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Jimmy Buffett’s Advice Applied To Making Excellent Wine in Pennsylvania

Posted in The Business of Wine, Weekend Edition -- Food, Weekend Edition -- Wine

I recently tested Jimmy Buffett’s claim about “changes in latitude, changes in attitude” where “nothing remains quite the same”. To do so, I sat down with Kevin Robinson, an accomplished winemaker with over 27 years of experience in California’s Napa Valley. He recently relocated to the award winning Karamoor Estate, in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, owned by Nicholas and Athena Karabots. Karamoor Estate has 17 acres of world-class vinifera grapes and has just planted an additional 10 acres, bringing its total to 27 acres. A picture of Karamoor’s vineyards appear below.

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Karamoor produces chardonnay, merlot, cab franc, cabernet sauvignon and other wines. Having recently won a gold medal 2013 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Karamoor Estate is aiming high and is seriously focusing on its goal to be among the best wineries in the world.

Over tastings of Karamoor Estate wine, we discussed the similarities and differences between winemaking in California and Pennsylvania. Here is what I learned:WineryBarnPic1.jpg

1. “Winemaking is winemaking”. The same practices are employed on both coasts. These start with good grapes, properly ripened and timely harvested. Similar techniques are used in both locales to produce first rate wine.

2. Pennsylvania grapes ripen at a lower sugar level than do California grapes which generally contributes to a lower sugar content, about 21-22 brix, as compared to 25-26 brix. This, in turn, leads to a slightly lower alcohol content, resulting in a more balanced, elegant wine, closer to a true Bordeaux.

3. Pennsylvania is wetter than California which reduces the need to irrigate, but requires additional spraying.

4. Pennsylvania has warmer nights, such that grapes continue to grow in the warm night air, using the sugar made during the day.

5. Pennsylvania grapes grow all day, by “the moonlight” and until frost, resulting in Pennsylvania wineries “hedging” or “giving haircuts” to their vines late into the season, including into verasion (the grape ripening period). California wines, by contrast, are not hedged during this period.

6. California has skilled farm workers who can “bring in the harvest”, whereas it is more difficult to find experienced vineyard workers on the East Coast.

In short, Jimmy Buffett was partially – but not completely – right. When it comes to winemaking on either coast, “nothing quite remains the same”.