Sunday, March 29, 2009

Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail 2009

Altoona, Pa - I met up with my parents and good friends Ken, Cheryl, Carl, and Michelle hopped aboard the bus for a tour of the six wineries in the Susquehanna Heartland.
The wineries are all spread out, so we only made it to four.

The Juniata and Susquehanna River Valleys are beautiful even though spring has not arrived yet. Note - The Susquehanna River which actually starts in upstate NY is one of the largest fresh water sources of the Chesapeake Bay. OK enough water trivia…

1st stop was Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery – close to State College home to Joe Pa and Penn State. Starting with the Reserve Chardonnay - $18.99 very clear and has seen very little oak – which is the trend lately to show case more fruit flavors. On to the Reds…Montage $15.99 their version of a Meritage blend. Cabernet Franc $13.99 my fave for this winery and a new grape which I unfamiliar – Chambourcin $11.99. Had the aroma of a Pinot Noir. That’s it for their dry winers – the local favorite is one called Tailgate Red which comes in 1.5 Liter bottled perfect for tailgating at Penn State.
My purchase here was a sweet/sour mustard.

For a point of reference I brought a long a bottle of NY wine –Bedell Taste blend and a & Washington Wine – Northstar Merlot. BTW – no comparison to PA.
According to the arrow Ken seems to think there's a bigger attraction than the wine...

15 minutes later we made it to our 2nd stop Brookmere Winery located in a stone & wood bank barn in the beautiful Kishacoquilla’s “Seven Mountains” Valley.
Start with a Niagara Spumante that’s very tasty, then on to the a nice collection of reds.
Here’s the Chambourcin again $11.00 – dead ringer for Pinot. Autumn Red $10.00 thin, but pleasant. Cabernet Franc $13.50, then 1st red to catch my attention – Carmine full flavor with a nice pepper finish. Than another surprise Alexander Red – blend of their Chambourcin & Cab Franc – very nice at $15.50. The Cabernet Sauvignon was just OK and they had a crazy red called Red Foxx that is sweet & spicy at same time – think hot & sour soup – it was interesting. But the big winner with our group where the fruit wines like “Tears of the Goose”, “Frog Hollow” and their #1 wine is called “Berries Gone Wild” Ken and I realized we’re not in Napa and start to embrace these fruit bomps.

Ken and my Dad get into the spirit at Shade Mt. while Brian & Cheryl pose out front.

It’s a longer trip on Rt. 522 to Shade Mountain Winery in Middleberg, PA and somehow a bigger bus has beat us to this winery. Shade Mountain has a nice beautiful deck overlooking 60 acres of vineyards and there are 43 wines to sample – YES 43 at one winery.
Starting with the Reds; Merlot-Dry $10.99 ok but a little chalky finish, Pinot Noir $10.99 not bad but is lacking structure. Sangiovese $9.95 was very pleasant as was the Cab Franc and Cab Sauv both $11.99. Unlike the other wineries no limit on how many you wanted to try here…so Porque No! (so why not?)
Bad Moose Mead – sweet honey wine – that oddly enough was very tasty. Six Dwarf’s Mint Wine – where are my Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies to complement this wine…and by the way – only 6 dwarfs, because one took off with Snow White.
They have a whole bunch of Fruit Wines: Plum, Cranberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Blueberry and Smokehouse Apple – very nice.

After 3 wineries somehow I'm the only one who can still read a map...and our driver isn't drinking? The bus driver get us to our 4th winery on the other side of the Susquehanna River - Spyglass Ridge Winery near Sunbury.
There is a live band and damn that huge bus beat us here too, but there are over 20 wines to sample and there is a good food spread.
2005 Chardonnay – pleasant – aged in PA American Oak for 18 months. 2004 Chambourcin – 28 months in oak and is more hearty than the other Chambourcin wines of the day. 2005 Cab Franc Reserve – where they mix in 5% of Chambersin and this wine is almost sold out.
The most requested wine here is one called “Tam’s Red” deep and rich in color with cherry notes – perfect with dark chocolate and only $10.00
Some of the fruit wines were “Tommy Appleseed” which tasted like biting into an apple and “Sour Cherry” a wine they describe like tasting like summer and I agree this would be refreshing on a hot August day.

We ran out of time to visit the other two on the trail.

Just south of Spyglass is Benigna’s Creek Winery in Klingerstown.

And farther downriver is Hunters Valley Winery that has been in operation for over 20 years and has just moved into a new building that has breathtaking views of the Susquehanna River. Sit on the porch and watch the Millersburg Ferry cross the river in the summer…good plan.

Ok so it wasn’t Napa, Sonoma, Woodinville or Santa Ynez valley, but with good friends and my parents it was time well spent.
Little did I know there were wineries so close to our family cottage and I’ve been wasting all my time fishing…


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