Getting to Know Pennsylvania’s Top 8 Wineries and the People Behind Them
When asked to describe Pennsylvania wine in three words, Galen Glen’s owner and winemaker, Sarah Rhodes-Troxell, offers, “Surprising. Disciplined. Perseverance.”
After spending three full days visiting Pennsylvania’s top eight wineries in Lehigh Valley, Lancaster and Brandywine Valley, Sarah’s words ring true.
Before visiting for the first-time this past September, I’d never sampled Pennsylvania wine.
Accordingly, I had zero preconceptions of what to expect before I was invited to join a press trip to learn more about wines from the state’s top eight wineries producing vinifera grapes.
To say I was surprised by the quality of Pennsylvania’s top wines is an understatement.
I am seriously impressed.
These are my impressions of the wines and wineries from this under-the-radar, wine-producing state.
Galen Glen Winery
Many trips to Germany spawned owners’, Galen Troxell’s and Sarah Rhodes-Troxell’s affection for white-wine varietals from Germany.
When sampling verticals of Galen Glen’s dry riesling, grüner veltliner and gewürztraminer, you taste the complexities of vintage variation between superb and more agile years such as 2017.
To protect its grapes from birds, Galen Glen uses bird-distress recordings to ward away would-be-grape-guzzlers.
The recordings can be initially startling for first-time visitors, but they do the job of protecting the grapes from harm.
Read more about how Galen Glen is perfecting the art of making white wine in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
Stony Run Winery
Located in Andreas, Pennsylvania, Stony Run produces wine from 45 acres of vineyards planted on its 60 acres of productive farm land.
The winery currently produces 7,500 cases of wine though it has the infrastructure to produce 80,000 cases as its production grows and comes online.
Case in point, the winery originally began with 600 albariño plantings, which has now been eclipsed by 3,000 recent albariño plantings helping catapult the production of this native Spanish grape.
Lawry Shrawder, proprietor of Stony Run, has a long-range vision for the winery’s future production which can be ramped up over time without sacrificing quality.
A visit to Stony Run’s production facility proves that it has put its money where its mouth is.
The winery production facility is filled with brand-new, top-winery-production equipment from Italy to complement the bevy of vineyard machinery including an automated grape harvester which is helping the winery pick grapes faster and reduce labor costs.
Stony Run’s wine production is guided by Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez Giardini, a flying winemaker from Argentina.
Nacho has been making wine for seven years, including two years at Stony Run.
He also makes wine and consults with wineries in France and Italy.
Nacho was introduced to Stony Run, through Pennsylvania-wine-industry champion and connector, Gino Razzi, owner and winemaker of Penns Woods Winery.
Among its lineup of wines, Stony Run, offers three styles of chardonnay for every palate including an unoaked “naked” chardonnay, a lightly oaked “discreet” chardonnay, and a full-on, oak-affair reserve chardonnay.
Other wines to sample at Stony Run include:
- Stony Run, Albariño 2017, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 89 Points)
- Stony Run, Chambourcin Classic 2016, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Stony Run, Grüner Veltliner 2017, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
Setter Ridge Vineyards
Setter Ridge Vineyards has an old-world sensibility focused exclusively on producing vinifera grapes.
When asked why the winery eschews hybrid grapes, Rich Blair, Setter Ridge’s owner and winemaker states simply and matter-a-factly, “Because, I don’t like ‘em.”
Located on shale soils in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Setter Ridge Vineyards is at an elevation of 750 feet.
The winery produces 5,000 – 6,000 cases year on average, even while weather-related crop damage has brought their production down to around 2,500 cases during the past couple of years.
After 20 years of growing grapes and making wines since 1998, Rich approaches climate-change challenges with a sense of humor and prospective, noting jokingly that producing wines has been, “An experiment in how much money I can lose at one time.”
While Rich serves as winemaker, an intergenerational transfer is underfoot with his daughter and winery manager, Missy Wilson, currently taking the reins.
Among its lineup of wines, Setter Ridge produces two standouts — a sauvignon blanc that channels white Bordeaux with a pleasing addition of semillon, and a cabernet franc that shows purity of fruit and complexity.
Husband-and-wife team, Jan and Kim Waltz, owners of Waltz Vineyards, want Pennsylvania to be known as a state that produces wines of quality.
Jan notes, “Many consumers see Pennsylvania as a sweet, cheap wine state. We [Waltz Vineyards] want to be the opposite that.”
Jan is a self-taught winemaker who learned winemaking from mentors and friends as well as enologists from Italy.
While he does all the winemaking for the vineyard today, the oldest of his four children is currently studying viticulture and could potentially join the operations at some point in the future.
Jan’s top priority is producing quality wine.
He offers about Waltz, “We’re wine focused. We don’t do weddings. I want to focus my attention on making good wines.”
Of the Manheim-Pennsylvania-vineyard’s 125 acres of land, 35 acres are planted with vinifera grapes starting with a first planting in 1997.
Twenty percent of Waltz Vineyard’s wines are sold through its wine club, and the remainder through its tasting room.
You can also find Waltz Vineyards wines at Wegmans and at selected hotels.
Waltz is succeeding on its mission to produce quality wines.
Below are some wines to check out when you visit:
- Waltz Vineyards, Sémillon 2017, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 89 Points)
- Waltz Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Waltz Vineyards, Reserve Chardonnay 2017, Barrel Select Sur Lie, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 92 Points)
- Waltz Vineyards, Baron Red Merlot-Cabernet 2016, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 92 Points)
- Waltz Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Crow Woods, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 93 Points)
Grandview Vineyard is located in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.
The winery planted its first vineyards in 2009 and currently has 5.5 acres under vine directly.
The winery plans to expand its production with 8 more acres currently being grown under contract by a friend and contract grower.
Like many of its top-Pennsylvania-vineyard counterparts, Grandview is committed to producing vinifera grapes.
In 2016 Grandview lost 85% of its albariño grape harvest due to weather pressure, but even with a 15% harvest yield the winery is committed to producing vinifera rather than more-weather-resistant hybrid varietals.
“When people taste it [albariño] they really like it. Right now, it’s my favorite white grape because of its acidity, crispness and flavor profile,” notes Grandview’s winemaker and owner Larry Kennel.
Larry’s family immigrated through Alsace before coming to the United States.
Before taking up winemaking, his first career was as a veterinarian.
While focusing on making quality wines has been a priority for Grandview from the start, the winery also feels a special connection with its local community.
For example, Grandview has hosted three celebrations of life.
“When we started Larry wanted to prove he could make good wine. We’ve done more,” notes Larry’s wife, Marilyn Kennel.
Marilyn is Grandview’s resident writer who creates Grandview’s bottle notes written as poetry.
A must try wine to experience when you visit is Grandview’s Grand Rouge.
The wine is a silky prince of a red, Bordeaux-inspired blend, that while not available for regular tasting, is a wine you can pickup and be confident you are getting something that’s substantial and excellent.
Some additional wines to check out include:
- Grandview Vineyard, Chardonnay 2016, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Grandview Vineyard, Cabernet Franc 2016, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Grandview Vineyard, Albariño 2017, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 91 Points)
Vox Vineti Wines
Vox Vineti (Latin for “Voice of the Vineyard”) is the definition of a boutique winery with a 200-300 case annual production — 70% of which is sold directly to consumers and 30% to Pennsylvania restaurants.
The winery is located on 78 acres of land, 20 acres of which is suitable for planting quality vinifera.
When asked to describe the winery’s superpower, Vox Vineti’s owner and winegrower, Ed Lazzerini, notes, “Our superpower is the soil and mixing of [vineyard] lots while I figure out how to maximize the potential of each lot.”
Vox Vineti specializes in producing hand-harvested, single-vineyard expressions of terroir in its Andrews Bridge appellation.
A visit to its vineyards reveals a rocky soil composition of schists, quartz and sandy loam.
Ed’s wife, Adrienne Lazzerini, confirms Vox Vineti’s terroir focus, “We bought this property for the soil. This is a key region for producing terroir-driven wines.”
In 2010 Vox Vineti planted its first vineyards on 3 acres with the winery following later in 2012.
Originally from New Orleans, Ed came to wine inspired in part by childhood trips to Burgundy with his family when he was 10-years old.
As a software engineer from New York who still writes code working from home, Ed takes the task of winegrowing seriously.
In conversations with Ed, you feel the energy, passion and curiosity he brings to his focused experimentation in the vineyard.
Tannin texture is very important to Ed who monitors the pH in his grapes very closely.
Ed induces water stress in his vines which contributes to creating wine with more complexity.
A tasting reveals the winery’s serious winegrowing chops.
Vox Vineti is a quality standout even amongst Pennsylvania’s top wineries.
Try these wines when you visit — especially their cabernet-franc-led Polyphony.
- Vox Vineti, Discantus 2018, Galloping Cat Vineyard, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 91 Points)
- Vox Vineti, Nebbiolo 2017, Galloping Cat Vineyard, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 92 Points)
- Vox Vineti, Petit Verdot 2016, Galloping Cat Vineyard, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 93 Points)
- Vox Vineti, Polyphony 2015, Galloping Cat Vineyard, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 94 Points)
Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery
The winery combines a focus on winemaking with a love of art inspired by Galer Estate’s owner Lela Galer who is also a steel sculptor.
Her art sensibility is reflected throughout the physical space of the winery including the tasting room counters which are made from recycled marble steps taken from Independence Hall.
Lela effortlessly discusses wine and art with a bright, pure, wholesome energy that is infectious.
This energy is also reflected amongst Lela’s entire team including winery manager and winemaker, Virginia Mitchell, and vineyard manager, Jan Grimes.
Before joining Galer Estate in 2014, Virginia, worked for a larger winery operation, Mazza Vineyards.
Virginia decided to come Galer Estate because she wanted to work for a smaller, boutique winery.
Lela’s and Virginia’s connection was instantaneous.
“It was the shortest interview I’ve ever had,” whips Lela.
Three must-try wines to sample at Galer Estate include their sparkling chardonnay, still chardonnay and rosé.
Below are some other winning wines to sample as well:
- Galer Estate, Red Lion Chardonnay 2017, Chester County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Galer Estate, Red Lion Chardonnay Sparkling Wine, Chester County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Galer Estate, Cabernet Franc 2017, Chester County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Galer Estate, Rosé 2018, Chester County, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 91 Points)
Penns Woods Winery
Set in a picturesque landscape in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania with an annual production of 5,000 cases, Penns Woods Winery comes to winemaking with over 40 years in the wine business.
Penn Woods’ owner and winemaker, Gino Razzi, is a fervent champion of Pennsylvania’s wine industry and the region’s and state’s ability to produce quality wine.
In talking with other winery owners in the state who have been helped and/or aided by Gino, you get the sense he is somewhat of a Robert-Mondavi-like figure in the Pennsylvania-wine world.
Gino cares about lifting the profile of Pennsylvania wine as a whole such that a rising tide lifts all winery sails.
To educate us on the quality wine Pennsylvania can produce, Gino hosted a vertical tasting of Penns Woods chardonnay from 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
It was a very special tasting.
“I want to show you what can be done in Pennsylvania,” notes Gino who volunteers his reason for wanting to share his library wines with us.
2005 was Penns Woods’ second chardonnay vintage.
Fourteen years later today, the wine reveals the benefit of age with complex aromas of brioche on the nose combined with concentration on the palate.
The entire vertical of wines through 2018 was impressive.
Penns Woods’ winemaking today is headed by Gino’s now-son-in-law and assistant winemaker, Davide Creato, who hails originally from Italy and who has worked at the winery since 2011.
“Davide does all the work. I just come to the winery to complain,” jokes Gino.
Gino and his team are doing something special not only for Penns Woods, but for Pennsylvania’s wine community.
In addition to sampling Penns Woods chardonnay, I’d also recommend checking out the following:
- Penns Woods, Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 91 Points)
- Penns Woods, Cabernet Franc Reserve 2014, Pennsylvania (Wine Casual, 93 Points)
Pennsylvania is capable of producing quality wine from vinifera grapes.
Both the wine and people behind its production are impressive.
Because of state law, Pennsylvania wine is mostly available for purchase within the state.
What this means for consumers is that you need to seek out these gems when you visit.
With more and more wineries now placing their wines in restaurants, look for Pennsylvania wine on wine lists in Philadelphia restaurants and other metro areas where savvy sommeliers hold court.
And for cabernet-franc lovers like me, be sure to also be on the lookout for Pennsylvania cabernet franc which is a treat as well.