Va La Vineyards Review
Address: 8820-8822 Gap Newport Pike (RT 41 ) Avondale,Pennsylvania 19311.
Phone Number: 610-268-2702
Tasting Hours: Fri 12:00-5:30, Sat-Sun 12:00-6:00 Due to our small size we unfortunately cannot accommodate groups over six persons please.
Review Date: 5/31/2015
Tucked away on a little plot of soil in the borough of Avondale, PA sits Va La Vineyards. Driving south on Route 41 in Chester County, you need a sharp eye to spot the winery sign and a quick foot to avoid missing the entrance to this 6.73-acre vineyard. That’s right, 6.73-acres of various soil compositions sitting in the “mushroom capitol of the world”. Here, owner and winemaker Anthony Vietri grows over 25 grape varieties, primarily Italian with a few French thrown in to make it interesting.
In my humble opinion, Va La could very well be the best vineyard and winery in the state of PA and quite possibly, the best on the east coast! (I might be a bit biased with my passion and love of Italian-varietal wines.) If you need a little more assurance that Va La is the real deal, it was once again listed in the “101 Best Wineries in America” published by The Daily Meal (the second year in a row). Not bad for a vineyard less than seven acres in size and with a production of less than 750 cases per year.
The vineyard was planted in 1999 with Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Tocai, Cayuga, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Aglianico, Barbera, Malbec, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Corvina on rich, mushroom soil. Mr. Vietri tells the story of what one local Italian man had to say. “After several years of planning and work, our family had finally planted this little vineyard. An old and distinguished-looking Italian man came driving up in his Cadillac to offer his well wishes. Rolling down the power window, he paused to take in the sight of our accomplishment, and shook his head. ‘No grapes can grow in Avondale. You people CRAZY!'”
From the original plantings in 1999, several varieties are still grown and used to produce the wines of today: various clones of Pinot Grigio, Tocai, Aglianico, Barbera, Corvina Veronese, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot and Primitivo. Throughout the years of harvests and production, Mr. Vietri has uprooted the grapes rejected by the land and planted other varieties more suitable to the area. Some of those varietals are: Malvasia Bianca, Petit Manseng, Carmine, Charbona, Lagrein, Malvasia Nero and Sagrantino to name but a few. A lot of experimentation, learning, uprooting, re-planting, blending, patience and diligence were involved for Mr. Vietri to produce the four Signature wines of Va La Vineyards: “La Prima Donna” (white/vini arancione/vin orange), “Silk” (rose’/rosato), “Cedar” (red/rosso) and “Mahogany” (red/rosso).
Mr. Vietri has taken a very “old world” approach to his viticulture and enology practice by planting, growing and producing “field blend wines”. This means the grapes being used to make each wine are planted on the same segment of soil in the vineyard. Each year all four Signature wines are grown, harvested and vinted in this way.
The first wines were released in November of 2002 were the 2001 La Prima Donna and 2001 Silk. The first red wine released was a 2001 Nebbiolo, which was un-manipulated and spent twelve months in oak barrels followed by four months of bottle aging prior to its release. Another was a single-varietal 2001 Corvina Veronese that was processed entirely in stainless steel tanks. In 2006, he released a couple wines of interest: the 2001 Parchment, a single varietal Petit Verdot, which spent five years in oak barrels and the 2001 RoCoco, a blend of Nebbiolo, Corvina, Petit Verdot and Barbera made entirely in stainless steel tanks, and bottle aged for five years. Last, and by no means least, was the 2005 Patina, made from a blend of Aglianico, Barbera, Carmine, Charbono, Lagrein, Malvasia Nero, Petit Verdot and Primitivo. (How I wish I were able to sample all four of these wines!)
The tasting room, converted from an over 100 year old barn, was completed and opened in 2002. Upon entering, you immediately get a feeling that you’re about to experience something interesting and wonderful. A warm and friendly greeting from one of the tasting room staff sets the mood in this simple, rustic and charming space. The tasting room on the main floor hosts a beautiful bar which seats about ten to twelve guests and also displays the four wines available for tasting and purchase. There are also local artisan cheeses, chocolates, crafts, artwork and more for sale. This fantastic tasting will cost you $20 (non-refundable), but it includes: four wines each paired with a local artisan cheese, homemade focaccia (or another bread), plus a special “dark chocolate truffle” served with their “Mahogany”. The upstairs tasting room has a standing bar which accommodates an additional eight to ten guests and there are six 4-top tables and a large table in the center of the room which seats another 8+ guests.
The winery was constructed in 2001, a well thought-out “wine laboratory” of sorts with every square inch of space being maximized. The stainless steel tanks and oak barrels are aplenty, and the winery is well equipped with everything a high-quality production wine cellar needs. The bottled inventory and “Va La Library” wines are stored behind two large oak doors in a climate-controlled room. One would never guess such high-quality wine was being produced and housed in this building as the old saying goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”!
Speaking of book covers, the bottle and label selections by Mr. Vietri are done with much thought and consideration to the final product. The bottles are of substantial weight and made of dark glass. The style of bottle selected helps to distinguish each wine and at times, each vintage. Either a Burgundy, or Bordeaux style/shape bottle is used for all wines. The label design is quite simple with minimal text using a classic font printed on a high-quality uncoated white paper stock. (On the front label, only the name of the wine appears, while the back label contains all other required information plus a “bottle no:” at the top of each.) To Mr. Vietri, this is all part of the overall presentation and delivery of the final product: his wine! In this case, one most certainly is aligned with the other.
The day of my visit, the wines being offered in the tasting room were: 2012 La Prima Donna, 2011 Silk, 2013 Barbera and 2012 Mahogany.
2012 La Prima Donna (Malvasia Bianca, Petit Manseng, Pinot Grigio, Tocai): a clear, deep color of vini arancione/vin orange catches your eyes and you think, is this really a white wine? On the nose a wild floral note of raw honeysuckle teases your senses. This is an expressive, well-balanced wine with an interesting mouth feel and tart, raw finish. The wine was paired with a locally produced Chevre cheese and mixed with local honey, served on a homemade biscuit. A small side bowl of Prospero Olive Oil on the bar complimented this and all pairings!
2011 Silk (Corvina Veronese, Barbera, Carmine, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo): this rosato is so much more than your average rose’! Deep, darkish red, yet clean and clear. Big dark red berries, black berries, and a hint of spice entice the nose for what is to follow. On the palate this wine dances across your tongue, coats the sides of your mouth and excites your senses. It’s big and somewhat complex, especially for a rose’ and offers as close to a great hot weather “red” wine as you’ll find. The finish is smooth as “silk” (no pun intended) and will while away the time in your mouth until your next sip. This wine can be served chilled during the warmer months and at room temperature during the cooler times of year. A beautiful locally produced Sharp Chevre cheese served on Nonna Vietri’s homemade focaccia was paired with this wine.
2013 Barbera (five clones of 100% estate-grown Barbera): I know I said Mr. Vietri only produces four wines each year and this is not one of the “Signature” wines. Since he makes field blends, there are years when certain grapes provide bigger yields than what is needed for the blends, so he gets to have some fun and make a single varietal wine. It just so happened that in 2013 the Barbera grape fell into this category. This is a classic Barbera, deep and dark in color with dark red berries, red plums and a hint of earthy oak on the nose. All this leads to a mouthful of dark fruit, soft tannins, a touch of herbs and spice and a medium-bodied red wine you’ll want to sip time and time again. The soft, velvety smooth finish makes for a wonderful tasting experience and leaves you craving for more! This wine was paired with a tasty locally produced Pecorino Romano cheese served on a small piece of homemade bread.
2012 Mahogany (Barbera, Malvasia Nero, Charbono, Petit Verdot, Carmine, Teroldego, Lagrein, Sagrantino): deep, dark red/purple in color with an earthy, pungent nose that still allows the dark fruit to breathe through. A rich, complex full-bodied wine awakens your palate and immediately gets your attention. You know this is a very special experience. Ample tannins coat your mouth with a sensual kiss that lasts for a long time. If you like bold, complex red wines, than this is what you’ve been searching for so look no further. The pairing for this wine was the “Last Straw Raw Sheep’s Milk” cheese, followed by a dark chocolate truffle whose center was made with the Va La Silk! What a great way to top off an amazing tasting experience!
Due to the small production, these wines are available in limited quantities and often sell out rather quickly. Most times within a matter of a few months. (Prices range from $32 to $48 per bottle.) Sales are at the winery tasting room only, so make plans for a weekend wine road trip to Avondale, PA. If you’re a serious oenophile, or just looking for something completely different and wonderful, Va La Vineyards should be your next destination!
I would like to thank Mr. Vietri for making time to sit and speak with me about Va La Vineyards, its history, vineyard and winery! I also send a very special thank you to the entire Va La tasting room staff for a fun, informative and incredible tasting. If someone tells you there are no good vineyards, or wineries in PA, just remember the story about the Italian gentleman. There’s an Old Italian expression, but unfortunately it’s one I can’t use here on these pages…so let’s just say it fits the bill!