Keeping It Cool in Central PA
My initial salvo to Fero Vineyards owner and winemaker Chuck Zaleski was calculated. I naturally gravitate to aromatic wines in the German/Alsatian mold (just take a look around this site to get the picture). I’d heard that Fero, situated in the Central Susquehanna River Valley, was serious about winemaking in that specific vein. I had no experience with the winery but heard their location aped the growing conditions of lands Teutonic. At minimum, it likely shared qualities of regions to our north, in New York. I was intrigued.
Damn straight, answered Zaleski. “Geographically and stylistically, we are between the Finger Lakes and Southeast Pennsylvania… Our climate is better suited to cooler varieties like Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Lemberger, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.”
He went on to say that his experiments with varietals and rootstocks had spanned a decade and most of his successes came with white grapes. “We have a cool enough climate to keep the aromatics and acidity, but enough warmth to fully ripen. We’ve had good success with the whites. They just seem to thrive here.”
“You’re always welcome to come to the frontier of Pennsylvania for a visit,” Zaleski offered. Frontier. I liked that. Honestly, he had me at “aromatics.” Soon, a few bottle samples arrived, the output of Fero’s 12-plus acre vineyard. The outcome? Very encouraging.
The Fero Riesling 2012 ($15) has a nose of oily petrol as well as some stinky, green, cold climate vibes. There’s good structure, moderate acidity and dryness without the astringent finish. That is, it’s lighter on fruit and long on food compatibility and balance. Honestly, I longed for a bit more expression of fruit to lift the finish, but it was an impressive start all the same.
The Fero Pinot Gris 2012 ($16) brings a similarly funky nose with promising pear-ness blended in. Immediately evident are richer flavors and more initial sugar, yielding a very pleasant upfront-to-mid-palate transition that trades off to a drier finish, showcasing lean minerality on its lasting finale. It’s a focused effort ideal for fall dining and would stack up well with fish, seasonal veggie soup (think squash) or chicken dishes. An impressive wine.
A similarly assertive aroma, resembling the Riesling, is in play with the Fero Grüner Veltliner 2012 ($14). Good acidity, mild spice and a dry, extended finish are the story lines here, along with sly flavors of lemon. Another food-capable wine.
“The reds are more challenging,” Zaleski told me. “We are progressing in our pursuit of a winemaking style that reflects what we grow (but) it will just take longer.” The Fero Estate Lemberger 2012 ($22) showed the prettiest nose of the bunch, with just a hint of funk and black pepper. Also known as Blaufränkisch, the thick-skinned Lemberger takes its time to ripen in the vineyard. This well-made Fero displays a deep burgundy color and medium body. Satisfying and savory, there are complex flavors running the gamut from stewed prunes and smokiness to light spice. Low-key tannins frame the somewhat thin finish. I craved stew as I sipped it, yet a wood-smoked pork loin would match ideally.
Fero’s wines are sold at the vineyard in Lewisburg and can be shipped within the state. It’s worth noting that the bottles I sampled featured synthetic corks — if you care about that kind of thing.
Yes, Zaleski and crew may have some work ahead of them but you would be well served by tracking their progress. An obvious trait of the whites, in particular, is quality fruit, telling me the proper work is being done in the vineyard. They are an antidote to flabby wines in that they’re expressive of origin, lightly fruity and stony, lower in alcohol and delicate without being flimsy. All the more impressive considering the immaturity (three years) of their parent vines. I expect more from Fero’s development with added age and deeper roots.