Vineyards in the region occupied by the harvest, festival season |


Pennsylvania produces two million gallons of wine, the fifth largest in the United States, from 300 wineries with an economic impact of $ 1.4 million each year, according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association (PWA).

The wineries in the area are as busy as they are year-round, and the wineries are wrapping up Pennsylvania Wine Month.

“It’s incredibly busy from early September through October,” said Tom Stutzman, owner and founder of Red Shale Vineyards in Hegins, which operates a satellite store in Danville.

Picking the grapes and crushing them, and participating in the many wine festivals have kept him and his wife, Denine, and their workers extremely busy.

“We just picked the last of the reds,” Stutzman last week.

Take care of the vines

Shade Mountain is a larger operation, with 70 acres planted with vines. Karl Zimmerman, the founder, was initially a traditional farmer, but he was always ready to explore new options. When he read an article in the “Lancaster Farmer” encouraging farmers to try planting grapes on sloping land that is not good for other crops, it got him thinking, according to his daughter, Jenny Nicola .

At first Karl grew grapes for others, but then he and his wife, Carolyn, decided to start the wine business 21 years ago. Now their four adult children, their spouses and even their grandchildren are part of the exploitation. Jenny is a manager, and she and her sister Amy are in charge of the stores and marketing. His two brothers, Bill and Ben, run the “vines and vats,” and Karl and Bill, father and son, are the main winemakers.

Shade Mountain uses all of its own grapes to produce over 50 varieties of white, red, blend, sparkling and specialty wines, ranging from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, said Nicola. They sell their surplus grapes to other Pennsylvania winemakers.

Shade Mountain has won numerous awards in PWA competitions. Among the winners are their Cabernet Franc and Lemberger, both dry reds; their “005”, a blend of five dry red wines; Shade Mountain Red, a semi-sweet; Jack’s Mountain Red, a sweet wine; and their Chardonnay, a dry white wine.

Jenny Nicola said she shared her father’s firm belief that “quality wine comes from the quality of the grapes in the vineyard”.

The Zimmermans cultivate over 35 varieties. Some are local grapes, like Concord Niagara, but many are more difficult to grow European grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet.

“Cabernet Franc is one of our main grape varieties,” said Nicola, and these are being harvested.

White grapes are ready to be picked as early as late August, but reds, and especially Cabernets, could stay on the vine until early November, she said.

“We measure the sugar content with a spectrometer to decide when to harvest,” Nicola said.

Many of their wines use Cabernet, alone in their dry Cabernet Franc, but also in blends like “005”, in blush wines, and in their popular Grinch Grog, a Christmas wine that can be served hot or chilled.

Multi-step process

Growing grapes is a multistep process, Nicola said, and much of it has to be done by hand. The vines grow for 3 to 4 years before producing grapes, and during this time they should be pruned into just two main stems in early winter, then trained as they begin to grow in the spring, then pruned again to late spring and summer to promote air circulation and allow the sun to ripen. Wine growers need to know what they’re doing and spend hours in the field, “it’s a labor of love,” she says.

Nicola learned vine growing and wine making from his parents, from reading and from other winemakers.

“There is a lot of trial and error involved,” she said. “You have to learn what works for you and what customers want. “

The choice of which grapes to grow has a lot to do with the climate. Nicola and Stutzman both mentioned that Pennsylvania is very similar to Germany in terms of latitude and climate. According to Nicola, this part of Pennsylvania is more suitable for growing red grapes than the Finger Lakes, where it’s colder and frost comes too early.

According to the Wine Association, Pennsylvania is close to Europe in terms of climate, with hot summers and cold winters, which benefits grape growth better than places like California or Florida.

Stutzman said growing Concord and Niagara grapes is easy here, but European varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot, and Zinfandel are more difficult. Pennsylvania also has a lot of humidity, which makes Pinot Noir grapes difficult to grow. Stutzman said he was grateful that Cornell had developed many “nice grape varieties” suitable for Finger Lakes. These varieties grow well here too, he said.

Rain, birds can cause trouble

Weather can cause problems at harvest time. Rain can split and rot grapes. It also makes their picking more difficult, as machines cannot get into muddy rows. Shade Mountain harvests about half of its grapes by hand and the other half by machine.

Another challenge, said Nicola, is the birds, which love to feast on grapes. Gewurztraminer grapes are especially popular, so they should be covered with a net. Shade Mountain also uses recordings of predatory birds in the fields to ward off starlings.

Both wineries also produce sweet fruit wines. Especially popular is the elderberry wine from Red Shale. Elderberry has medium sweetness, Stutzman said, unlike most other fruit wines, like strawberry and peach, which are “quite sweet.” Mulberry and black raspberry are other less sweet fruit wines.

Stutzman made his first wine at the age of 18, and in the mid-1980s he took a trip to the Erie region to buy grape juice for making wine. In 1997 he started his first vines on a plot of land that had red shale in the ground, hence the name Red Shale Ridge Winery. He crushes and presses part of his grapes on the day of picking, but the reds need to be fermented on skins in stainless steel containers to age. “I don’t bottle them for four years,” he said. “Some people prefer a woody flavor, so I sometimes add toasted oak chips to the mix.”

Both wineries offer tastings at their Danville / Riverside locations. Shade Mountain is open seven days a week at 53 D&H Avenue in Riverside, and visitors can sit on an outdoor patio along the tracks or upstairs in the loft. Red Shale Ridge is open at 450 Mill St. Wednesday through Friday, 12-6, and Saturday, 12-5.

Stutzman himself often runs his shop in Danville, offering free tastings of up to five wines per person.

Shade Mountain and Red Shale are official stops on the Columbia-Montour Wine and Witches Trail which runs October 23-31. Visitors receive a Halloween stamp and treats at each of the ten wineries they visit and are eligible for prizes. The ten stops stretch from Danville to Benton.


Comments are closed.