Last week I was invited on a little adventure to explore the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail in Chester County, PA, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. At first I was surprised — I was not aware there was a wine trail in Pennsylvania. Infinitely curious and not sure what to expect, I set off with an open mind.
I’m glad I did, as this picturesque region has a lot to offer the food & wine explorer. With its 8 vineyards, the 50-mile trail is easy enough to visit over the course of a weekend, though there are other distractions that may compel you to pull over from time to time, from farms to antique shops and Longwood Gardens, built by Pierre DuPont in the early 20th Century. Given the valley’s proximity to several major cities, those in the know travel there on weekends from Washington, DC, Baltimore and New York — and have been doing so for years.
The Brandywine Valley is a mix of town and country, as you can travel out to the estate vineyards themselves or visit the local tasting rooms, often part of the town’s shopping centers. This mix is a bit handy for those who might not swoon at the sight of grape vines, and who are eager to spend more time tasting. Paradocx, Kreutz Creek and Chaddsford wineries all have such locations, while Chaddsford also features an outdoor area for live events. Penns Woods, like some of the others, has a tasting room on-site at the winery, where you can view the rolling hills of vines. Information about all the wineries, including a special events calendar, can be found on the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail site. The in-town tasting rooms were particularly convenient for me, as I also had a cooking class to attend at the Brandywine Country Cooking School (more on that in my next post).
Though I only had a couple of days to spend, I managed to sit with a number of the local winemakers, winery owners and tasting room managers to talk about what’s happening in Pennsylvania wine, and those chats will be featured in an upcoming episode of Food Philosophy. It is a region in progress: Some of the wines are starting to win regional and national awards, and from my conversations it seems that many winemakers are still trying to find the sweet spot, finding which wines work best with the Brandywine’s particular terroir. As with any wine region, it sometimes takes decades to find which grapes are best suited to a given region, and in fact, this is what makes it exciting: It offers you a chance to explore right along with the winemakers, learning how they think and discovering what excites them. Though grapes have been grown here since the days of our founding fathers, there are now varietals available for experimentation that would not have been possible for William Penn and friends.
Overall, I think the Brandywine Valley offers a conveniently-located, relaxing getaway for east coasters looking to travel close to home. Happily, chefs and restaurants have joined the party, featuring local ingredients and wines wherever possible. I had a particularly good burger at Bistro on the Brandywine, which was accompanied by a roasted golden beet salad with frisse and arugula, candied walnuts, Humboldt Fog blue cheese and white balsamic vinaigrette. It tasted as good as it sounds.
Disclosure: This trip was courtesy of the Pennsylvania Wine Association. The opinions are mine.