Joseph Maxian, dressed in a grape-patterned tie and a vest embroidered with wine labels, is lecturing about the sediment that settles at the bottom of a wine bottle. “Wines are like people,” he says. “They are easy to upset.” Maxian, who founded the Sand Castle Winery with his brother, Paul, in 1974, has devoted his life to understanding wine. But Maxian also understands people: The folks seated at the long table set with empty wineglasses aren’t here to discuss sediment; they are here to sip.
So he uncorks the first bottle—the winery’s Johannisberg riesling, a dry wine with high acidity and a floral scent—offering trivia and tasting tips with each pour.
The wines, a sample of each of Sand Castle’s carefully crafted nine, are a treat, but it is Maxian’s inexhaustible knowledge of winemaking in the Central Delaware Valley that makes this vineyard atop a hill overlooking the Delaware River in Erwinna, an hour and a half from Center City, the perfect place to start a tour of Bucks County’s wineries. Sign up for the 45-minute barrel tour and introduction to wine-tasting ($10); or the two-hour educational tour ($15), which explores wine and food pairings, wowing with the alchemy of rosemary and pinot noir, and oaky chardonnay and bitter chocolate. A basic tour, offered all day, includes a peek into the winery’s naturally chilled underground aging and bottling rooms ($5).
From Sand Castle, follow lush, winding River Road through New Hope toward the Rushland Ridge Vineyard & Winery. You’ll find Lisa Ullman in the tasting room, just steps from her suburban home; her husband Ed is tending the four acres of chardonnay, cabernet franc and chamboursin vines in the backyard. More than a dozen bottles stand ready for a self-serve tasting, an opportunity to practice the swirling and sniffing skills learned at Sand Castle. But there’s no pretense here; neighbors stop by while walking the dog to chat and buy a bottle of sweet Niagara wine.
The final stop on any Bucks County winery tour should be Crossing Vineyards and Winery, in Washington Crossing. The winery, housed on a 200-year-old estate, was established just five years ago, with its first vintage appearing in 2002. A tour shows off the winery’s high-tech gadgets—no stomping grapes with your feet here, but there is a crushing machine nicknamed “Ethel” and a press called “Lucy”—and the sleek tasting room evokes a Center City wine bar. For $5, you can taste your way through the list of vintages produced by the winery. (Not all of the grapes are grown on the premises.) Better yet, order a glass of wine and relax on the stone patio overlooking the vineyards.
Crossing Vineyards and Winery,
1853 Wrightstown Road, 215-493-6500; crossingvineyards.com. Open daily noon to 6 p.m.
Rushland Ridge Vineyard & Winery, 2665 Rushland Road, Jamison, 215-598-0251; rushlandridge.com. Open Thursday to Friday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday noon to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Sand Castle Winery, 755 River Road, Erwinna, 800-722-9463; sandcastlewinery.com. Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; reservations recommended.