For our latest Q&A, we caught up with Carley Razzi, president of Penns Woods Winery. Founded in 2001 by Carley’s father Gino, Penns Woods has established itself as one of the commonwealth’s leading wineries through both an innovative approach to events and a focus on crafting high quality dry wines made from local fruit. Carley is also the treasurer for The Wine Marketing and Research Board of Pennsylvania and sits on the Winery Committee for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Carley from Penn's Woods Winery

Q: What is one thing that you are excited about right now at your winery?
A: We are super excited to be working on a few new wine releases! Over the past several years, our winemaker Davide has been planting and producing Pinot Noir, which now grows in two of our three vineyard sites. Woodward Farm, our newest vineyard site in Coatesville, is proving to be a wonderful Pinot Noir site. This year we are releasing a Pinot Rose AND a Ruby Brut (red sparkling blend)! Pinot can be so versatile and (lucky for me) is one of my favorite varieties. We have a few more projects in the works that are bigger picture but can’t release the information QUITE yet!

Q: Name a PA wine, made by a different winery, that you think more people should know about
A: Armstrong Valley Vineyard Chambourcin 2021 – wow! This is an excellent example of a well balanced and yummy Chambourcin. It has bright acidity, light tannins, and beautiful notes of cranberry and dried leaves. While Chambourcin is an easier variety to grow (due to its thick skin and cold weather tolerance), it is one that must be handled with care in the winery or the results can be minimal fruit and too foxy (that earthy funk).

Q: What’s a lesser-known grape that you think works or could work in PA and hope more people will plant?
A: I would like to see more Viognier around here. It’s so aromatic and flavorful with a pleasant, glossy texture. Our oldest Viognier vines at our Chadds Ford site are over 40 years old; we added to that in 2010 and also planted a few acres at our Sandy Hill Vineyard in 2021. The tricky part with Viognier is that it is early budding, so steady spring weather is key to avoid bud loss. Viognier is typically high in sugar and low in acidity, which means producers generally need to take extra care maintaining freshness and controlling alcohol levels.

But we’ve actually found that due to our cooler climate — the Philly area averages a few degrees cooler than the Rhone — our Viognier produces all of those juicy fruit flavors we love about the grape while maintaining a present and refreshing acidity. Virginia turns a lot of heads with their Viognier with it being their state grape and all, but I think there is a ton of potential for this grape up here as well.

Q: What’s an important issue facing the PA wine industry?
A: There are an overwhelming amount of out of state and out of country wineries obtaining Limited Winery Licenses, which diverts from the traditional channels of importer/distributor and setting up tasting rooms in PA. Growers in other states and countries can harvest and produce wines at a fraction of the cost that it takes to produce locally, which allows these ‘Limited Wineries’ to sell directly to consumers at a price the local producers cannot compete with. It is a loophole within legislation that is causing confusion to people, because historically, a Limited Winery License was given to local producers to help them reach customers in a more grassroots way; it was originally intended to help small business. Now, small vineyards and wineries are beginning to rip out their vines to grow more profitable crops or avoid agriculture altogether, and buying cheap grapes and juice from outside of the state. Buying out of state fruit diminishes the entire point of wine being a reflection of land and place! I know I sound like I’m ranting at this point, but this issue is deeply personal to me as someone operating a small business that works day in and day out to cultivate 40+ acres and produce wines that reflect the unique voice of our beautiful land.

Q: What’s one misconception about PA wines that you’d love to address?
A: There is a general misconception that locally produced wines are low quality and sweet. This is not the case. Over the past decade there have been significant efforts put in place to improve the quality of Pennsylvania wine, but what has to run parallel is education. And I mean overall education, from producers to writers and members of the trade as well as the public. Producers getting their start must take care to learn all they can about proper viticulture and winemaking techniques, while experienced producers cannot be complacent and must adapt and shift to climate changes and technological advances.

Wine professionals need to be educated on Pennsylvania terroir and expand their palates to understand the flavor profiles being developed here and stop expecting Pennsylvania grapes to express themselves like other regions and climates. Every wine producing region has its own hallmarks to be studied and celebrated and not necessarily compared.

Altering public perception is often a challenge, as even one bad experience with Pennsylvania wine seems to shut folks down. I see much more open mindedness with breweries and distilleries, whereas if one Pennsylvania winery is producing overly sweet or uninteresting wines, people can assume this means Pennsylvania can’t produce quality wines or that our climate is incapable of it.

Changing long held beliefs is a challenge. But we’re up to it — even if it takes one wine tasting at a time.