Well, this was something I had never done before! The plan was to meet some friends at Blair Vineyard, taste some of their wine, and bring some bottles back to my place where we were all going to have dinner.
Blair Vineyards sits among the rolling hills of Berks county in the state of Pennsylvania, USA. As we drove up the road that snaked you through the vineyards, we spotted out friend Tom waiting for us at the top of the Hill in front of the tasting room (which also happened to be the location where all the wine-making takes place!)
As we walked into the spacious and airy tasting room, I was hit with a blast of a pine-y scent coming from the wood-clad, vaulted ceiling. We were also greeted with a cheery hello from Richard Blair, the proprietor. I had only met him a couple of times, but he greeted us with genuine warmth (possibly because Tom is a good customer and that automatically gave us an “in” !).
We chatted about what we had been up to over the summer, and we met his daughter Missy, who was just as friendly as her Dad. Chatting was all very well and good, but I wanted to try some wine!
Missy poured some wine and talked with an ease about the wine in terms that didn’t go over our heads. We like to think that we know wine, but compared to people who grow grapes, and make the revered elixir, I am certainly a novice. I am however a novice who knows what she likes and promptly picked a nice bottle (with the gentle suggestions of Tom and my man Dave) to enjoy outside with a view of the vines.
Besides sitting and relaxing outside, myself and my daughter took an opportunity to stroll and inspect the grapes up close and personal. This is the part that was familiar to me, seeing the grapes and then drinking the wine. What I began to get curious about was what happened in-between?
I wanted to know more, and when I got back to our table, Richard had joined us outside, and I sort of dared him into taking me on a tour. He tried to ignore my little nudge, but suddenly, for whatever reason he offered to take us down to see the whole operation.
What I knew about wine-making is what most people know. Grapes are picked, they get crushed (not by feet anymore, at least not at Blair!), are put into containers to age before finally being bottled.
It was so interesting to find out the details, and Mr. Blair supplied them as he walked us from room to room, while I wondered if I should be writing any of this down. I decided that this blog post should be about my experience and I would remember what was most fascinating to me.
The first stop after harvesting found the grapes in very large vats at ground level. There they stayed to ferment into mush. Richard said that the room is so full of carbon dioxide, doors have to be opened at both ends of the building so it can escape before anyone enters. I’m sure the smell must be over-the-top powerful and heady also.
From there, we go downstairs 2 levels, and the rest of what happens takes place completely underground. This was done so that the wine goes through a very natural process, without the aid of artificial climate controlling devices. As far as I remember, the low is 43 degrees or so, and the high around 67 degrees.
This next bit is I’m sure what everyone thinks of when they imagine what winemaking must be like; big oak barrels of wine stacked to staggering heights! You would be right. It was amazing to walk among the barrels and realize that each one accounted for 300 bottles of wine!
The next step is where I feel that Blair Vineyards do a marvelous job. After the wine has aged in these great barrels for a stint (don’t know exactly how long?) it is tasted and the different blends are decided upon. Everything is carefully measured, and Richard, who certainly loves what he does with an obvious passion, is still smart enough to get the opinion of an expert to help with the final decision-making process.
The wines are then blended and put into other giant vats, where they sit until it is time to bottle.
After they are bottled, they are stacked in giant crates in long elegant lines, and from there, await the final step of being dispatched to retailers and restaurants.
We emerged from out tour and reclaimed our spots outside, where we sipped our lovely wine with a deeper appreciation. All in all, this was a very fun way to spend a couple of hours this past Sunday. If ever it stops raining, we plan to head over the hill for another visit!