Our mini-tour of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail continues this week, with a trip out into the Pennsylvania hills to see another newbie, this time in the form of Black Walnut Winery, which joined the Trail in January of 2008.
Like Paradocx Vineyard just down the road in Landenberg, Pa., Black Walnut Winery (located up near Coatesville) consists of two couples who once made wine in their home on the weekends, studied up on the process, and eventually mustered up the courage to open their own winery.
On our visit we spoke with Lance Castle, one of the four brains behind Black Walnut, who gave us a tour of the renovated 200-year-old farmhouse that houses their tasting room and bottling facility.
Someday, some of us here would like to go from making wine in our basement to opening our own winery and/or vineyard. Lance and his wife Valerie Castle and their partners Jack and Karen Kuhn are living that dream.
"We started making wine years ago, more for the experience, never thinking it would amount to much more than a chance to have fun with friends and drink something we made ourselves," Lance said.
But after reading a ton of books on making wine, studying textbooks from the University of California-Davis on the art of viticulture and making numerous trips to California wine country, the foursome decided they were ready.
"On our visits to wineries, we would go to places I knew made great wines, but where the staff was a little stiff and snooty," Lance said. "Then we'd go where I knew the wine wasn't as good, but the staff had fun with what they were doing. And every time we all agreed that we had more fun at the wineries that made an experience out of the visit."
Black Walnut Winery's goal, Lance said, is the latter. "We know we don't make the best wines in the world here, but we think they're pretty good and we're going to make for a pleasurable and fun experience every time you walk through that door."
The old farmhouse
A groomer, livestock farm and antique shop are just some of the businesses that have occupied the current Black Walnut Winery's tasting room on Lincoln Highway in Parkesburg, Pa. So needless to say, there was a ton of work to be done when the Castles and Kuhns purchased.
"You can just imagine some of the smells and scents that were going through this place. It was quite the undertaking getting this place to look like it does today," Lance said. "My partners weren't sure it could get to this point, but I asked them to trust me."
Today the tasting room looks like something you'd find in Santa Barbara or Long Island, with beautiful hardwood floors, a large fireplace, domed ceiling and two front doors fit for a king's castle.
"It took us about 18 months to get this main room looking the way we wanted it," Lance said. "We're still working on the property, to be able to host larger events and maybe dinners in the future. But for now we're pretty happy with the before-and-after."
Dessert wine indeed
Sure, wine goes with chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate. But what about wine paired with cookies and caramel covered in chocolate, or chocolate with coconut and almonds, or even peanuts and nougat?
Between now and Halloween, that's what the Castles and Kuhns will try and figure out at Black Walnut Winery, as they sit down over the next three weeks and pair their wines with traditional candies we all get trick-or-treating.
The foursome plan on unveiling their findings at their Spooktacular Halloween event, an adult Hallow's eve of sorts, taking place at the tasting room on Saturday, Oct. 31, from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., when normal tasting rates apply.
"Between now and then we're going to be asking friends familiar with our wines and folks who come in for tastings what they think our wines will go with," Lance said. "So we're definitely looking for customer feedback on this one, if anyone's got some ideas."
2007 Chardonnay, $17 * Talk about a wine that is absolutely begging for a cheese pairing. Swiss or gouda would work best with this 100 percent chardonnay that's well oaked in French and American barrels.
2007 Merlot, $22 * For all the Merlot haters out there, who feel like the varietal can be too gum-clenching and tongue-gripping, this red from Black Walnut hangs about the palate but is a lighter vintage and soft enough that you won't be evoking your inner Paul Giamatti.
Black Walnut Winery's 2006-2008 wines are not yet available at local liquor stores, as they are still in the younger stages of establishing themselves as a winery. However, you can pick up a bottle at the tasting room, located at 3000 Lincoln Highway in Parkesburg. Tastings there are $6.