–nearly everyone

we talk to mentions his name, in a positive light. We enter his big

warehouse, and are led on a quick tour of the tanks and bottling

machines. We learn about his labels–many of which include a charcoal

drawing of an English monk paying homage to the vine–and his winemaking

background: A former salesman, he started making wine after he was

wowed by the stuff his buddy was fermenting in his basement. Then he

gives us a personal tasting tour of his dry wines, with pours so big we

start to worry about making it home. After our ninth “taste,” we buy

our three favorites–a 2007 Chardonnay; a 2008 Traminette; and a

2007 Chambourcinand head to Dick’s favorite BYOB restaurant, Pomodoro’s in York. No surprise, the food is delicious, and we wash it all down with Naylor’s Shiraz.

Day 3. After checking out of the hotel, we drive to Lee’s Family Diner

for the least expensive sit-down meal I’ve eaten this year: i.e. eggs,

toast, and coffee for $2.10. We head further west to Gettysburg,

driving right through the battlefield to get to our second-to-last

stop. Adams County Winery

is tucked into 13 acres of vineyards. Owner John Kramb’s mission is to

“de-snobify wine.” True to his word, there’s nothing pretentious about

this tchotchke-laden gift shop and tasting room. He knows his customers

well, and they like their wine sweet–even better if it’s got a

sentimental name: His best seller is the syrupy white, Tears of

Gettysburg. Retired from the military, Kramb and his wife bought the

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winery as a place to “retire,” though judging by the more than 100,000

bottles of wine they produce each year, it’s hardly a part-time job.


Grape crushing at Hauser Winery from Emily King on Vimeo.

A bit further up the road sits the area’s one-year-old beauty, Hauser Estate Winery in Biglerville.

Floor-to-ceiling windows, with killer 360-degree views of the valley,

give this place the feel of Napa, not PA–not to mention the fancy

tasting bar and the cement fortress in which they make the wine

(located a few floors underground). We arrive shortly after a truckload

of grapes, so winemaker Michelle Oakes lets us watch the de-stemming

and crushing process. The crushed grapes are then transferred to big

plastic bins, where they’ll sit for several weeks to ferment. That

solution goes into a tank for more fermenting, then into wooden barrels

to age. It’s the same process everywhere, but Hauser’s organized layout

helps you make sense of it all. We were wowed by their Cabernet Franc

Rose ($17) and their peach sparkling wine ($18), a dry bubbly made

entirely from local peaches.

Wined out, we made a pit stop at the Round Barn

(top photo, and located right across the street from Hauser) for some pumpkins and

potato chips, then headed home….well, not before a stop in Frederick, Maryland

at Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt–which, for the record, was as delicious as we hoped. (Don’t miss the tuna tartar or the roasted chicken!)

Photos: Patten Wood

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