Thursday, May 15, 2014

Brandywine Valley Wine Trail: Three Very Different Wineries

Just over an hour north of Baltimore and maybe 45 minutes from Philadelphia lies the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, a string of six wineries along the trail that ranges some 50 miles. The last weekend of April found us veering out of Maryland to check out three of the wineries that were closest to the Mason Dixon Line in Pennyslvania.



We traveled first to Kreutz Creek Vineyards. We were cheerfully greeted by two servers, who helped us settle in. We'd forgotten a knife (we brought our own bread and cheese and crackers), and they offered us one -- the winery encourages folks to bring picnics to enjoy at the winery. The winery is also very dog friendly, in fact, Riley (see the photo to the right) greeted us and demanded a few pets.

Kreutz Creek offers nine samples. A stand out for us was their pinot grigio, their only wine made from grapes not from their vineyard. The pinot grigio offered light citric flavors with peach overtones. Of the dry reds, I enjoyed the winery's Chambourcin, which suggested cherries and blueberries as I tasted it, ending with a typical Chambourcin snappy finish. I still love sweet wines, though -- so the Niagara got my attention. It's a very sweet, almost juice-like wine that I've enjoyed sipping these past few spring evenings. My friend Barb left with a bottle of the pinot grigio.

Jim Kirkpatrick is the winemaker for Kreutz Creek Vineyards. He started making wine from a kit that his wife, Carole, gave him for his birthday in 1989.
"This adventure started when I bought my husband a wine making kit for his birthday. That was in 1989 when we lived in York, PA," Carole said. (Carole truly believes that’s how the “monster” was created.) Since everyone liked the wines from the kits, Jim and Carole thought they would try their hands at growing grapes, bought three acres, and planted about 100 vines. Their home was located 100 yards from Kreutz Creek — hence, the vineyard was named. Soon, Jim's wines began winning in amateur competitions, and they got the itch.

In 1998, they've moved to their current location, but kept the name. The current property is 20 acres, 8 planted in grapes. "Last year we celebrated our 10th anniversary and to celebrate, we opened our doors for tastings," she said.

Kreutz Creek's wine-tasting room is in the basement of Jim and Carole's home. Huge vats line one of the walls of the wine tasting room, adding to the ambiance. Several barrels covered in signatures are in the room -- a souvenir of the barrel-tasting event the winery participates in every March. "We love to see happy people. We love to see people enjoy life and that's what they can do here," Carole said. "I think it's our love of life and people that puts us on the map."

Our next stop was Paradocx Vineyard. Hmmm, is the name a pun? Why yes, yes it is. Paradocx Vineyard is owned and operated by the Hoffman and Harris families, and they point out on the website that the name of the winery is a play on words, as the four owners are practicing physicians, i.e., two pairs of docs.

Paradocx is very different from Kreutz Creek. It is larger, more commercial, more polished without being too slick, yet still very pleasant and inviting. The wine tasting room is spacious and airy; there are a number of tables set up on a pleasant patio. It is a place to hang out.

The winery is playful and fun. If you locate the cork in the hanging (see the photo to the right) that ISN'T from Paradocx, you receive a free glass. The samples are served on "flights," four samples served on a tray. It's less personable than some of the other wineries I've been to, in that the explanations for the samples are delivered via printed explanations, but you can choose from several flights, some offering drier wines, some sweeter. The samples are generous. As you work through the samples, you can chat with your companions, but the pacing was off for me; I really enjoy interacting with the servers. When my friend and I were finished, though, we got to chatting with them, and then out came another three samples.

The wines were pleasant and enjoyable. I enjoyed the Pail Pink (a rose blush with a soft floral aroma and hints of red berries created from a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay), but I also was entranced by the unusual T Wine, a sweet white wine blend with subtle natural tea flavors that would make a perfect summer drink.

Oh, by the way -- the wine samples, some of them, were poured from paint cans.

You read that correctly. That's what makes this winery so much fun. Yeah, I get that the paint can is a play on the usually disdained box wine, but still. And yes, I did purchase a paint can of wine, and I brought it home and left it on the counter, with the paint stick souvenir. My husband glanced at it without actually looking at it, and wondered whether I was ready to start painting the bathroom (ummmm..... no!). A small joke, we both laughed.

In fact, several of their wines play on the paint can theme, and are named appropriately, such as Whitewash, a medium-bodied wine with flavors of stone fruits and citrus with hints of spices from a blend of white grape varieties; Barn Red, a medium-bodied wine with aromas of red berries and plums with pleasant notes of oak, from a blend of red grapes; and Pail Pink.

Both wineries recommended we head over to West Grove for lunch -- and both recommended what turned out to be a delightful little cafe, Twelves Grill and Cafe. Twelves' menu offers a diverse selection of unique American cuisine featuring fresh and local ingredients. The BYOB restaurant serves lunch and dinner -- perhaps why the restaurant is well favored by the wineries, who were quite eager to send us over with a bottle of their wine.

Twelves' lunch entrees are quite reasonably priced, ranging between $9 for Granny Smith's Chicken Salad Wrap (grilled chicken, red grapes, mandarin oranges, walnuts, granny smith apples) accompanied by house cut kettle chips, for example, to $15 for a more hearty Steak and Fries (Black Angus beef loin) accompanied by house cut bistro fries and black pepper jus. I enjoyed the Granny Smith's Chicken Wrap, which arrived artfully arranged on the plate and was perfectly complimented by the obviously homemade potato chips. Barb enjoyed the Blackened Tilapia Wrap ($12), which offered avocado, tomato, mixed greens, and black pepper aioli, and also was accompanied by the kettle chips.

If you go to Twelves, be sure to peek into the old bank vault. In fact, it's worth noting that the cafe is located in the old Sovereign Bank building. It was originally built in 1883 by local businessmen Joseph Pyle and Samuel Kent to house the National Bank of West Grove. The bank and local post office shared the first floor with other original occupants Tyson Photographic Studio and Temperance Lodge on the third floor, and West Grove Library on the second. The owners'  personal story, which is a confluence of 12s, has given the restaurant its unique name. They went on their first date on November 12, Tim's birthday is January 12, and Kristin's is February 12; Their wedding anniversary is, of course, November 12. It seemed only fitting to name the restaurant after something that has meant so much to them – hence, Twelves.


After lunch we headed over to Borderland Vineyard, a relatively new winery. This winery is very casual. Its wines favor those who prefer dry wines. Interestingly, the sampling offered two different vintages of their Merlot, and it was fun to experience the difference a year makes. Both Barb and I preferred the 2011 Merlot (I believe Barb even went home with a bottle of it). The tasting took place beneath a tent, on the lawn of an old farmhouse that the family is currently planning on restoring and making into a wine-tasting room. We learned later that the farmhouse was the home the owners grew up in.

After the tasting, Karen Kalb Anderson, one of the owners, offered us a tour around the winery. We started first at the ruins of the old barn, which stone foundations support a newer shelter for sheep. Karen explained that they are getting babydoll sheep to "mow" the winery and keep the weeds at bay, due to arrive the week after we were there, a shame we missed them. While we were standing on the old barn ramp (now separated from the barn by an alarming gap), Karen described her vision of the winery, with a replica of the old barn rebuilt for a wine-making facility and wine-tasting room, with a deck overlooking the gentle slope to the woods in the distance.

Most wineries are on lovely rolling farms -- the nature of viticulture lends itself to picturesque landscapes. But Borderland Vineyard was on the prettiest acreage I think I've ever seen. We met Karen's mother, who, with her husband, purchased the farm almost 70 years ago, in 1946. Now 92 years old, Janet Kalb described her reaction when she first saw the farm, noting that the moment she saw it, she decided she wanted to live there the rest of her life.

Karen talked about how the vineyard started, and mistakes they made along the way (planting some vines too low along the hills and hollows) and how one year they lost most of their new plantings. Starting a vineyard is not for the faint of heart.

I love learning about how wineries got their names -- there's often a quirky story behind it, usually reflecting the owners' personalities, and Borderland is no different.

Karen's brother Kurt suggested the name Borderland because of the farm's proximity (about a mile and a half) to Pennsylvania's borders with Delaware and Maryland. "What convinced me that it was an appropriate name, though, was his telling me that the examples in the dictionary were 'the borderland between sanity and insanity' and 'the borderland between fantasy and reality'," she said. "We both knew that starting up this enterprise at our ages and with our resources put us somewhere in all those borderlands."

The winery draws its inspiration from Kurt, who has been a student of wine for quite some time and can appreciate the nuances of grape variety, even vine clone, style, terroir, -- all the elements that contribute to the great aroma and taste as well as the complexity and subtlety of quality wines, Karen pointed out.

Photo courtesy
Borderlands Vineyard
Karen and her brothers are trying to save the family land by starting the winery, hoping to create a lasting productive business that will ensure that the farm will continue in the family for future generations. They turned to wine-making in part because of Kurt's interest in wines. She admitted that her palate isn't as fine-tuned as her brother's. "Like many people, I explain my wine preferences by saying that the wines I like smell and taste terrific, and in the end that's all that matters," she said, noting with what I'm learning is her typical sense of humor that "the other good news is that the best way to tune your palate is to drink more wine!"

The day we were there, they were busy planting new vines that won't produce wine-making grapes for three years. Visiting Borderland, I learned that wineries demand a vision, and it seems that the Kalb siblings have a pretty clear vision for their farm and winery. Perhaps by the time those new vines produce wine, the wine-tasting barn will be built. In any case, I'll certainly be back to visit to watch this winery's vision evolve.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!



Hours: Kreutz Creek Vineyards Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Paradocx Vineyard    ; Twelves Grill and Cafe Tuesday - Saturday, lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9 p.m.; Borderland Vineyard definitely call ahead, the farther in advance the better. When the winery puts up its "feather flag" at the end of the lane, they will serve all comers.

Dogs: Friendly well socialized dogs are welcomed at Kreutz Creek Vineyards. However, unless you're going to a winery and just hanging out there all day, dogs are probably better left at home.

Getting there: 
Kreutz Creek Vineyards, 553 S. Guernsey Road, West Grove, PA 19390;
Paradocx Vineyard, 1833 Flint Hill Road, Landenberg, PA 19350;
Twelves Grill and Cafe, 10 Exchange Place, West Grove, PA 19390;
Borderland Vineyard, 332 Indiantown Road, Landenberg, PA 19350.

Websites: Kreutz Creek Vineyards www.kreutzcreekvineyards.com; Paradocx Vineyard www.paradocx.com; Twelves Grill and Cafe www.twelvesgrill.com; Borderland Vineyard www.borderlandvineyard.com.


Photo courtesy Borderlands Vineyard
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