A Pennsylvania winemaker approaches 2022 with the usual goal: staying true to its roots
Among the more interesting Pennsylvania wineries to visit for those who prefer their premium dry wine is Va La Vineyards in Avondale, Chester County.
It remains one of the most nationally well-known of the state’s roughly 400 wineries, located in mushroom country along Highway 41, a few miles north of the Delaware line. Va La was the only Pennsylvania winery to make it to all four lists of America’s 101 Best Wineries published by Daily Meal a few years ago. It also prides itself on keeping it old school, with no food trucks or music except for the occasional visit from the Glenn E. Williams Jazz Trio.
Va La is open from Friday to Sunday afternoon. For those who have never visited, there is a downstairs bar, a second tasting area up a flight of stairs, and a back porch with lots of lawn that faces the 8-acre vineyard.
Owner Anthony Vietri said, like everyone else, that he and his wife Karen had made changes to meet guidelines sent out during the COVID crisis and to adjust to the overall economic impact of the past two years. “We consider ourselves blessed to still be standing here, to be able to do the thing that we love. Our intention is to pretty much stay the course with these changes,” he said. “We are very small and our intention is to stay that way. Don’t really think about going back to the way it was because it seems a bit risky to think that way!”
Places are by reservation; walk-in visitors are welcome as staff and space are available. Wine is available by the glass at $11, by the tasting flight at $20, and by the bottle. Parking is available along the driveway that circles the tasting room.
As for the wines, the menu throughout the year remains essentially the same. Vietri, the winemaker, on his website describes Va La as “a family farm that produces dry table wines in small batches. Our wines are made from the grape varieties from northern Italy and France that we grow here. They’re made in an Old World style “to deliver earthiness, good acidity, and savory flavors,” the website adds.
Regulars certainly have their favorites, from “wine orange,” a next-to-skin white blend called La Prima Donna, to a rosato called Silk, to its famous red tones: cedar and mahogany. Over the years he has occasionally produced other pitch mixes whose names appear on the blackboard behind the bar and are quickly erased once they run out. Currently on sale are a 2017 Barbera and a 2016 vintage of a red blend called Castana (Petit Verdot, Carmine, Barbera, Lagrein, Sagrantino, Teroldego).
(Editor’s note: Here’s an aerial view of the winery and the community surrounding it, courtesy of Chester County’s CloudHawk Aerial Media.)
Vietri said this year that he “hopefully plans to bottle new silk in the spring with new cedar and mahogany.”
This time of year in May, you will see Vietri planting new varieties and clones amidst the other work he is doing in the vineyard. “That never changes,” he said. “The vineyard is looking great so far, but of course, as you well know, it’s a marathon and the race has just begun.”
He was one of several Pennsylvania and New Jersey winemakers featured in a recent Wine Enthusiast story about how they are trying to cope with the effects of the spotted lanternfly. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture noted last week that its lantern fly quarantine had been expanded to 45 counties. “As far as eradication goes, well, we think you can’t really,” Vietri told writer Shelby Vittek. “We are dedicated to biological controls, and none of these are working so far that we can see.”
Vietri said in the story that he scavenged praying mantis nests from the vines each winter during pruning, then later reintroduced them to the vines for insect control. Unfortunately, they made no “noticeable dent in the huge populations,” he said.
Yet, from a biological point of view, it is an interesting addition to the list of methods that players in the regional wine industry are employing in their attempts to reduce this pest invasion from Asia which is now at its his ninth year. “I like to use praying mantis as a biocontrol in the vineyard,” Vietri told PennLive. “It’s like having herds of tiny Tyrannosaurus Rexes hunting among your vines.”
The purchase of the farm that Vietri sources dates back almost 100 years, according to a history section of the website. Matteo and Carolina Carozzo left Italy to work in a gunpowder factory in Delaware, then bought the little one. Closed in 1928. According to the website: “The small field occupies a mound between a concrete plant and two manure composting plants. The floor is littered with old horseshoes, musket balls and veins from the black fungus floors that are infamous in the area. The first vines of the house vineyard were planted here in 1999.”
The cellar will open a few years later. When asked if he was still having fun, Vietri simply replied, “How can you not love doing what you love?”
Amidst the many changes since Va La Vineyards opened, there has been increased interest in regional wines and wineries, both in Pennsylvania and in the region at large. Although not as concentrated as the wine press on the West Coast, the number of writers and websites covering the industry continues to grow. Among the best known on the East Coast are Lenn Thompson’s Cork Report (which is undergoing an online revamp) and Frank Morgan’s Drink What You Like blog as well as the national work of writers Eric Asimov (New York Times), Dave McIntyre (Washington Post) and Lettie Teague (Wall Street Journal) continue to appear.
“I agree that even I can sense an increase in respect for Mid-Atlantic and East Coast wines, especially among young writers in the scene who are engaged and interested in writing about these wines.” Vietri said. “It’s exciting to see, but I have to say I’m not surprised. Becoming an established and respected region takes time, usually a generation, and the industry is moving in that direction. For various reasons, I am optimistic in this regard for the future.
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