A warm breeze rustled the leaves in the trees above us on a lovely summer afternoon. We sat sipping cool white wine and nibbling on cheese and crackers out on the deck. Home and work felt far, far away.
In fact, they were only five minutes away. We were sitting at Wycombe Vineyards in Forest Grove, here in Buckingham. But it felt like we were at some West Coast winery. And that made all the difference. I finally understood the term “staycation.” How to find something that relaxes you and takes you away, even though you’re close to home.
I don’t know why but it seems that people don’t appreciate what is in their backyard – and that goes doubly when it comes to wine. We’ve got some good wine here in Bucks County. What’s interesting about Bucks County vineyards is the diversity – small, family-owned and run, and in many cases, young like Wycombe Vineyards. We have the opportunity right at our doorstep to watch them grow and mature. It’s fun is to try their wines each year, to see how they’ve changed or aged. Harvests differ from year to year so it’s often a new experience even if it’s the same grape variety. For instance, 2010 was a good year for our local wines because the weather was hot and dry, just the way grapes like it.
On any given weekend you’ll find Richard Fraser and his family standing behind the counter at Wycombe Vineyards, pouring wine and guiding customers through the tasting process. Their vision is to create a European-style winery – smaller, estate, family-owned. All of Wycombe’s wines are estate bottled, meaning the juice comes only from their acreage in Buckingham and it’s bottled onsite. It’s smaller that way, and that’s the way Richard likes it because he can keep in touch with people. “People come for the experience,” he explains, “Meet the family. Taste the wine. Take your time. Not in a rush.” The value of a local winery versus just picking something up at the state store is that you can taste the wine before you buy it, Richard says. “It’s fresher, better tasting. This is what the grape tastes like.”
Wycombe Vineyards sits on 65 acres of preserved land that has been in the family since 1925. In 1999, Richard did a test strip of different root stocks to match the soil. Then they started planting in 2000 and every year until 2004. They now have about 9 acres of classic Vinefera and French Hybrid varietals in various stages of maturity. In 2005 they bottled their first wine.
You’ll find mostly European varieties at the winery. Chardonnay, Cabernet Savignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Merlot along with Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, familiar grapes here in the mid-Atlantic. My favorite is Traminette, a semi-dry white with flowery and stone fruit aromas. They also produce a Naked Chardonnay, meaning no oak was used in the aging process. Another favorite is the Smokehouse Red, a blend of Chambourcin and Merlot, it has a dry, light body with notes of cherry and strawberry. But you won’t find much sweet wine at Wycombe. They bottle a Holiday Spice Wine which is very popular in the late fall and a Dandelion Wine in the summer made from dandelions that flower between the rows of vines. It’s from an old family recipe. All wines sell for between $14 – $16 and the labels are reproductions of old family photos.
White wines need less aging than reds, so you will find a good selection of whites at the newer vineyards. Reds come along a little later. “I think our reds have a lot of potential and are getting better,” says Richard. The Merlot and Pinot Noir vines just started to produce in late 2009. “Our reds are still young, we’ll hold back some to age.” This is part of the fun. Seeing what each vineyard produces each year and how they mature.
One of the many differences between Americans and Europeans is how we drink our wine. In America, it’s common for wine to be a “drink” – like a cocktail, imbibed before the meal or without food at all. In Europe, wine is primarily drunk with the meal, to complement the tastes of the food. European wine also doesn’t have as much alcohol (12%) as many Californian wines (14% – 15%). “Drink what you like,” suggests Richard, “but I’d like people to think of wine as food, and enjoy wine paired with food. Both end up tasting better.”
I was curious about the growing cycle of wine, what happens when. Richard explained that in early January they start pruning and cleaning up the fields. This is done by the end of March. In March and early April, they get the equipment ready and bottle whites from the previous year’s harvest. In mid-April the white wine vines begin to bud and in mid-May the reds bud. August is time to bottle reds. From Labor Day through the end of October is harvest time, beginning with the whites and ending with the reds. From November to New Year, they rack and clarify the wine and let it ferment. “We put it to bed and let it alone,” says Richard.
You can visit the winery on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 6 pm, and on Sundays from 12 pm to 5 pm. The winery is located at 1391 Forest Grove Road (18925). You can reach them by phone at 215.598.WINE (9463) and online at Wycombe Vineyards.com.
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