Women & Wine in the Lehigh Valley

By Mary Beth Schwartz

We shop for it. We cook with it. We gather with our girlfriends and gossip with it. And in the year 2012, women are receiving state and national recognition for making it. I recently interviewed four Lehigh Valley experts who are making an impact in the wine industry – Sommelier Rebecca Pichetto from Vintage Restaurant & Bar; Award-Winning Winemaker Sarah Troxell from Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery; Jan Landis of Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery and Denise Gardner, Extension Enologist at Penn State University.

“Our women winemakers in Pennsylvania are receiving a lot of recognition both at the state and national levels. Women bring a different perspective to wine styles and wine production compared to their male peers. Many of them are quite influential within the community and are winning prestigious wine awards. Such accomplishments enhance the reputation of the individual winery in addition to the wine region,” says Denise Gardner, Extension Enologist, Penn State University.

According to Gardner, the Lehigh Valley was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2008. “An AVA is an American classification system to designate an Appellation of Origin of recognized high-quality wine-grape growing regions in the United States. The Lehigh Valley AVA has been compared to several other global, prestigious cool climate regions. Many producers specialize in Vitis vinifera (European) and French-American Hybrid wine varieties. These wines are recognized by wine experts and consumers as high-quality wines.”

Gardner started in her wine career in high school, planting a small 30-vine French-American Hybrid vineyard. Throughout high school and college, she interned at several wineries and participated in numerous wine grape research projects. Gardner went on to receive a B.S. in Food Science with a minor in Horticulture from Penn State University, and an M.S. in Food Science and Technology with an emphasis in Enology from Virginia Tech. Following her education, she was employed as a Wine Sensory Scientist for Enartis Vinquiry, a winery supply and analytical company based in Windsor, California. Now she is the Extension Enologist for Penn State University and works with all of the Pennsylvania state wineries, offering wine quality enhancement through extension, outreach For women who wish to pursue a career in the wine industry, Gardner offers some helpful tips. “Take some time to work at an existing winery for several harvest seasons. Many people assume that being a winemaker is a romantic career, but it requires a lot of time, education and work. Harvest months are especially stressful, but seeing the bottle sold many months later is an incredibly rewarding experience. A solid education also is important. There are several universities that offer viticulture and enology programs. and many community colleges offer technical, hands-on degree programs,” Gardner says.

Sarah Troxell and her husband Galen pieced together wine education and hands-on experience to create their boutique, family-owned winery. Started in 1995, the winery is situated on a sixth-generation farm with scenic views. Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery is known for its German/Austrian style of winemaking. Their award-winning, handcrafted destination wines include Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Zweigelt.

“We are minimalists. We try to handle and process everything with as little intervention as possible. It is like chess. We put the wine in tanks and then you cannot change your mind. The decisions have been made. By the end of harvest, you are stuck with those decisions. Most of our wines stay in the same tank until very close to bottling. Then they get filtered and go right into the bottle,” Troxell says.

Troxell was awarded “Best White Wine by a Woman Winemaker” for Galen Glen’s 2010 Stone Cellar Gewürztraminer at the distinguished International Women’s Wine Competition in California. According to Troxell, the Gewürztraminer actually tied for Best White with another wine. The female judges chose to award both wineries and make everyone happy.

Sommelier Rebecca Pichetto from Vintage Restaurant & Bar started her wine education in the early days learning from Sommelier Terri Baldwin at The Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, NJ. Pichetto then attended the Sommelier Society of America (SSA), the oldest wine teaching organization in the United States. Pichetto took a five-month training class at their headquarters in Manhattan. At the end of the session, there was an intensive test. Pichetto achieved her certification. She went on to take an additional course with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), also in Manhattan.

“I enjoy working in the restaurant setting and helping folks make wine recommendations based on their preferences. My goal is for them to have a great dining experience. Right now, sweet wines are very popular at Vintage. We have free wine tasting on Fridays, with a dinner reservation between 5:30 and 6 p.m.,” Pichetto says.

Jan Landis is a partner in the family-owned Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery. In 1974, Jan and her husband John planted 50 vines. “In the beginning we did the pruning and picking of the grapes. We attended classes at Penn State. In 1989, we opened as a winery with 70 acres, 20 planted in grapes. In 1998, we became a charter member of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail,” Landis says.

Landis now is the public relations guru and tasting room manager at Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery. “Our winery is housed in a 19th-century Swiss bank barn, where we give attention to our award-winning wine and our customers. The tasting room includes the Vyneskeller Wine Bar and Patio, where we host live music and special events.”

The vineyard at Vynecrest is a mix of traditional Old World grapes (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Lemberger); Hybrids (Seyval Blanc, Vidal, Chambourcin, Vignoles); and New Age grapes (Traminette, Noiret, Cayuga, NY81.). According to Landis, Chambourcin is the official grape of the Lehigh Valley.

“Wine is a food. We are proud to have a local agricultural product. We pride ourselves in having consistently well crafted, drinkable table wine for everyday use, at an affordable price,” Landis says.

Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery
55 Winter Mountain Drive
Andreas, PA 1821
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Vintage Restaurant & Bar
100 Clubhouse Drive
Easton, PA 18042
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Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery
172 Arrowhead Lane
Breinigsville, PA 18031
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Mary Beth Schwartz is a freelance editor who frequently writes for regional publications.

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