When most people think of Pennsylvania, they recall historic Philadelphia. Hershey’s chocolate. Amish Country. But did you know that the Keystone state is one of the best places in North America to grow Chambourcin grapes? The unique and grape-friendly growing conditions of Southeastern Pennsylvania have paved the way for a number of award-winning wineries and a number of wine trails.
The Berks Wine Trail is known for its relaxed, casual vibe, accented by rolling hills, corn fields, and cattle. On a gorgeous Saturday in early September, we packed a cooler, grabbed another couple, and headed out for a mini tour in agriculturally rich Berks County.
Drive and Drink
The Berks County Wine Trail begins just an hour north of Philadelphia and winds its way through PA Dutch (aka German) Country. Farms and hex signs abound, and roads wind through scenic fields and vistas.
Located under a hex-decorated red barn in the midst of farmers’ fields, the tasting room at Pinnacle Ridge in Kutztown is also the production area where you can see the wine stored in large barrels. (Truly, it was the best tasting room I have ever seen.) You can try six wines for $5, and the supremely friendly folks at Pinnacle will waive the fee if you purchase a bottle of their wine. Their Chambourcin is a fantastic representative of Pennsylvania wines, and I just had to take a bottle home. We also appreciated the refreshing crispness of the Traminette and purchased a bottle to share at one of the sunny picnic tables outside.
If you have time, pop over to Blair Vineyards, only a mile or two away. They offer stunning views of the Blue Mountains to go along with their outdoor tasting pavilion and sell local treats to pair with their wines.
Our next stop was at quirky Long Trout Winery in Auburn, dedicated to peace, love, and all things Baby Boomer. Located in the woods, they boast a huge outside seating area overlooking a koi pond and disc golf course as well as a psychedelic array of memorabilia. Tastings are free and you aren’t limited to the number of wines you can try, but good luck getting through the extensive list — although with names like “Immaculate Hoe Merlot” it’s tempting to try! We snagged up a bottle of their Asian pear wine, “Morning Wood,” as well as the red blend “Nowhere Man” before heading into the woods for a slightly unsteady — but incredibly fun — game of disc golf.
In nearby Shartlesville you’ll find Bashore & Stoudt Country Winery, whose focus is on classic Pennsylvania fruit wines made from their own homegrown produce. You have to try their Shiro Plum wine.
A little farther down the road, you’ll run into Calvaresi and Clover Hill wineries. Calvaresi is located in Bernville, just 10 miles north of Reading. You should try their Baco Noir, a semi-dry red done in the Germanic style. Clover Hill is one of the largest wine producers in Pennsylvania. While their main winery and production area is elsewhere, their tasting room in Robesonia is open to the public. Try their Turtle Rock Red made from Chambourcin grapes or the 2010 Three.
All the way down in the southern tip of Berks County, right on the edge of Amish Country, is Kog Hill, a winery known for using Pennsylvania-grown fruits. Right off the PA Turnpike, this one has easy access.
We didn’t make it there that day, but Manatawny Creek in Amityville is my go-to winery for a little something special. Built along the creek for which it’s named, the winery has its own vineyards and proudly uses only Pennsylvania-grown grapes in its wines. The light-hearted tasting room attendants won’t charge you for sipping, but you are limited to trying six wines. Manatawny’s Cabernet Franc is my personal pick, but you may also appreciate the refreshing Gewurztraminer, rich Port, or sweet Mead. The tasting room is on a hill overlooking the show vineyard, and you are welcome to sit on the porch or spread a blanket under the trees and enjoy the view while sharing a bottle of wine (or two).
Grab a Bite
When traveling the wine trail, it’s always good to take along snacks and water. After all, one cannot live on wine alone. You will also want to stop for something more substantial to eat, and Berks delivers.
Say, Cheese! in West Reading is one of my favorite nosh spots and a great midway point on the trail. What goes better with wine than cheese? The restauranteurs here are passionate about their fromage, from the cheese plates and the house specialties — such as four-cheese macaroni and thick, grilled sandwiches — to the decadent, locally-grown daily specials.
Also in the Reading area, you’ll find Austin’s, a great place for steaks and homemade potato soup (plus, they have a nice-sized gluten-free menu). If you’re into a finer dining scene, try Dan’s at Green Hills. They offer an exquisite American menu with a French flair.
For a casual atmosphere with delicious food and local brews, check out Union Jack’s Inn. Located along the banks of the Manatawny Creek in Oley, this English-style pub offers outdoor seating and live music.
Berks is a good-sized county, so you probably won’t get to more than three wineries in a day (we didn’t). There are also numerous local attractions, parks, and hiking trails (including the Appalachian Trail). If you want to taste all the area has to offer, make a weekend of it and check into one of the unique inns near and along the Wine Trail.
Twin Turrets Inn in Boyertown is an easy drive from Manatawny Creek. Its name comes from the two large turrets at the front of the Victorian-style house in the center of downtown. The inn is said to be haunted, but after a day of sipping wine you probably won’t notice if something goes bump in the night.
And if you like haunted Victorian mansions, you may also want to check out The Overlook Mansion Bed and Breakfast in Reading. Breakfast and ghosts delivered to your room? Intriguing.
Want more? Visit berkscountywinetrail.com to learn about all the fabulous wineries in Berks County. The Trail also runs several events each year, including artisan cheese and wine pairings, and many of the wineries host their own annual festivals.
Whether you choose to make a day of it with friends, take a weekend trip, or just visit one winery, the Berks County wine trail is a fantastic way to tap into the more refined part of the local area’s agricultural roots.
Photo credits: Rosenzweig, author, author, Jamie de Hass, author, o0o0xmods0o0o, and neiv.