The most exciting development in American wine since the turn of the latest millennium has been the dramatic growth in the number and quality of wines produced in “the other 47” — states other than California, Oregon and Washington. Wine lovers in the Washington area and its suburbs have a new reason to celebrate that trend with the arrival on our retail shelves of grüner veltliner and zweigelt from Galen Glen winery in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
That’s right: Pennsylvania. Not Austria, where grüner and zweigelt thrive, but somewhere much closer to home. There are smatterings of grüner in California, Oregon, New York and Maryland, and I’ve read about experimental plantings of zweigelt in the Hudson Valley of New York and in Virginia. The Galen Glen wines, including a delicious Riesling, are simply outstanding.
Galen Glen was founded in 1995 by Galen and Sarah Troxell, who converted their sixth-generation family farm to vineyards. Galen tends the vineyards while Sarah, a former chemist, makes the wines. Their daughter, Erin, holds a master’s degree in enology and viticulture from SupAgro in Montpellier, France, and recently accepted the position of vineyard manager at Bedell Cellars on Long Island.
Galen’s previous career as a mechanical engineer took him on frequent trips to Germany, where he fell in love with Riesling. Once the family farm pulled him back to Pennsylvania, planting Germanic grape varieties also matched the family heritage. And the Lehigh Valley is far enough north that the climate resembles the Riesling-friendly Finger Lakes of New York more than it does the milder Mid-Atlantic.
An article in Food & Wine magazine about the popularity of grüner veltliner from Austria persuaded the Troxells to add the variety in 2003. They say they were the first to plant grüner east of the Rocky Mountains. Other winemakers were skeptical, Sarah recalls.
“Our winery peers thought we were crazy to grow a variety no one knew and, worse yet, would be difficult for customers to pronounce,” she says. We can all now be glad the Troxells didn’t listen.
Galen Glen is the latest addition to Vino50, a portfolio of artisan domestic wines that is the product of a partnership between Siema Wines, a Springfield, Va., distributor and importer, and Andrew Stover, a 38-year-old sommelier and restaurant consultant in the District. In 2008, Siema’s owner, Emanuele Gaiarin, approached Stover, seeking to improve Siema’s portfolio of domestic wines. Stover, then sommelier at Oya downtown, had attracted media attention by featuring wines from Texas, Arizona and Michigan, using a D.C. regulation allowing restaurants to “direct import” wines that are unavailable through distributors.
Vino50 launched in 2009 with about 30 wines from five states. With the addition of Galen Glen, the portfolio boasts more than 150 wines from 14 states. The winery list includes McPherson Cellars in Texas, Sawtooth Winery in Idaho, Chateau Grand Traverse in Michigan and Long Island’s Bedell. Closer to home, it includes Virginia’s Breaux Vineyards and Gadino Cellars, as well as Big Cork Vineyards and Old Westminster Winery in Maryland. At Old Westminster, Stover blended his own Somm Cuvée with winemaker Lisa Hinton. And he created a label of inexpensive wines called Shindig at New York’s Brooklyn Oenology with winemaker Alie Sharper.
Last fall, Stover stretched his reach overseas and added Ridgeview sparkling wines from England to Siema’s portfolio.
Stover’s star has risen with the growing national interest in local wines. Last year, Wine Enthusiast named him one of “40 Under 40 Tastemakers” influencing the U.S. wine trade. This year, Modern Luxury’s DC Magazine featured him as one of Washington’s “men of style” for fashion and for promoting “stylish cutting-edge wines.”
As the wine distribution sector consolidated with several mergers over the past decade, Stover and Gaiarin saw a niche opportunity for the small, energetic Siema.
“Sommeliers and retailers may have heard about up-and-coming U.S. wine regions, but there was no source for them to acquire the wines,” Stover says. “The wholesale industry favors large wineries and big brands.”
He also has tapped into the restaurant market for craft goods and local, farm-to-table cuisine. He acknowledges that the latter was a tough sell.
“I want to work with these so-called farm-to-table places and get them to put their money where their fork is, so to speak,” Stover says. “It’s all this talk about local food but rarely local wine. That’s been changing in the last seven years, and I’d like to think I’ve been part of that paradigm shift. But it’s still challenging to make these places think of local wines.”
Next time you’re shopping for wines, ask your retailer for something out of the ordinary. You might hear Andrew Stover’s name mentioned.