Wanting to take advantage of the fall weather, we recently spent a day in and around Lititz, PA.
We began with a late-morning walk through Speedwell Forge County Park. The woodland trail goes along (and then over) a creek as well as alongside fields. Though it did include a few inclines, it was an easy hike and a picturesque start to our outing.
Next, we headed into the center of Lititz for lunch and shopping. Downtown Lititz is one of the prettiest town centers around, and the Bull’s Head Public House occupies a prized place at the head of its main street. The beer list is superb, and the pub-style food is far more refined than you might suppose. After some antique shopping – not to mention a fresh soft pretzel from Sturgis – we were ready to continue on. The only thing missing was a stop at Rooster Street Provisions. We’ll save that for next time.
Our final stop was Waltz Vineyards. Planted on family farmland in the rolling hills west of Lititz, Waltz Vineyards produces a range of quality wines that rank among the best of what’s produced in Pennsylvania. All of the wines are estate grown and bottled, and Waltz offers a local cheese plate to serve alongside their wines. We were particularly impressed by the Old Line Chardonnay. It nearly equals the quality of Unionville Vineyard’s Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, but at almost half the price. After our tasting and cheese plate, we enjoyed the late-afternoon sun on some Adirondack chairs overlooking the countryside. It was difficult not to order more wine and while away the rest of the day in those chairs, but it was only a day trip after all.
Between the melting mounds of old, dirty snow and the perpetual construction in the neighborhood, we had a strong urge to get out of the city yesterday. So, we made a return trip to of our favorite local wineries: Pinnacle Ridge and Galen Glen, both in the Lehigh Valley. As Craig Laban noted in his 2014 article, Lehigh Valley white wines are remarkable, but Pinot Noir is also served well by the cooler climate. On this trip, however, we weren’t so much sampling recent vintages as a stocking our wine cellar. (Please note that by “wine cellar,” I simply mean a cleared out space space on the floor and shelves of our basement pantry, which remains a fairly steady temperature year-round.) Tasting the wines with that specific intent altered the experience. Rather than deciding which wines I liked best, I was deciding which wines I liked that were also most versatile.
From Pinnacle Ridge, we brought back the Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. The Cabernet Franc has a nice, light mouthfeel and herbal, peppery taste that is slightly tannic. While the tannins could soften over time, I don’t think it will be hanging around that long. Unusual for us, we also picked up two bottles of the Chardonnay – the oaked one, mind you, and not the one fermented in stainless steel tanks. Over the winter, I found myself wanting a glass of oaked Chardonnay along with roasted whitefish or chicken. It may be the presence of butter in those dishes, or my own association of butter and oaked Chardonnay, but eating them without the wine was feeling incomplete.
From Galen Glen, we brought home a full case, eight bottles of which are the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. I’ve written about this wine on several occasions before, so there isn’t much new that I can say about it. It’s delicious, fragrant, and beautifully balanced, and I can’t imagine it not improving any food it’s paired with. It’s also complex enough that I can imagine drinking eight bottles without tiring of it. We also brought home two bottles of the Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer and two of the Stone Cellar Riesling. The Gewurztraminer has a heavily floral nose and tastes of tropical fruit. I imagine pairing it with curries or spicy food quite easily. The Riesling is bracingly acidic, and it somehow manages to evoke most of the citrus fruits in a single glass. If I could ever convince the relatives to come here for Thanksgiving, this would be the wine I would serve, but this wine is so refreshing, it will work with just about anything.
Despite the ever expanding selection offered with Winter Harvest, it’s hard not to miss Headhouse Farmers’ Market once it wraps up for the season. Seems like as good an excuse as any to visit one of the many nearby farm stores. We went to two of our favorites on Monday: Griggstown Market and Cherry Grove Farm Store, both a few minutes away from one another in the Princeton area.
Cherry Grove Farm creates an amazing array of cheeses, the making of which you can often view right through the window at the Farm Store as you buy. We took home a Full Nettle Jack – worth it for the name alone, but also herby and creamy. The Farm Store also carries Cherry Grove’s own pasture raised meats and eggs, and dozens of products from local and regional farms and producers. The beeswax candle scented with lavender essential oil would have made a wonderful gift, but we were content to keep it for ourselves.
If you haven’t had a Griggstown pot pie, you’ve got a long, cold winter to correct that. My very favorite is chicken, but they do beef, turkey, vegetarian and Shepherd’s pies, along with whole and ground chicken and poussin, and a variety of meatballs and sausages. There’s even a prepared food counter, soups and chili, local milk and eggs, fruit pies and seasonal produce.
Both stores are open seven days and easily provide one stop dinner shopping.
Several weeks ago we had the opportunity of visiting four very different wineries within the span of a week. It was highly effective (not to mention enjoyable) in learning how different wine can taste – and by that I mean how different wines made from the same grape can vary year by year, vineyard by vineyard within the same area, and microclimate by microclimate.
I was particularly impressed with what we found during our day trip to the Lehigh Valley, following a route similar to Craig Laban’s. Our first stop was Pinnacle Ridge, where we focused on tasting their dry red wines. This was the first (and likely only) time I actually enjoyed a chambourcin, but more importantly I understood clearly something that Luca Turdo explained to me this summer: cabernet franc does best in colder climates. The cabernet francs I had tasted from warmer microclimates were thinner, less interesting stuff than what Pinnacle Ridge is making here. In fact, it was quite nearly the quality of Roanoke’s cabernet franc from North Fork, Long Island.
After a quick and delicious lunch from Wanamaker’s General Store, we wound our way up (quite literally) to Galen Glen winery.
This was not my first tasting of Galen Glen, but this was my first visit to the winery. It may be the most picturesque tasting room I have seen on the East Coast. Even more impressive were the wines. The Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer had an incredibly floral bouquet and palate of tropical fruit. The dry Stone Cellar Riesling was bracingly so, with a taste of citrus. However, my absolute favorite was, and is, the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. Delicious, complex, and refreshing, I have a difficulty imagining that I would ever tire of this wine. I am still kicking myself for only buying two bottles. Thankfully, they do ship within Pennsylvania.
After our week of wine tastings, and an additional one since, I have a newfound appreciation for the number of truly unique, excellent wineries within an easy drive of the city. We have had consistently and reliably good wineries for some time, but we have not gone even further with some truly exceptional ones as well.
I’d first read about Unionville in reading about the Judgement of Princeton and, of course, through Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blog. This reading prepared me for the quality of wine. What it did not prepare me for was the gorgeous countryside adjacent to the Sourland Mountain Preserve. This is some of the most idyllic wine country we have seen in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
Unionville is actually four separate farms making wine under one moniker and winemaker, Cameron Stark. As a result, the wines vary greatly in style, from dry whites to ports. Each tasting constitutes eight wines, so we were able to sample a large portion of that variety. The tasting room is a gorgeous, bi-level, repurposed barn, and our server was knowledgeable and amiable. It is so nice, and more rare than it should be, to have a conversation about the wines we were tasting. We came away understanding the particularities of Unionville wines as well as a better understanding of winemaking in general.
To celebrate the end of Daylight Savings Time, we took a beautiful drive last Sunday morning to Wyebrook Farm, a little more than an hour from Philly in Honey Brook.
Wyebrook raises cattle, pigs and chickens, all to meticulous sustainable standards. Their meats, milk and eggs, some vegetables and a large selection of local cheeses and other products can be purchased at their market, while the cafe and restaurant serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
The brunch omelet, with fresh made sausage from the farm, was delicious, as was the “bread basket” full of beautiful little pastries and quick breads.
We took home fresh ground beef and chicken along with various other local items from the market. Definitely better than an extra hour of sleep.
It is difficult to imagine an event that more perfectly blended three of my favorite aspects of the Jersey Shore: wine, seafood, and the ocean. For two-and-a-half hours, a small group of us were taken on a cruise of the tall ship the A.J. Meerwald out of Cape May. As we sat enjoying the brilliant, sunset-lit skies and views, Chef Lucas Manteca (of Cape May Point’s Red Store) prepared food and the staff of Hawk Haven Winery poured us wine – lots and lots of wine.
Of Chef Manteca and the Red Store, I have posted a great deal. To this I will only add that there is a very good reason the staff laugh in recognition when we come in yet again. This is some of the finest, freshest, most creative and varied food to be found on the Jersey Shore.
Of Hawk Haven, I have posted before, and they remain one of the finest wineries in New Jersey. This is a far greater distinction than it might at first appear: there are now myriad wineries in the “Outer Coastal Plain” and many, like Hawk Haven, are worth far more than just a visit on a rainy day. Hawk Haven’s Signature Series, in particular, offers unique, high-quality wines grown and bottled on the estate.
Beyond the obvious combination of these things on a sailing ship, both Chef Manteca and Hawk Haven went to great lengths to make the event even more memorable. The food served was always attuned to the wines poured: as we progressed from lighter whites to heavier reds, we moved from taquitos to seared tuna. Moreover, the variety of wines allowed for some very interesting comparisons, comparisons you would rarely be able to find at a winery or restaurant. Thus, we were able to compare vintages (2009 versus 2010) and fermentation methods (oaked versus unoaked) in a highly informative juxtaposition.
Most memorable, though, was the singularity of the experience – an experience that could not have happened anywhere else. Local wines with local food while sailing the local waters.
Last year, I thought I had the highly original idea of taking our mothers to a local winery for Mother’s Day. We would taste everything, buy a bottle to open and sip outside, and bring a picnic lunch. While it was a good idea, it was not that original. In fact, it wasn’t original at all: the Garden State Wine Growers Association has thrown a lot into making Mother’s Day the perfect day for visiting a local winery; events even begin on Saturday. So much for originality.
This year, it was Coda Rossa’s turn, which we learned of from our East Coast Wine Class. While the winery does make wines using California grapes, they also make many wines with New Jersey grapes grown primarily at the winery with some brought in from nearby farms. There were the requisite fruit wines, yes, but Coda Rossa also makes some very interesting reds. My favorite, and the one I took home, was a Cabernet Franc.
After a thorough and comprehensive tasting (all in the name of research), we unpacked a picnic of flatbreads from Wild Flour Bakery, dips from Talula’s Table, and “savory eclairs” from Market Day Canele (all purchased in a rush to the Headhouse Market this morning); we opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio on the patio; and we looked out over the vineyard and enjoyed a warm Spring afternoon in the sun.
Happy Mother’s Day.