Recent changes in Pennsylvania liquor laws have resulted in rapid expansion of the winery industry in Pennsylvania. Our winery, Papa Joe’s Wine Cellar, is but one of the many new wineries to open in the past few years. There are now well over 200 limited wineries in the state. Historically, the vast majority of wineries were operated in conjunction with a vineyard, but with loosening of regulations, many of the newer wineries purchase grapes rather than growing their own. Expansion of the sources of grapes nationally and even internationally has greatly increased the variety of Pennsylvania fermented wines available to wine lovers.

Even within varieatals, the region in which the grapes are grown causes fairly dramatic differences in the final product. In the United States, eastern grown grapes tend to have a lower sugar content and a higher acid content. these characteristics are a result of a shorter growing season and less variation between day and night temperatures during the growing season. We have found that it is invariably necessary to add sugar before fermentation of eastern grapes to produce a stable wine with 11% or greater alcohol content. That is not a negative, even for a dry wine, since added sugar is essentially the same as the sugar present in the fruit. When producing a sweet wine, it is uncommon that even grapes grown in warmer climates will retain enough residual sugar after fermentation to appreciably sweeten the end product, so back sweetening (adding sugar after fermentation) is generally necessary. Eastern grapes also have a tendency to be of relatively high total acid content, often above 0.8%, which results in a fruity and acidic flavor. This characteristic is an asset to sweet wines and even some dry whites, but many dry red wine drinkers consider a high acid content to be less desirable, and many eastern dry reds are blended to minimize this aspect of wines.

The character of west coast wines also varies considerably among growing regions. While sugar content is invariably sufficient to result in a wine with 11-16% alcohol, acid content may well need some adjustment to attain a low enough pH to resist spoilage. Wines with a high pH tend to have an “earthy” character as opposed to a more fruity character. While that may sound to the novice like an undesirable aspect of wine, earthiness is a highly sought after trait, and many so-called world class wines are described in this manner. High pH wines require more sulfite addition to maintain their quality throughout the aging process. The most variable characteristic of west coast wines is the intensity of color. Red wines grown in the warmer regions of the central valley tend to be lighter in color and body than those grown in the more temperate areas, like Lodi, the Napa, Sonoma, and Suisun Valleys, and Oregon and Washington.

While the above discussion is far from complete, and will be expanded upon in future posts, suffice it to say that with the recent expansion of areas of origin of Pennsylvania produced wines, it is now easier than ever for a wine lover to find a local winery that offers a wine that will satisfy virtually everyone’s personal taste.