It's 'Pennsylvinea'

Christine O’Donnell Carroll of Crossing Vineyards and Winery is being honored in the Irish Echo Business 50 in Philadelphia on tonight.

By Peter McDermott

The Finger Lakes wine region needs to watch out. Pennsylvania is catching up.

The New York industry goes back to the 19th century whereas the Keystone State’s wine story only begins in 1978. Christine O’Donnell Carroll of Crossing Vineyards and Winery in Philadelphia said New York’s Finger Lakes are one of the top tourist destinations “in the world, not just the nation, the world.”

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If a place “with conditions for grape-growing less hospitable than ours can do it, then we can do it, too,” Carroll said.

Here she identified the main reason why Crossing and its neighbors comprise an emergent dynamic wine-producing region: “Because our climate in Pennsylvania is almost ideal for growing grapes.”

Carroll added: “It is very similar to the climate of northern France.”

And so is the scale of operation.

She and her business partners — husband Tom Carroll Sr. and their winemaker son Tom Carroll Jr. — are involved with producing all of the major types of wine. In their 15-acre vineyard, for instance, they grow a range of the well-known grapes like chardonnay and cabaret sauvignon, as well as some others that are perhaps less familiar to the public.

“Any of the vineyards in France [she has visited] are not much bigger and many are smaller than ours,” Carroll said.

“I do believe the winemaker has a style,” she said. “Our wines are more reflective of the European style.”

The people at Crossing welcome questions and Carroll can handle them with some fluency, such as when she explains the production, vintage and market issues that determine the price of an individual bottle of wine in the store.

“That is an education opportunity for us,” she said of Crossing Vineyards and Winery, which acquired Pennsylvania license No. 67 at the beginning of the 21st century. (The figure is now up in the 300s.)

“Californian wines have a very specific type of personality,” Carroll said, though cautioning that stereotyping wines can be very like stereotyping people. “We can’t be California and and we don’t want to be.

“Sometimes when customers come in, they’ll fold their arms across their chest, which is always a bad sign, and they say they like their Californian cabernet sauvignon,” she said. “If you can educate them that there’s a whole world of wines out there, that you just need to get out of your comfort zone, you’d be amazed when people try, at first they’re surprised and the more they get along in their wine journey the less they’re surprised — because they realize good and bad wine can come from anywhere in the world.”

Carroll stressed, too, that people have very different tastes and palettes, and Crossing produces a range of “fun wines,” for example, apple wine, peach wine and berry wine for “people who aren’t quite into wine yet and prefer something a little sweeter or simpler.”

As to her own favorite, that’s a question she gets a lot. “It’s like saying who is your favorite child,” she said. “We lovingly make this wine. My son, Tom Jr., devotes the same love and attention to all of the wines.”

Carroll has an answer, she revealed, that works for almost any question relating to wine. When some years ago, she said this to a vineyard owner in Chile — a man in his 70s — she was met with a look of puzzlement. She wasn’t sure whether if as a woman he felt she was speaking out of turn or if there was some language issue involved. Finally, he smiled and asked: “And what’s that?”

She told him: “You would not be giving an incorrect answer if you said: ‘It depends.’

“He thought about it for a minute and then he broke into a big smile,” Carroll recalled. “You could see that he did understand what I was saying.”

And so on the question of a favorite, she explained, it depends on the vintage, and it depends on how the other wines are finished and turn out on any given year.

A wine reflects the winemaker’s personality, too, and she described her son as even-tempered and very likable. “And I’m his mother and I love him, and that has something to do with it, too,” she said good-humoredly about her views on the matter.

Carroll is passionate also about the use “sustainable agricultural methods” when growing fruit.

She believes that keeping spraying to the absolute minimum and the use alternative methods of insect control is greatly beneficial to the end product.

The agricultural sector is supportive because by growing grapes, the farmer gets a “whole other way to ensure the viability of his business.”

All of this means that Crossing’s owners and their colleagues are “very valued” by local and state authorities, which recognize how their industry brings jobs and tourism.

The Carrolls of Crossing see themselves as part of this collective effort to advance Pennsylvania’s cause, which is thriving, and the state has reportedly surpassed Virginia into 5th place in industry size. (New York is 4th, with California, Oregon and Washington in the west holding the top three positions).

Meanwhile at the company level back at Crossing Vineyards and Winery, Christine O’Donnell Carroll said, “Our mission and business is to make great wine.”