Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pennsylvania Winery Visit: Courtyard Wineries

We love regional wine and we're helping to celebrate Regional Wine Week with this report on some of our favorites. The week-long celebration is sponsored by Drink Local Wines.

When we returned from our recent trip to Ontario, where we visited wineries in the Niagara Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake, we came back across the bridge into Buffalo and drove west along the south shore of Lake Erie. We were hoping to hit some wineries, but a long delay at the border crossing had taken the wind out of our sails and we were anxious to get home. We did have a chance to hit one last winery. We were “freestyling” and decided to check out wineries in the community of North East, Pennsylvania.

North East is part of a little sliver of Pennsylvania that borders on the Lake Erie and runs from that community west through Erie and almost to Conneaut, Ohio. The first vineyards were planted in North East in 1850 and grapes, wine and agriculture have been a part of the community’s fiber ever since. There are 10 wineries in the area and the nickname of the local school teams is the Grapepickers. How would you like to be the Grapepicker placekicker?

The Ace of Bass was cruising at high velocity along the interstate but we sensed grapevines and exited at North East. We had a couple false starts (one closed and the other’s exterior didn’t appeal to us). We decided to give it one more shot and fate brought us to Courtyard Wineries, 10021 West Main  (Route 20)  North East, PA, (814) 725-0236.

This is a spanking new winery and the finishing touches are still being put on the special barrel room tasting area. We visited during the Labor Day weekend and the official opening of the winery had not yet occurred.

Randy Graham is the owner and is a former engineer who believes that the Lake Erie climate and his vineyard’s location on a plateau afford him a great grape-growing climate. The winery has a split personality – with two different brands and two tasting rooms. The main tasting room is a first-class effort with marble counters and beautiful woodwork. The emphasis is on quality, which our band of weary wine bloggers appreciated.

The Barjo Bons label is for their casual style wine some made with Niagara and Cayuga grapes trending toward the sweeter palate. We sampled the Barjo Bons Radiance, which is a Vidal Blanc wine with a nice pineapple taste. The La Courette label is for their fine wines and includes Vintner’s Reserve Blanc, Riesling, and Merlot. 

All of the grapes for his wines come from 15 miles of the winery. We sampled the Vintner’s Reserve Blanc which caught my attention because it is made with a little known grape called Giesenheim. This wine is a full-bodied white with dryness. It is unoaked, which Green Dragon likes. It also had a bit of a pop to the finish. This was the best of the tasting and we purchased a bottle for $15.95.

Our next taste was the ‘08 Riesling. This had 1.3% residual sugar, a little sweeter than the dry Riesling we prefer. This has flavor notes of lemon and apricot. After a weekend of tasting Rieslings from Niagara, we thought there wasn’t enough body or complexity with this one.

We finished with the ‘08 Merlot, the highest price offering at Courtyard at $17.95. The Merlot is finished in oak and was a pleasant sipper with cherry notes. The texture was smooth.
Courtyard Wineries is a great addition to the North East, PA, wine community. This is going to be an appealing wine destination for tourists and the wines we samples show great promise. To catch a glimpse of Courtyard, be sure to watch the Rachel Ray show October 25-29 when Chef William will be featured preparing dishes in segments that were taped at the winery.
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