When I launched this site in the fall, expanding my ‘beat’ beyond the borders of New York, one of the main reasons was an interest in exploring and understanding the wines of Pennsylvania, my home state.
Despite being sandwiched between wine-producing states like New York, Maryland and Virginia, with soils and growing conditions that can be quite similar in some cases, Pennsylvania wine has largely remained a mystery even to those who grew up there. In terms of attention and prestige, the Pennsylvania wine industry lags behind its neighbors.
Part of that is due to the state’s archaic alcohol laws. Even with some of the recent changes to those laws, it’s still not easy for wineries in Pennsylvania to get their wines out of the state. So, many focus on tourists to sustain their businesses and wines that are “good enough” have become the norm.
Much like wineries in neighboring states, you’ll find a lot of sweeter and/or hybrid-based wines at Pennsylvania wineries. Most of that isn’t very interesting or even good. But — also like in New York, Virginia and Maryland — there is some great wine being made too. Wine made by people who understand their land, the grapes that come off of their vines and how to best handle them in the cellar.
One such producer is Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery in Andreas, PA. Many of the better producers are in the southeastern section of the state, but Galen Glen is further north in the Lehigh Valley, where it’s cooler and where conditions are perhaps better suited to white wines.
There Sarah Troxell, who co-owns the estate with her husband Galen, is making some of the best wines in the state.
“Our magnificent property is in Galen’s family for over 200 years,” she told me in an email “We are located on a small ridge at about 1000 ft, between the Blue Mountains and the Mahoning Mountains.”
Their site is a U-shaped glen, with hillside vineyards on both sides and the wine cellar in the tiny valley at the bottom of the U. The soils are glacially deposited, shale and (as you’ll read below) filled with fossils, and topped with some windswept loess. “The glaciers ended at the Blue Mountain, so soils south of us are different,” she said.
“The glaciers ended at the Blue Mountain, so soils south of us are different,” she said. “Because our ridge juts up between two mountain ranges, rain typically splits around us and travels along the base of the mountains, resulting in a rain shadow. It’s an impressive site to see rain all around and still be dry.”
I have yet to visit myself, but it’s at the top of my list for this summer. Galen Glen is best known for its gruner veltliner, which came about “After I read an article in Food & Wine,” according to Sarah. “I loved what pairs with gruner veltliner and told Galen to find some and plant it for me. All — and I mean all — our neighbors and colleagues laughed at us.” Now they have the second-oldest gruner planting in the United States.
You can expect much more on this site about Galen Glen, but in the meantime, get to know Sarah just a bit better. She’s a true tastemaker in perhaps an unexpected place.
Location: Andreas, Pennsylvania
Current Job: Winemaker and owner, Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery
Wine/cider/beer of the moment: Elena Walch Pinot Bianco Alto Adige Kristallberg 2015
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Aromatic, nervous, pure, unexpected
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Taylor Brut Champagne and yes, I still have the bottle for some reason. It was one of those beautiful early spring days, new green smells, wide blue skies at Bald Eagle State Park. I was having a picnic with Galen and most likely skipping class at Penn State. I think we were celebrating something?
How I got here: We bought the farm, literally. Galen, my husband, is Pennsylvania Deutsch and grew up on our farm, as the sixth generation. I knew pharmaceutical packaging wasn’t my thing so I left my corporate job to start growing wine.
My winemaking style — in more words: Patient and respectful of the countless hours put in by many hands to grow each vintage. I feel privileged to be entrusted with the translation of the story of our land, weather, and vines every harvest.
Mentors: Volker Schneider (from Old Europe) who believed in me, has shared his lifetime of wine expertise and felt wine could be grown in the badlands of rural PA. Fran DeGrazio (my boss from pharmaceutical packaging) who taught me perseverance. Mrs. Shinehouse & Dr. Tortorelli (from Ursinus College, my alma mater) who helped me fit in as a transfer student, get a biology minor and crazily invited me to lecture to chemistry students about winemaking. Mr. Burcik (my high school chemistry teacher) where my love of chemistry all began. And lastly, my husband Galen – whom I met at Penn State in Chem 13. It’s been all chemistry ever since!
Music playing in the cellar right now: No music in the tasting room; we encourage conversation. If I’m in the cellar doing lab work or blending trials, I like quiet. For bottling, tank cleaning or crush pad work, crank up the U2.
Favorite thing about the local wine industry: As a young wine industry, Pennsylvania has a diverse group of winegrowers and winemakers. Every profession is in the mix from A (auctioneer) to V (veterinarian). These personas make for some interesting perspectives on winegrowing.
Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: It is a very large state, so no one grape would make sense. When broken down into regions or our few AVAs, we have yet to agree on the varieties of grapes best suited for our terroirs.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Finding fossils and sharing my exuberant enthusiasm for them. Our farm is littered with fossils; no one noticed until I started pointing them out. It’s overwhelming to touch something 360 million years old and think about the vastness of time.
What I drink: A tremendous amount of European wines – Rheingau, Nahe, Pfalz, Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal, Franciacorta, Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Alsace – with an occasional bottle from Oregon, New York, Australia or New Zealand
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair… wait that’s my favorite desert song. And the wine is pink champagne on ice. I love a diversity of foods…so, asparagus risotto paired with gruner veltliner, definitely from Austria. Sashimi – tuna, Scottish salmon and yellow tail – with cooked authentic Chinese greens and a dry riesling from Germany, Alsace or New York. And, my homemade tiramisu with Giovanni Allegrini 2011.