Harvest Festival, copyright 2005 by Ernest Valtri
Originally published in LifeStyle Magazine, December 2005
Grape harvests are celebrated by wineries all over the world, including right here in Bucks County. The first of three local festivals, The Harvest Festival was the big event on the second weekend of October, soon to be followed by the Nouveau Festival on the second weekend of November and the Holiday Festival on the second weekend of December. These festivals, while observed by many wineries, are formally organized by the seven members of the Bucks County Wine Trail: Buckingham Valley Vineyards, Crossing Vineyards and Winery, New Hope Winery, Peace Valley Winery, Rose Bank Winery, Rushland Ridge Vineyards and Sand Castle Winery.
I enjoyed the day at Sand Castle in Erwinna, PA, picking (and eating) grapes, then watching them go through the crusher and on to the underground cellar. Visitors could taste the freshly pressed, wonderful Riesling grape juice… and by fresh I mean really fresh; less than a minute old! Of course the tasting room is open, offering all the current releases along with light foods to nibble. Cabot Cheeses of Vermont joined in presenting four of their cheddars for guests to enjoy.
The most important component of Sand Castle’s wines is the passion of owner/winemaker Joseph Maxian. He shares this passion with Festival visitors by explaining, “No one likes to fight for a living, but it makes you a better person and the same thing for the grapes. When the grapes go through this hard life, they produce the utmost and this is the flavor. They’re actually bringing the goodness from the Earth and turning it into the treasure of Bucks County.”
I asked Joe if his was an American festival or was he emulating festivals from his European roots. (Joe came to Pennsylvania from Czechoslovakia in 1969.) Not surprisingly, more passion… “You can’t break away from what you were born, but it is a Bucks County Festival! The grapes are grown in Bucks County. This is what it is. These are the treasures of Bucks County. It’s like living and breathing. It’s what makes the difference.”
During my two hour stay, about 150 people visited, many from quite far away. One group from New York was followed by another from Texas. Athena Foroglou of Manhattan, New York and part of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s trip to Bucks County, told me “The wines were terrific and I thought the owner was a character…a wonderful entertainer. He captures his audience.”
The three Festivals hosted by the members of the Wine Trail are really fun, informative and worth the trip. While these seven wineries, and most of our other local wineries, have tasting rooms open year round for your pleasure, there’s an extra measure of fun and spirit during the Festival season. Tastings are free and the hosts are eager to make visitors comfortable and happy. Perhaps you can plan to join in the fun!