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Dipping Your Toe into PA Winemaking

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Not everyone wants to be a full-time winemaker, but for those who want to stick their toes into the winemaking vat, the wineries of PA Wine Land can help them learn more about fruit and fermentation.  Some offer train-as-you-taste learning experiences, while a few offer hands-on work in helping grow grapes and make wine.

The list of possibilities is quite broad, so ask your local wineries what they have available:

  • Most offer in-depth winery and vineyard tours on request.
  • Some will have comparative tastings or wine flights to explain the final products.
  • Others give wine-blending exercises where samples are drawn from three or four aging tanks or barrels for visitors to make their own individual blends.  (This is often offered only to special groups.)
  • A few offer educational classes.  “We do about one seminar a year at the vineyard,” says Carley Razzi of Penns Woods Winery near Chadds Ford.  “Last year, the state enologist, Denise Gardner, was a speaker.”
  • Harvest grape stomps are popular.  For the past 11 years, the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail has offered grape stomping for kids and adults as a fun and educational way to learn the first “steps” of turning grapes into wine.

Of course, as many of the Pennsylvania wineries are small and family-operated, they sometimes solicit help with the serious jobs of winegrowing.

For example, Manatawny Creek Winery in Douglassville is one of several Pennsylvania wineries that welcome customers and neighbors to help harvest grapes each fall.  “To get our grapes picked, we get people to sign up on our volunteer picking list,” says winemaker/owner Joanne Levengood.

“They come to the vineyard at 9 a.m. and work until lunchtime at 1 p.m.  In exchange for their fun-filled, half-day of picking, we give them lunch, a bottle of wine and a picking t-shirt,” Levengood says.  “It is definitely an eye-opening experience for many people – to realize that growing grapes is farming and is very hard work.”  Depending on the area and grape variety, picking starts in late August and extends into October, so make plans well in advance.

Other jobs, such as working in a cellar to make wine or pruning vines during the winter, needs more time and training, so there is always the possibility of arranging an internship, regardless of age.  While interning may pay nothing more than a bottle of wine and a free meal, many retirees along with college students use it as a way of testing their interests in possible new careers.

In short, the possibilities of learning more about wine at your local wineries are almost endless.  And the rewards are many.

To find out more about individual wineries and the 12 wine trails located throughout Pennsylvania, log onto www.PAWineLand.com.  The site also has maps and contact information for the more than 150 wineries spread across the state as well as wine tips and wine information.  And if you’re on the road, find nearby wineries by using the mobile website at m.pennsylvaniawine.com.