I have to admit, I was skeptical. After basically ignoring Pennsylvania wines for over a decade, when a friend of mine suggested that we spend and afternoon riding our bikes and tasting in the Brandywine Valley, I doubted we’d find any wineries worthy of interrupting our ride.
Galer Estate in Kennett Square proved me wrong.
Once settled in the tasting room, we started off with the 2011 Galer Riesling ($18), a completely dry and very bright wine that falls somewhere between a tart crisp Finger Lakes Riesling and a rich opulent Alsatian offering. 86-88 points
The 2010 Galer Chardonnay ($19) is made in the Chablis style, with minimal oak influence (3 months). Clean and crisp, it screams for shellfish. 87-89
The 2009 Galer Chardonnay ($21) has a completely different profile, due to 21 months of oak aging. As a result, it is richer and more unctuous, and though there was a noticeable presence of warm spice, it was in no way overpowering. Balanced and tasty. 88-90
While we tasted, vivacious tasting room manager MaryBeth began to fill us in on a bit of the story behind the winery.
Brad Galer, the owner, made his fortune in medicine, and remains a leading expert in pain management. He has traveled extensively throughout the world and become quite the wine aficionado, which led to the perhaps hubris-laden decision to purchase some land near his family home and build the best winery in Pennsylvania. (Clearly, he had never heard the wine industry refrain: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a large fortune.”)
As if on cue, we were promptly joined by Brad, who proceeded to take us on a tour of the facility. Before we headed off, MaryBeth was sure to give us a healthy splash of the next wine, the 2009 Galer Rosé ($10, and 2 for $15), a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and one of two saignées (wine that was bled off of red wine to further concentrate the remaining red wine juice’s contact with the skins). At $7.50, and with great fruit and acidity, this wine is a steal. 86-88
Brad led us through the fermentation room, out to the sorting table – one of the only wineries in PA with a hand sorting table – and down to the barrel room and bottling line. The winery is beautifully decorated, and Brad was a gracious host, welcoming all of our questions.
Upon our return to the tasting room, MaryBeth was waiting with the 2010 Galer Rosé ($15), another saignée made from 100% Cabernet Franc. This was both fruitier and tarter than the 2009, with nice heft; a “big boy” rosé that screams out for both food and respect. This was the first Cab Franc we tried, but it hinted at what was to come. 87-89
After marveling over the rosé, we moved on to the reds. 2010 Galer Huntress Red ($25), a blend of 86% Merlot and 14% Petit Verdot, was much fruitier (without being “jammy”) than most Merlots, and thus difficult to classify since it was a bit of a departure from the food friendly wines we’d tried previously. 85-87
While trying the 2010 Galer Cabernet Franc ($35), we met Catrina North, Galer’s winemaker. Her impressive résumé includes stops in Washington, Australia, and most recently Wente Vineyards in California. My assumption that she must have been a native West Coaster, however, was quickly shattered by her quick wit and restrained sarcasm (it turns out she went to Gettysburg College in PA).
As for the Cab Franc, it is impressive. Not only is it the best PA wine I’ve had, it rivals every non-French Franc I’ve ever swallowed. (I was about to say it challenged the best Chinons, but let’s not get that crazy. Yet.) Though I did marvel at the wine’s quality, I paused at the price. $35? Was it worth it? I think so, but it is still difficult to plop down $35 for a PA wine when a Couly-Dutheuil Clos de l’Echo can be had for less…91-93
When tasting the 2010 Galer Red Reserve (approx $40), a blend of 86% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot, it was immediately evident that this should have preceded the Cab Franc, since it is not nearly as rich. While still a solid wine, here the price is a larger obstacle. 87-89
As we loaded up our bikes and drove away, I pondered a few things. First, Cabernet Franc should be the signature grape of PA. If we want to be taken seriously as a wine region, every last vine of Chambourcin (the previous “king” of PA) should be ripped out and burned. Replace it all with Cab Franc. Second, if more wineries in PA can consistently make wines of this quality, this region can easily challenge for dominance on the East Coast (yes, even including the Finger Lakes).
700 Folly Hill Rd
Kennett Square, PA 19348