If you’re interested in a getaway this weekend (February 13th and 14th), all the wineries on the Berks County Wine Trail are offering special chocolate and wine tastings. The Reading Crowne Plaza is also offering special deals on accommodations.
Last weekend (not this very snowy one just past, but the one before that), Scott and I piled into our 18 year old Subaru and took off for Reading, PA, and spent a couple of days exploring several of the stops along the Berks County Wine Trail (and in the process, filming an episode of Fork You). Up until recently, I’d not been particularly familiar with the concept of wine trails, but having spent a little time on one, I’m a fan. It’s a fun and visitor-friendly way to explore a region of the state and sip a very broad spectrum of wine.
Neither Scott nor I are huge wine drinkers. I like a glass now and then, and when around the right people, (I’m looking at you, David Snyder) I can really get into the ceremony of swirling, sniffing and thinking about the diversity of flavors in each sip. While he does appreciate a glass of bubbly, Scott is even less interested in wine than I am. And yet, we had a really great time on this trip, visiting the wineries and trying a tons of different wines. It’s nice to know that one doesn’t have to be an established vinophile to enjoy a wine trail weekend.
Our first stop was the Clover Hill Winery shop at the Boscov’s Fairground Farmers’ Market in Reading (what a great indoor farmers’ market it was too! It reminded me a lot of Lancaster’s Central Market). A very sweet and engaging woman named Deb poured us tastes of six different wines and generally made the experience a complete delight (and made us feel completely comfortable with the fact that we were drinking wine before 11 a.m.). My favorite was the Chambourcin (I’m a sucker for a dry red), while Scott (and his sweet tooth) found their Strawberry and Pear wine to be right up his alley.
Oh, and the picture you see up there of those smokey cheesers? Those little guys are delicious (and deadly, as they’re all butter, cheese and sausage, bound together with a bit of dough).
Soon enough, it was time to say good-bye to our new friend Deb and head to Manatawny Creek Winery in Douglassville. There, we were greeted by Darvin Levengood, who spent more than an hour with us, teaching me how to say Gewurztraminer, sharing some of his favorite wines (all made by his daughter Joanne, an accomplished winemaker who studied at the UC Davis wine program) and giving us a tour of their fermentation and bottling area.
It was here that we learned the basics of wine sales, as well as the fact that the state of Pennsylvania taxes alcohol differently from the Federal government, making for complex bookkeeping for winemakers (sounds like a line of work I’ll be staying far, far away from). We also got a brief tutorial on the process of removing the yeast particles from sparkling wine after it has done it’s bubble-making work. It was fascinating.
When we left Manatawny with plans to visit a third winery on Saturday afternoon. However, when we started the car back up after lunch (really good burgers at Union Jack’s Inn), something was wrong. It had developed a throaty rumble, akin to a souped up hot rod. We called Blair Winery (our third stop of the day) and told them we weren’t going to be able to make it. Missy Blair, our contact there, was really flexible about the whole thing and told us not to worry.
Sunday morning, we checked out of our room at the Reading Crowne Plaza (a terrific hotel with an indoor pool, comedy club and jazz nightspot), climbed back into the car (patched and road-ready thanks to Perry at the Reading Pep Boys) and headed off to Long Trout Winery in Auburn, PA. Long Trout is a hoot. As you can see from the picture above, their tasting room is totally wacky, every corner bedazzled by sixties rock and pop culture ephemera.
The wines are also different from anything I’ve ever tried before. We came home with a bottle of strawberry and milk chocolate wine, called Instant “O.” Other really intriguing ones included a vegetal Old One Eye and the Sour Cherriola. If you are in the Auburn area and appreciate a hippie culture and the work of a highly creative winemaker, I recommend stopping here.
Next was Pinnacle Ridge Winery, in Kutztown (we did take a brief detour in order to visit the Hamburg, PA Cabela’s. That place is a circus). This light-filled tasting room was a welcome relief from the chilly day and we were particularly delighted by the friendly grey cat who trotted up to greet us.
Of all the wineries we visited on this trip, Pinnacle Ridge was my favorite. I think that’s mostly because it was the most familiar. It had a look and feel of some of the wineries I used to visit when I was in college in Walla Walla. Additionally, their wine was amazing. We were particularly blown away by their ice wine. Amazing stuff!
Our last stop was Blair Vineyards. We were originally scheduled to visit them on Saturday, but postponed after our car trouble. Happily, they were incredibly flexible and made room for us to stop by late Sunday afternoon. It’s a long, curvy drive up to their tasting room and production facility, but totally worth it. This family-owned and operated winery is one to watch (and I’m saving the bottle of Pinot Gris we bought from them for something special).
And that was our weekend. I was really delighted to discover so many terrific wines being produced within an hour and a half from home. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about Pennsylvania wines!
To see more photos from the weekend, click here.