Wine and cider in the great outdoors at Harrisburg’s new winery.
So, a gal walks into a bar … that is not actually a bar at all.
It’s a lovely, light room where you get to taste wine. Lots of wine. And eat chocolate. Then you can lounge at a table on the deck outside, a full glass of wine and a small plate of food in front of you. Or wander down the gravel road and hang out with alpacas.
It’s pretty much how my photographer friend and I spent the afternoon on a beautiful early summer day at the newly opened Spring Gate Vineyard. The intention was to meet the co-owner of the vineyard, Marty Schoffstall, taste wine, maybe sample some food and take a few photographs. Alas, it turned out that Schoffstall was home recovering from his son’s wedding – a wedding that was held at the vineyard less than 24 hours earlier.
But with the staff perfectly happy to pour samples and talk about nose and mouthfeel and grape varieties, and Schoffstall available for a phone call later, we found ourselves doing exactly what you should do when hanging out at a tasting room – enjoying ourselves.
Five dollars gets you a taste of six wines that are currently available by the glass. Most are Spring Gate wines made on site from grapes or juice from Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia. Some of the wines are from North Gate – the original and sister vineyard in Virginia. It was established in the early 2000’s and has been run by Schoffstall and his business partner, Mark Fedor, since 2002.
The un-oaked Chardonnay, which I began with, was so good that I spent $19 on a bottle and took it home. That’s about double my standard Chardonnay budget.
Here, verbatim, are my notes: Green apple but softer – baked apple? Light butter. Ginger? Pear? Arugula!
To translate: The Chardonnay was slightly complex and well balanced. It was light, a little crisp, yet had the butter, fruit and vanilla (that’s the baked apple part) you’d expect in a Chardonnay. But, there was a hint of spice and a very slight bitter herbal note that made this a really good wine.
Spring Gate does a fine job with two of its reds as well. The Chambourcin and the Noiret are both medium bodied and have ripe fruit – mostly cherry – with spice and black pepper notes. The fun part is that they are both, according to former tasting room manager Dustin Sharbono, 90/10 blends. The Chambourcin is 10 percent Noiret, and the Noiret is 10 percent Chambourcin. The ratio describes the way the fruit and spice counterbalance each other.
Paying homage to the abundance of apples in Pennsylvania the vineyard does a golden apple wine as well as a hard cider. The wine truly is all about the apple. It’s apple-orchard ripe on the nose and has slight tart edge with a gently sweet caramel note to round things out.
The cider I tried – the Sweet Sensation – is made from a blend of four apples, including Granny Smith and Yellow Delicious. It’s one of several on rotation. My photographer friend declared it delicous (he’s a cider and beer guy). I agreed that the not-at-all-soda-pop experience of decent effervescence, and tart winning out over sweet, was worth trying again.
While chatting with Sharbono about all things fermented, there was a bit of commotion at the door. The dozen guests and I looked over, and an employee announced, “Baby’s head got stuck in the fence.”
I looked at my friend and then we both looked at Sharbono. “Uh, Dustin, is there a toddler…”
No, there was not. “Baby” was an as-yet-unnamed lamb that got itself into a situation.
That’s how I learned that this was a vineyard and tasting room, but also a farm. Sheep, goats, chickens, an orchard, various vegetables and alpacas all call the acreage home.
Later, Schoffstall explained that he bought the farm in 1995 in order to give his two sons a chance to work. “It’s grounding working with your hands.”
What resulted is an organic, sustainable, small-scale farm that supports the egg and vegetable habits of Schoffstall’s family and friends.
Adding a vineyard became part of the plan after a trip to Santa Barbara, CA, in 1996. The experience of relaxing, sipping wine and looking over the ocean planted the idea that Pennsylvania needed tasting rooms. First with the vineyard in Virginia and then, around 2003, when North Gate was successful, the idea for Spring Gate began to take shape.
The first vines were planted in Pennsylvania in 2010, and the 10 acres should, Schoffstall says, be harvestable in about three years.
The vineyards are using European wine business models, says Schoffstall, creating primarily red Bordeaux-style blends in Virginia and white and nontraditional wines in Pennsylvania.
Once the local estate grapes are available, those will be used as well.
“We’re committed to estate, but not exclusively,” Schoffstall says.
Estate doesn’t exactly describe the land and paths and buildings of Spring Gate. It’s closer to the patio of your best friend – the one who really knows about patio and landscape design. Or the back yard of your buddy the gardener, who plants in pots and ground alike, happier in the sun with dirty hands than anywhere else.
A little happy myself, I ordered a full glass of wine – the sunshine-light gold Chardonnay. My friend and I bought some cheese and crackers and amazing handmade chocolates, sat at a table and ate and chatted, then wandered down the gravel path and checked out the chickens, goats – and Bob Marley the alpaca.
He didn’t sing, but he did get close to the fence and blow out soft farmy breath and blink his long lashes at us. Without one note playing, it was pretty obvious that on a sunny day at Spring Gate Vineyard, the theme song could be “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
• 5790 Devonshire Road, Harrisburg; 884-8048
• Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 12-10 p.m. and Sunday, 12-8:30 p.m.