PENNS WOODS WINERY
CHADDS FORD, PA
I have no idea why it took me so long to visit Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford, PA, just 22 miles from Center City, Philadelphia, especially since I have enjoyed their wines at Philly wine bars Panorama and Tria. Now that I have experienced, rather than just heard about, the family and terroir who make up this amazing suburban vineyard I look forward to regular visits.
The bit of background I had informed me that winemaker Gino Razzi is an Italian immigrant from Abruzzo, Italy, and had purchased the Smithbridge vineyard in 2004, selected for its 25-year-old vines. Arriving in Delaware County in 1962, Gino has been a wine importer for 40 years and always dreamed of making great wines from Pennsylvania grapes. His extensive network gave him a wealth of global advisors, and in 1997 he made a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which was given 95 points by Wine Spectator! Now it was time to make his dream come true. In 2009 his daughter Carley joined him to manage and promote the tasting room.
My curiosity piqued, off I went.
It was one of those early Spring days which remind you just how happy you are to be alive; mid 70s, slightly overcast, a light breeze. My GPS told me Penns Woods wasn’t far off 95 and that I would be there in 38 minutes. As I pulled up the long driveway I was reminded that vineyards are viticulture farms. I could hear a tractor at work, and horses in the distance. The long rows of vines planted hillside made me smile. I learned that fifteen acres are planted down the opposite side of the slope from the tasting room, and that the Razzi family has purchased another twenty-five acres in Coatsville, PA, where five or six acres are currently under vine. After harvest, the wines are trucked to their winery in Eddystone where they destem, crush, ferment, bottle and store the wines until they are ready to sell; then, back to the tasting room for our enjoyment!
While rustic and very simple, Penns Woods is set up to accommodate many people in a casual party atmosphere, without feeling crowded; 300-1,200 people a day come through, depending on the time of year. On weekends during warm weather, the side of the barn opens into a bar. Tables and chairs are scattered around the rolling lawn. Live music flows and there are family events such as the annual Easter Egg hunt. You will find plenty of space for the kids to run around, within site. In cooler months, one can stay snug inside the plastic-insulated porch and still enjoy the view. When you consider the tasting room was open only two days a week when Carley came on board full time, and is now open seven days and hosts 45,000-55,000 a year, it is a testament to both the growing appreciation of local wines and the dedicated, demanding work the Razzi family has put into its operations.
I introduced myself to Cathy, tasting room hostess, and told her I had come from Philly to research a blog piece. We settled on my tasting the dry wines rather than the sweet, and she brought me to a cozy tasting room where I set up shop at a window table. Cathy poured me a 2015 Gruner Vetliner, a grape native to Austria. This wine won the Silver Medal in the 2016 New York international Wine Cup, and the 2014 vintage won the Silver in the Berlin International Eastern Wine Cup! The crisp, mineral white was the perfect choice to prep my palate.
Cathy had let Carley Razzi know I was in-house and she came to say hello and offer up more history about Penns Woods’ family enterprise. They first bought Riesling grapes from the Finger Lakes so Gino could continue to experiment with wine making while their newly planted vines matured. It took four years for the Penns Woods vines to produce grapes which led to a satisfactory vintage; now, all grapes are grown in PA, although some are produced under contract elsewhere in PA, such as the Chambourch grape, unique to the East Coast, as grapes adapt differently to specific soils and terroir.
Carley generously instructed Cathy to pour all their dry wines for me, including the Reserves, and brought me a cheese plate. The tasting began in earnest!
Next up was a 2015 Viognier, it’s lees (skins) aging giving it a round, soft mouth feel. This is a great summer wine. Their 2016 Sav Blanc has an Old World softness and a lingering finish, as opposed to the grassy, tart taste associated with New World Savs such as those from New Zealand or Chile. The Chardonnay came from fifty-year-old vines planted on the estate, and has seen four months in oak, although I did not find the oak overpowering as with some California chards (Kendall Jackson comes to mind), which some Sommeliers jokingly refer to as ‘Cougar Crack’, for their popularity with middle-aged women!
The White Merlot looks like a salmon colored Rose and has a sweetness to the finish, although it is fermented in stainless steel. Now we have the Chambourcin, a grape I had never encountered before. This is a French hybrid which only grows on the East coast, from the Finger Lakes to Virginia. It is a thick-skinned grape, deep in color, and makes a medium bodied wine with a soft mouthfeel. Cathy described it as similar to a Malbec. A very interesting grape which I thoroughly enjoyed exploring!
Now came the Cab Franc; dry, medium in body, with a tart finish. I asked Cathy to pour the 2012 Cab Sav along with the 2013 Cab Sav Reserve so I could note the differences; the Reserve knocked the cover off the ball! Although thoroughly enjoyable now, I would love to drink it in five years. It is smooth, bigger in body than the 2012, with bit of heat on the back of the throat, which indicates high alcohol.
My last wine was a 2012 Merlot; good fruit, round, well balanced, heat on the throat. Very enjoyable.
Penns Woods has a wine club you may want to check into. Currently 110 members receive quarterly or semi- annual shipments or pick-ups of six or twelve bottles which are selected by Gino, both ready to drink and for cellar aging. Other membership perks, including the semi-annual pick-up parties, are detailed on their website. Members are invited help at harvest time, should you desire hands on vineyard experience. How fun to participate in creating the wines you drink, even for a day!
As mentioned, I first tasted the Penns Woods wines in Center City.
Panorama, in the Penns View Hotel in Old City, and Penns Woods Winery collaborated on a 40th anniversary 2014 Cab Sav, which I must say, is spectacular. Always available at Panorama, it is kept fresh with their nitro system, which is the largest in the world, according to Guinness Book of World Records!
They also make a wine for the White Dog Cafes.
Here is a complete list of local places where their wines are served: http://www.pennswoodsevents.com/wines.html
This is also the link to their website, where you will find an abundance of info about their wines, events and wine club.
Carley had given me her card and in my thank you I asked what is next for the Razzi family wine adventure? I will let her share the exciting news:
” This year we will be planting another 20 acres of vine at an offsite vineyard location that we own. Our biggest endeavor is actually building out the family tree this year!!! Lol! Andrea, our General Manager ( and her husband, our assistant winemaker and vineyard manager, who joined us from Italy) are expecting their first child in October … as well as myself, expecting my second in October! We have worked non stop over the past 8 years building Penns Woods into what it is today! Now, we are working to make sure we have a solid family structure behind it to keep it going for generations to come!!! In 2018 we have plans for another tasting room too!!! There is ALWAYS something new and exciting here at Penns Woods!!!”