Growing up in such a food-and-drink driven culture with generations of foodies, top notch cooks, cheese snobs, and wine connoisseurs in my own family made me acquire strong predispositions about what I think “good” food and “good” wine is.
For example, no one in my family is running to the basement to bring up a bottle of 2005 “Merican” Cabernet Sauvignon made in Chaddsford, PA to uncork and savor with a hunk of sharp provolone—in fact, my uncle would most likely slap me in the back of the head and say, “Whatta’ you crazy? Pennsylvania makes Hershey’s ice cream, Amish pretzels, and crispy scrapple—but vino? No.”
However, after an afternoon of research for Longwood Gardens’ upcoming Wine & Jazz Festival that features only Pennsylvania fine wines—I am feeling brave enough to bring home bottles of what I think are some of the most sumptuous and delicious wines I have ever tasted. Last Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours sipping, swirling, tasting, and talking with the Chaddsford Winery’s very own co-founder and winemaker, Eric Miller. I was very upfront and told Eric about my family and my skepticism about grapes grown in the north east—specifically in Pennsylvania. In reply, Eric said something that I wholeheartedly agree with that changed my perception about local wines. He said, “Pennsylvania people are learning to support local farms and foods more than ever. And at the Chaddsford Winery we’re seeing that people are dropping any stigma they might have had when it comes to local wine. They’re trying it—and loving it, not only because it’s world-class wine, but because it’s local. The best part for many people is they feel especially connected to our bottles of wine because they know where it comes from, and it has a story.”
Eric, who founded the Chaddsford Winery up the road from Longwood Gardens in 1982 with his wife Lee Miller, developed his interest in wine as a child when he lived in Europe with his “wine-nut” parents. In the mid-60s, after spending a year in the tiny village of Saint Romaine, Burgundy, his family moved back to New York in the Hudson Valley where they founded the state's first farm winery, Benmarl Vineyards. For Eric and Lee, the first step in founding Chaddsford Winery was to scour the east coast to find what they believed was the best grape growing region for their new venture—and this venture is what brought them to the Brandywine Valley. In their first year of business, Eric and Lee produced 3,000 bottles of wine, and today the Chaddsford Winery corks 30,000 bottles, annually. While sampling some of the wines that will be featured at this weekend’s Wine & Jazz Festival, Eric convinced me that he has found the best grape growing region on the east coast. I applaud Eric for passionately pursuing his goal to work toward establishing the Atlantic Uplands as a significant American wine district. Eric, who calls himself a barrelhead and a wine geek, is most in love with this business because he gets to work with smells and flavors all day long. At a small wood table in the rustic tasting room at the back of the Chaddsford Winery, Eric and I went through the five S’s of wine tasting: see, swirl, smell, sip, and savor. Normally, I don’t go through all of these steps—I simply uncork, pour, and down the hatch—but Eric truly believes that by making a point to experience each of these components will help you remember the wine in the long-run.
Together we sampled the following wines that will be at Longwood Gardens this weekend:
Merican Cabernet Sauvignon (2005): This is a table wine I am most looking forward to bringing home to my family. When I took a good look I saw shades of brick red and almost a hint of blue-red. It smells woody, which makes sense because Eric says this wine is barrel-aged. Upon my first sip it tasted truly complex without being too aggressive. It has a smooth texture, a strong grape flavor, and kick of herbal character. Eric says this wine is ideal for paring with a simple medium-rare steak.
Naked Chardonnay (2010): Although I have a strong preference for red wines, I was delighted by the bright blast of peachy fruit notes and crisp acidity upon my first sip of the Chaddsford Naked Chardonnay. This particular bottle, which holds a golden apple colored wine, is a seasonal wine that is an early summer bestseller. Eric recommends pairing this sweeter wine with a more bitter dish like grilled asparagus.
Red Wine Sangria (2010): I was surprised to find out that Eric didn’t just make dry table wines—but that he also mastered the craft of creating fruity wines, too. Eric says wine-makers don’t discount even the sweetest of wines like sangria because it serves an entirely different purpose. “People who drink sangria are not having dinner—but they are people who want to enjoy a cocktail while being social,” says Eric. Eric says the secret to his sangria is that he makes sure (in the lab, before it’s bottled) that it tastes good watered down 10% from ice. When I look at this wine before tasting it, I see a medium bright red. Upon hitting my mouth this wine bursts with citrus flavor. I can taste notes of cherry, orange, and lemon. This glass of sangria is so refreshing. For me, the best part is that it’s not overly sweet and has a complimentary acidic after-taste. To make this sangria even better for a large backyard party or BBQ, Eric suggests this recipe: Sunset Sangria Punch—the perfect cocktail for anytime the sun goes down… 1 Bottle of Chaddsford Red Wine Sangria 1 Bottle of Chaddsford Blush 1 Liter of Lemon-lime soda Fresh fruit (Freeze prior to putting in the punch: peaches, lime slices, mango slices, orange slices, lemon slices) Directions: Combine equal parts Sangria and Blush. Then, add the same amount (to make half/half mixture) of lemon-lime soda. Serve over frozen fresh fruit.
Wine lovers, wine novices, and PA-wine skeptics alike, I urge you to come taste all the wines of Pennsylvania this weekend at Longwood Gardens, on Saturday, June 4 from 12 to 5:30 pm. Limited tickets for the Wine & Jazz Festival are still available on the web or you can purchase tickets by calling 610.388.1000. If you can’t make this weekend’s event, you can make a reservation for a fall wine pairing dinner with Chaddsford winemaker Eric Miller at Longwood Gardens on September, 9 at 6 pm called the "Kennett Square Mushrooms & Chaddsford Winery Wine Pairing Dinner." For more information on upcoming wine tasting events at the Chaddsford Winery visit the Chaddsford Winery website. Aimee Theriault is a Marketing Communications Associate at Longwood Gardens. Photo credits: Brian Piper.