Though we try not to play favorites amidst the savage wild of the Penna wine scene, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we’ve taken a shine to the tidy, Chester County haven of Va La Vineyards, where winemaker/owner Anthony Vietri deftly mines his Lilliputian parcel to win over a swelling flock of followers. As a greater Philadelphia wine destination, Va La gives aplenty: Laid-back, tenured staff. Serious winemaking chops. Pretty setting. Prime pizza from the back of a truck.
To that last point…
As non-natives of Philly, the “downa Shore” herding that kicks off in late May is somewhat alien to us. In most instances, opting for a ballgame (though not so much lately) or booze-hounding the abandoned watering holes of the city outshines the specter of an AC Expressway clogged with beach nomads. Oh, and a summery weekend is as good a time as any for top-grade pie.
Despite tasting the pizza during earlier visits to Va La, our Memorial Day weekend stopover confirmed its respectability. Good local pie is – hallelujah – more commonplace today but the feat pulled off by the folks of Wood Fired Pizza is doubly impressive considering their limitations. The pizza is the product of a 1956 Ford pickup that sports a miniature honeycomb oven in the bed, imported from Italy and breathing 800-degree heat.
The standard menu features staples of the pizzaiolo’s repertoire: A rotation of pepperoni, Margherita, cheese and white pies. Make-your-own creations, for the sure hands in the crowd, and specials broaden the appeal. We stepped up to the Argentine and its fleshy array of sausage, bacon, roasted peppers, garlic and chimichurri.
Proportions are right (sparingly adorned with cheese, no heaps of toppings) and the ingredients are fresh and expressive. The chewy crust notched high marks around our table, displaying requisite bubbling, crispness and charring. We alternated between the just-meaty-enough Argentine with its sweet and delicious peppers and the Margherita’s tangy and bright sauce punctuated by basil and sweet mounds of mozzarella.
Throughout the visit, Vietri kept our glasses occupied with his blended wines, from the bright and intriguing La Prima Donna (a “vin orange” that derives its hue from a couple weeks of skin contact) and lighter-bodied, ruby red Silk to the deeper notes and tannic complexity of the Seed and Mahogany bottlings. As an added attraction, he poured his yet-to-be-released Cedar 2009 (stay tuned for our review).
As sure as the annual migration of Eagles (fans) to the Atlantic, you can bank on quality pie product returning to the grounds of Va La. Look for the truck on scattered dates across the summer and into mid-October. A schedule can be found on the winery’s website.
Va La Vineyards
8820 Gap Newport Pike
Avondale, PA 19311