Uncorking autumn has become a yearly tradition with the PA Wine Land Festival at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain. This Saturday, Sept. 26, more than 100 wines from 18 wineries from the 570 and across Pennsylvania offer guests a chance to sample a wide variety of the Commonwealth’s offerings. From the experienced palate to the budding enthusiast, the PA Wine Land Festival will have something to offer everyone. ‘Wine school’ education sessions and the bottle check area are returning favorite features from the previous event.
“We’ve got ourselves a nice little setup going on,” said PA Wine Land Festival coordinator Tim Holmes. “It’s the second year of the event — the first year went quite nicely in spite of not the best weather ever. About 1,000 people attended. The beauty of the venue is they have that big ol’ tent. It makes it easy to have an event regardless of the weather. Everybody there last year had a blast, and we’ve already sold more tickets in advance than we did all of last year. Right now it’s shaping up to be absolutely perfect in terms of the weather. It looks like it should be a perfect fall day.”
Although a bit of rain and gloom dampened the first event, a positive forecast for the weekend means the setup is more open and airy.
“We squeezed everything under the big-top last year because of the rain,” said Holmes. “This year, we’re using the whole plaza area outside the tent as well as the tent. We have more wineries from around the Commonwealth. We worked with PA Wine Association and they hand-picked some selections from around Pennsylvania. And of course we have local favorites like Maiolatesi and Nimble Hill.”
Jennifer Eckinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, said the festival is an opportunity to showcase the expanding market for local wines.
“The PA Wine Land Festival is a celebration of the beginning of PA Wine Month, which is October,” she said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity to taste and learn about the diverse wines that Pennsylvania has to offer. With the interest in consuming locally grown and made foods, wines have been a part of movement. The unique growing conditions of Pennsylvania and the varietals that thrive in the multiple growing regions will be showcased.”
Whether visitors are experienced in wine tasting or simply curious to find out what regional wines have to offer, the PA Wine Land Festival offers multiple ways to experience a wide variety.
“Because of the way the sampling is set up, you walk around and sample as many as you like — and it’s all included in the cost,” said Holmes. “But when you do find something you like, you can buy a bottle right there on the spot. Even cooler, you can even cork it right there — so we’re setting up all these picnic areas where you can grab some food, grab a bottle of wine, pop the cork, sit down, kick back and enjoy the fall air while enjoying a nice bottle of wine.”
True beginners or even experts who want to learn more can attend one of the Wine School sessions hosted by The Times-Tribune “Winestein” columnist David Falcheck in association with the American Wine Society. Space for Wine School is limited, but free vouchers will be available from the American Wine Society table.
Three sessions will include a survey of Pennsylvania white and red wines, as well as a session featuring wines paired with cheeses from iGourmet.
“All the wines in these sessions have been awarded medals in state or national wine competitions,” said Falcheck. “The lineup of whites include workhorses like Chardonnay and Riesling (Pennsylvania Riesling can be as good as Finger Lakes Riesling), but also cutting-edge varieties, such as Gruner Veltliner with throwbacks like Seyval. Seyval, a hybrid grape, doesn’t get much respect these days and many growers in the east are pulling it out of vineyards. But I still reach for it whenever I see it. We’ll have a Frontenac Gris from Grovedale. The grape is a mutation of a Frontenac and its rare, rare nationally. It’s going to be a treat to try it.”
Fans of red wines will find plenty to explore as well.
“The red session includes Cabernet Franc and Lemberger, two grapes that do well in Pennsylvania’s climate,” said Falcheck. “Because of the climate, reds tend to be lighter bodied with more acidity and better food pairers than hot-climate wines people may be used to from California, which are more robust and rounder. Big, hot-climate wines are fashionable right now, but one style is not better than the other. They are just different.”
Visitors to the PA Wine Land Festival will find plenty of food from iGourmet, Sweet Lush bakery, Nico’s Pizza, Notis The Gyro King and even some unusual food pairings — Coney Island Texas Lunch will have pairing suggestions for its signature Texas Wieners and other food.
After sampling wine, some guests might like to bring a bottle or two home — but there’s no need to haul wine bottles around the pavilion.
“The wine check is kind of a fun thing; people got a kick out of it last year,” said Holmes. “Even if you just buy two or four bottles of wine, you put your name on it, and they hold it behind the stage. You don’t often get to see back stage at LiveNation — you pick up your wine where Dave Matthews and Breaking Benjamin and everybody hang out during shows. It’s a great little system; it was a lot of fun for people.”
Eckinger said the huge selection of wine can be intimidating, but tasters shouldn’t be put off by the abundance of choices.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to the winery staff,” she said. “They are there to help you find the wines that you like. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try a varietal that you are not familiar with. This is a great opportunity to try new wines. Remember to drink plenty of water as you sample and remember to drink responsibly and have a designated driver.”
Tickets to the PA Wine Land Festival are $18 in advance, $25 at the door and include a tasting glass and bottled water courtesy of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Designated driver passes are also available for $10 in advance or at the door.
Falcheck said the event is an opportunity to sample local wines as well as small-batch productions from across the state that might not be as easily accessible.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for me as well,” he said. “I keep on top of what the local guys are doing — Maiolatesi, Nimble Hill and Grovedale; I’m a fan of all three of them. But others I like, such as Seven Mountains, Shade Mountain and Paradocx, I don’t get to visit often. All the wineries there will be pouring a range of what they produce: something for everybody.”
The PA Wine Land Festival is a chance to enjoy old favorites and find new ones — but the experts say there’s a right way to go about it.
“Everyone is going to have their own favorites,” said Falcheck. “My festival suggestion is if you want to try everything, start with dry whites, then sweeter whites, then reds, then dessert and fruit wines. If you hit one tent and drink everything, you will mess up your palate and things won’t taste right.”