I had the opportunity to sit down with the BV Wine Trail’s own Karen Cline for a little insight on what’s going on over there. We shared a nice chat over some of Paradocx’s “T” Wine at their tasting room. Here’s what followed:
KC: Well first let me give you a little bit of history. I came on board in 2008 but the Trail was actually formed in 2003 by Lee and Eric Miller of Chaddsford Winery. They went around to different wineries in the area and tried to sell the trail idea as it was successful in other areas of the country. Eric’s family had a vineyard in New York and the concept obviously is working well up there.
UR: Eric Miller just wrote a book didn’t he?
KC: Yes, The Vintner’s Apprentice. So that’s how it started. They started with 5 members and the number went up at first then down a bit. People come and go as the business needs dictate. So they’ve been around for awhile but even when I joined in 2008 people didn’t really know about a lot of the wineries in the area. “Oh there are THAT many wineries here?” We still get that somewhat but not as much. So our goal is to get the word out. That there is a lot of wine here, we have several wineries in the area though some are more tucked away than others. Pennsylvania Wine is a growing wine industry and we are growing here in the Brandywine Valley. And the wine here is good.
UR (Loaded Question): Do you have a favorite? I mean I know we’re sitting in a tasting room right now so maybe you should answer carefully (winks).
KC: Well the “good” answer is “I like them all” and really I do. I think my wine taste has developed over the years even since I’ve been with the Trail. I kind of knew what I liked before, “Oh whites are ok but reds are fabulous”, that kind of thing. I feel that I’m more of a seasonal drinker now. For example, whites in warm weather, etc. Plus I have my favorites from each winery on the Trail. And generally that’s what I hear from people who visit. And that’s ok, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
UR: One of the Trail members, Patone Cellars is building a brand new facility out in Landenberg. Can you comment on how that is progressing?
KC: I was actually out there and took some pictures on my phone (Karen gets out her phone). You can see some of the walls are up. Mario (Patone, the owner & winemaker) plans to have wine at his residence for Harvest Festival. Once the new facility is complete he plans to move the entire operation over. The winery will be on the bottom and he plans to build his residence on top. It will be nicely situated between Kreutz Creek and Paradocx so it will be a convenient three winery hop for visitors.
UR: I really enjoy his wine. Hopefully it will be completed sometime in 2011. So do you see more opportunity for winery growth in the Brandywine Valley?
KC: Absolutely. There are some potential members that we are talking to.
UR: As we briefly touched on earlier, the Pennsylvania wine industry is growing. Do you see the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail working more in collaboration with other trails or is there some competition there?
KC: I like to think that in the wine industry everybody is kind of friendly. I mean if someone told me about how much they love another trail or another winery, I can appreciate that. And then of course I will suggest that they try ours too. Even amongst our trail members we remain friendly. The wineries want to succeed but want the others to succeed also. There’s always a little business competition but I think it’s one of the more friendly industries that I’ve come across.
UR: Now if a winery wants to be considered for membership in the Trail, what do you look for in them?
KC: They must have a primary location here in the Brandywine Valley. If they are based in another area but have a tasting room here they would not qualify. And then there are some dues. They check us out, come to a meeting, we talk to them about what is required, etc. As far as our member wineries, they are all working members. They all contribute, they all have a function, it keeps everybody active. We have meetings once a month, all members must attend or send someone. We try to stay connected and keep everyone on the same page.
UR: Is there anything new & exciting planned for the fall & beyond? I know the Harvest Festival is a big event but how about after that?
KC: Well this is the third year of our Holiday Open House so we are excited about that. You can come and holiday shop at the member wineries. We are also as a trail, trying to come together and strengthen our brand, build people’s awareness of us. So we have some projects going on for that.
Also we have a quality initiative going on in our trail. I never really heard of anything like it within a group of wineries but we’re working on the level of quality in amongst the Trail. It involves education for the winemakers and some collaboration & critique between wineries, just helping each other out.
There are many ways to improve. You could hire somebody to come in but that can get expensive especially for a wine producer on a smaller scale.
UR: I can’t imagine that winemaking has a very high profit margin.
KC: No, if you figure it takes four or five years to get the vines going and producing. Then you make your wine and it has to age. Plus you have to have your investments in place. And most of our winemakers have another job working somewhere else so time is limited.
UR: So it has to be a passion, something that they love.
KC: Absolutely, absolutely.
UR: The same thing could be said about blogging. So on a more personal level, when did you realize that you loved wine?
KC: I started really getting into wine in my twenties. I used to like the sweet, cheap stuff. In my late twenties I had enrolled in the University of Delaware’s MBA program. We had a winter session where we traveled to Europe and it was just a fun time. We visited France but sadly we didn’t hit any wineries there. But when we were in Grenoble we took a wine appreciation class led by a guy named Chris who taught us how to appreciate the wine. That was my first real introduction to my love of wine. My tastes now run the entire spectrum between whites & reds depending on the season and the winemaker.
I tell people this who visit the trail who might say that they never tasted and aren’t very experienced:
You’ll know it when you like it.
I might have to try a certain wine a few times before I really make a decision about it.
UR: Karen thanks so much for being a trouper and coming out today.
If you haven’t visited Pennsylvania’s beautiful Brandywine Valley, do yourself a favor & check it out.