Defining a Wine Region

Mid-Atlantic winemakers review some of their best wines

by Linda Jones McKee
wine mid-atlantic varieties styles tasting
Representatives from 12 Mid-Atlantic wineries tasted through samples representing a variety of cultivars and winemaking styles.

Manheim, Pa.—Winemakers and owners of a dozen wineries located in the Mid-Atlantic states gathered at Waltz Vineyards Estate Winery in Manheim, Pa., earlier this month to taste what the winemakers consider some of their best wines. The event was organized by Paul Vigna, a writer and editor for PennLive.com and the Patriot News in Harrisburg, Pa., assisted by Dr. Joe Fiola, specialist in viticulture and small fruit at the University of Maryland Extension, and Dr. Gary Pavlis, professor and agricultural agent at Rutgers University in N.J.

Not many people realize that the Mid-Atlantic wine region, which stretches from Virginia to Long Island, N.Y., includes more than 700 wineries, according to Wines Vines Analytics. The majority of the wineries are small and produce fewer than 5,000 cases. Because of the proximity of the large cities on the Eastern seaboard, most of that wine is sold directly to consumers in the tasting room, as those customers can easily make day trips to visit their local wineries.

The climate in the region is characterized by cold winters (temperatures may drop to 0° F), spring and fall frosts and warm/hot summers, often with high humidity. The region covers hundreds of square miles, and consequently, the soils vary from sandy loam on Long Island to glacial deposits in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Pennsylvania. The number of growing degree-days is good to excellent, and there are many good locations for growing wine grapes.

So far, vintners in the Mid-Atlantic region have not found a signature grape variety or a distinctive wine style to place it in the category of great wine regions of the world. Dave McIntyre, wine columnist at the Washington Post, has described Virginia as “an evolving wine region seeking its voice,” and that could be said of the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

For the tasting at Waltz Vineyards, Vigna included wineries where he was familiar with the quality of the wine, as well as wineries recommended by Fiola, Pavlis and some of the winemakers. There were four wineries from Maryland, two from New Jersey, one from Long Island, New York, four from Pennsylvania and one from Virginia.

The event was an opportunity for winemakers to see which grape varieties grow well in the region and what styles of wines can be produced to help them anticipate what wines have potential to become signature varieties or styles that would identify the Mid-Atlantic region. Each winemaker brought two wines of his or her choice. After everyone tasted a wine, the winemaker described how the grapes were grown, what winemaking techniques were used and the challenges he or she had faced. “The winemakers were candid about what did work and what didn’t,” Vigna told Wines & Vines after the tasting. “I think it was a good reflection of what’s grown and what’s made in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Of the seven white wines tasted, four were Chardonnay. While these were four very good examples of the variety, it is not likely that a new region will create a distinctive name for itself based on Chardonnay, as all Chardonnays are constantly compared with those from France and from California. The other whites were a Grüner Veltliner, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling. Galen Glen Winery in Andreas, Pa., makes an especially nice Grüner Veltliner, but the grape grows better with cooler conditions and may not be a candidate for a regional headliner in the somewhat warmer climates of Maryland and Virginia.

There were 14 red wines including four Cabernet Francs, two Cabernet Sauvignon and four red blends, all of which included Merlot. The Boordy Vineyards (Md.) 2012 Landmark Reserve was 67% Merlot; the Paumanok Vineyards (N.Y.) 30th Anniversary blend (2010) was 70% Merlot; Allegro Vineyards (Pa.) 2010 Cadenza had 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 39% Merlot; and the Black Ankle Vineyards (Md.) 2014 Slate was a blend of Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. As these wines demonstrated, Merlot grows well across the Mid-Atlantic region and can be made into some excellent wines. A 100% Merlot and three Syrahs comprised the remainder of the reds. Two of the Syrahs were barrel samples from different blends of Syrah clones at Black Ankle Vineyards.

The balance of the wines included a Barbera rosé, a sparkling Vidal, a sparkling brut (a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), and a pétillant naturel from Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard (Md.).

It was interesting that the average price for these 25 wines was more than $42, and that the largest amount produced for any one wine was 600 cases. One winery owner noted that the Mid-Atlantic region needs to produce the quality of wine tasted at the event, but in larger quantities sold in the $15 to $20 price range.



Currently no comments posted for this article.