pa-wine-landOkay, class, time for a pop quiz on our favorite topic here at PAVC – wine. Can anyone name the state for which all of the following are true?

  • Has a winemaking tradition that began in 1683
  • Is home to over 200 licensed wineries
  • Has 14,000 acres planted with vines
  • Ranks 5th nationally in the volume of grapes grown
  • Ranks 7th nationally in wine produced, in excess of one million gallons a year
  • Has an economic impact of almost $2 billion per annum

Anyone…? Bueller…? If you answered Pennsylvania, step to the front of the tasting room for free samples of Traminette and Chambourcin and an autographed glossy of Punxsutawney Phil.

While those numbers won’t cause anyone to confuse our Commonwealth’s five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) with Napa or the Willamette Valley, they are bullet points for the Pennsylvania Winery Association (PWA) campaign to promote its member wineries and the growth in less than thirty years of the state’s industry from twenty-seven producers to the aforementioned figure. The goal is for the Keystone State to be recognized as a viable East Coast wine destination, a symbiosis of tourism and grapeness competitive with the Finger Lakes, Virginia’s Blue Ridge area, and Long Island.

For the PWA, knowledge begins at home. Awareness and perception from Pennsylvania residents is key, and ground zero for a recently launched initiative. Weekends Are for Wine Land seeks to increase leisure time visits to local wineries, especially for those with little or no experience with in-state winemakers. Their logo sports the words “keep tasting”, the mantra behind the idea that it’s time to put down the gardening tools and golf clubs, drive past the malls and outlets, and start winding down roads that lead to small, family owned and operated facilities.

Running from late April through August, the program focuses on the fact that no matter where one lives, they are less than an hour’s drive from a winery, or close to one of twelve wine trails stretching across six geographically designated wine regions. Local and audience-specific marketing will incorporate radio, online advertising and billboards to spread the word that wineries are accessible, open, and ready to share the juice of their labors. The visual message for the State College area, for example, is “The First Home Game Isn’t Until Sept 6”; for Philadelphia, “Leave the City to the Tourists”. Other markets are Scranton, Lehigh Valley, York-Lancaster, Erie, and Pittsburgh.

The PWA is also working in conjunction with twenty-four wineries spread throughout the six regions that were selected as welcome centers and sources of general information. In addition, a mobile website designed for exploring wineries is available – m.PennsylvaniaWine.com – which works with smartphones, tablets, and desktops and utilizes GPS to assist those on the road with the latest wine-related bulletins and news about local wineries.

What this means for consumers is a chance to compare and contrast Pennsylvania wines made from familiar grapes such as Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Merlot and others with those from more well- known regions. The more adventurous, or curious can also sample hybrids with unusual names – Baco Noir, DeChaunac, Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc – or native varietals like Catawba, Delaware, and Steuben. And if you sip and savor something that hits your palate just right, you won’t have to ask where to find it or look for the nearest PLCB store — more than 80% of Pennsylvania wine is sold directly at the wineries or winery outlets, so you can load up the SUV without the aggravation of dealing with the middleman.

At the Philadelphia kickoff last week organized by Vlahos PR and PWA, I had the chance to drink a wine from a grape I usually resist, Gruner Veltliner. I put aside my skepticism, mainly because I was chatting with the parents of the producer, Chuck Zaleski of Fero Vineyards in Lewisburg. What emerged from the glass was a bone dry, citric blast with the subtle grassiness of a Loire Sauvignon, all in all a well-made wine.

(I guess old dogs can appreciate new tricks.)