PINNACLE RIDGE by dfsdf224s

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                                                                                                                               PINNACLE RIDGE
                                                                                                                                 Pennsylvania producer wins accolades and repeat customers

                                                                                                                                                                    By Richard Leahy, East Coast editor




                                                                                                                             n the surface, Pinnacle Ridge Winery seems
                                                                                                                              typical of most Pennsylvania wineries. Its
                                                                                                                              production and facilities are small, it serves
                                                                                                                              a diverse crowd in the Pennsylvania Dutch
                                                                                                                             countryside, and its product line ranges from
                                                                                                                   sweet labrusca to dry red to sparkling wines.
                                                                                                                      On closer examination, however, we see a winery
                                                                                                                   that has built a loyal following through consistently
                                                                                                                   fine, terroir-driven wines, popular events, attention to
                                                                                                                   customer service and a cleverly segmented product
                                                                                                                   line. We also see a highly successful business rela-
                                                                                                                   tionship between a small winery and a farm vineyard
                                                                                                                   that provides 70%-75% of the grapes for the winery’s
                                                                                                                   wines. Critical acclaim and customer loyalty have led
                                                                                                                   to plans for future production and facility expansion.
                                                                                                                   As a small, regional winery, Pinnacle Ridge is a model
                                                                                                                   of success from which others can learn.
                                                                                                                      After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in
                                                                                                                   1988 with a Ph.D. in chemistry, Pinnacle Ridge found-
                                                                                                                   er and winemaker Brad Knapp came to Pennsylvania’s
                                                                                                                   Lehigh Valley to pursue a career as a chemist. At the
                                                                                                                   back of his mind, however, was the notion to some-
                                                                                                                   day start a winery. Knapp discovered wine in graduate



                                                                                                                      PINNACLE RIDGE VINEYARDS
                                                                                                                       Founded: 1990 (winery licensed in 1993)
                                                                                                                       Location: Kutztown, Pa. (Lehigh Valley AVA)
                                                                                                                       Principals: Brad Knapp, proprietor/winemaker; Christy
                                                                                                                        Allen, marketing director; Josh Ellis, estate vineyard man-
                                                                                                                        ager; Wayne Luckenbill, principal contract grower.
                                                                                                                       Production: Approximately 5,000 cases
                                                                                                                       Main Varieties: Chambourcin, chardonnay, cayuga, vidal
                                                                                                                       Estate Vineyard: Pinot noir (1 acre), chardonnay (1 acre),
                                                                                                                        chambourcin, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon (1           (L to R) Pinnacle Ridge estate vineyard manager Josh Ellis, con-
                                                                                                                        acre total).                                                    tract grower Wayne Luckenbill, marketing director Christy Allen
                                                                                                                                                                                        and proprietor/winemaker Brad Knapp. Photo: Kim Stimeling
                  (L to R) Pinnacle Ridge estate vineyard manager Josh Ellis, proprietor/winemaker Brad
              Knapp and Round Ridge Farms vineyard manager Wayne Luckenbill work together to make
                    sure the best-possible fruit goes into the Pinnacle Ridge wines. Photo: Kim Stimeling
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        school, and had begun making it as               ily’s Round Ridge Farms has sold        in normal vintages ripens fully                                   often rot on the vines before they      bright red and black cherry fruit,           two dry and one semi-dry. Knapp
        a hobby.                                         its grapes exclusively to Knapp (see    and with moderate tannins, while                                  ripen. “Financially, a good dry red     firm acidity, autumnal hints and             explained that chambourcin is rot-
           “A friend from the Erie region                sidebar on page 42).                    retaining a fresh cherry crispness                                pinot will only work here in one out    exotic spice reminiscent of Bur-             resistant (due to loose clusters), is
        inherited a home winemaking kit in                   Knapp kept his day job at Air       reminiscent of gamay. All the win-                                of every two or three years.”           gundy’s Chambolle-Musigny. The               more consistent year-to-year than
        1985, and we got juice and grapes                Products and Chemicals until 1998,      eries on the Lehigh Valley Wine                                      Knapp initially planted pinot noir   brut rosé (two years en tirage) has          red vinifera varieties, and ripens
        from Wollersheim Winery (in Wis-                 when the winery’s growth allowed        Trail – hailed by members as the                                  – along with chardonnay – at Pin-       a much darker color than typical for         reliably.
        consin),” he recalled. “I found I                him to reduce his chemist role to       closest wine trail to New York City –                             nacle Ridge, with the intention of      the category, with vibrant cherry               Initially, yields average 3.5 tons
        really enjoyed winemaking.”                      that of a part-time consultant. He      produce at least one chambourcin,                                 specializing in sparkling-wine pro-     flavors and lingering, clean acid-           per acre for both pinot noir and
           While working as an analytic                  continued consulting for the com-       using the variety to brand their col-                             duction. Although sparklers helped      ity. Pinot noir clones used include          chambourcin, but after cluster thin-
        chemist, Knapp began searching for               pany until 2004, when running Pin-      lective identity.                                                 build the winery’s reputation, it has   gamay, #7 (Frank clone) and Mari-            ning mid-season, about half of the
        a good, affordable site for his future           nacle Ridge became his full-time           The Lehigh Valley was given                                    become a small part of the Pinnacle     afeld (Knapp said “the jury is still         potential crop is dropped. “Reduc-
        winery. In 1990, he purchased prop-              job.                                    American Viticultural Area status                                 Ridge portfolio.                        out” on the various Dijon clones             ing yields, increasing whole berries
        erty in Berks County, which came                                                         (AVA) in 2008, and has earned a rep-                                 “We quickly realized we’d never      available to growers). Pinot meuni-          and gentle processing make all the
        with a large antebellum barn (since              THE LEHIGH VALLEY                       utation for quality – eight of the last                           sell all our production as sparkling    er is also blended into the still pinot      difference” for quality in his red
        restored to traditional Pennsylvania                                                     nine state Governor’s Cup awards                                  wine, so we moved into table            noir.                                        wines, Knapp said.
        Dutch hex designs), a contempo-                     Pinnacle Ridge Winery is located     have gone to wineries in the Lehigh                               wines,” Knapp said. Of the win-             Pinnacle Ridge produces three               Red wines account for half the
        rary farmhouse and a few acres of                on south-facing benchlands below        Valley, including Pinnacle Ridge in                               ery’s 20 labels (split about 50-50      different wines from chambourcin:            production at Pinnacle Ridge; in
        well-drained soil on a ridge.                    Blue Mountain, the first ridge of the   2003 (for its 2001 chambourcin)                                   between dry and sweet styles),                                                       addition to pinot noir and cham-
           Since 3 acres of estate vineyard              Allegheny Mountains in the Lehigh       and 2006 (for its 2005 vidal ice                                  only two sparkers remain: the Brut                                                   bourcin, the lineup includes syrah,
        wasn’t enough to supply a com-                   Valley. The soil type at both Pinna-    wine).                                                            Pinot Noir Rosé and Cayuga Extra                                                     merlot, Veritas (a red Bordeaux-
        mercial winery, Knapp struck up a                cle Ridge and Round Ridge Farms                                                                           Dry. Pinnacle Ridge is best-known                                                    style blend only produced in the
        friendship with Curtis Luckenbill,               is Beddington, a well-drained mix       IDEAL VS. REALITY                                                 today for its dry pinot noir and                                                     best vintages), Quaff, a semi-sweet
        a colleague at Air Products and                  of shale and sandstone. Vintners in                                                                       chambourcin wines. Annual case                                                       blend of chambourcin and pinot
        Chemicals, whose farm was locat-                 the area produce wines similar in           Despite the regional success                                  production is currently at 5,000                                                     noir, and Trio, a blend of syrah, cab-
        ed 5 miles away. Luckenbill was                  style to those of the Finger Lakes      of chambourcin, Knapp said he                                     cases.                                                                               ernet franc and merlot, jointly made
        looking for a more profitable crop               region of New York, with bright,        believes in the potential for pinot                                                                                                                    and sold by Pinnacle Ridge, Mana-
        than corn or beans, and after Knapp              fresh fruit and crisp acidity. With     noir in the Lehigh Valley. “When                                  DRY REDS IN A COOL REGION                                                            tawny Creek Winery and Allegro
        explained the benefits of wine                   more growing degree-days than the       it’s good, it’s very good, and it hits                                                                                                                 Vineyards.
        grape cultivation, Luckenbill plant-             Finger Lakes (2,400-3,000), Lehigh      heights in this area that other reds                                 Despite the legendary difficulty                                                     All the Pinnacle Ridge wines
        ed 2 acres of vidal and cayuga in                Valley red grapes generally achieve     don’t reach” in terms of Brix lev-                                of growing and making fine pinot                                                     reflect the terroir of the area, which
        1991. The vineyard has since been                greater ripeness than those in New      els and quality, he said. However,                                noir in the East, Knapp has suc-                                                     results in wines that are fresh and
        expanded to 15 acres.                            York.                                   Knapp acknowledged that the vari-                                 ceeded impressively with both the                                                    fruit-driven in style, combining ripe
           Luckenbill’s first vines supplied                The local star cultivar is the       ety is something of a gamble in the                               still red and sparkling rosé wines.     Pinnacle Ridge Winery makes three dif-       fruit with well-balanced acidity,
        Pinnacle Ridge Winery’s initial 1993             red French hybrid chambourcin           East due to the region’s climate and                              The 2007 pinot noir is clean, com-      ferent wines from chambourcin, which         and minimal noticeable oak. The
        vintage, and since then, his fam-                (Joannes-Seyve 26-205), which           relative humidity; pinot noir grapes                              plex and Burgundian in style, with      are among the winery’s top sellers.          most popular wines in the tasting




           Pinnacle Ridge Winery’s 3-acre estate vineyard includes pinot noir,
           chardonnay, chambourcin, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.
           Photo: Kim Stimeling


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        room currently are the Quaff blend,                                                          air to hyper-oxygenate; the theory                                of grapes and the evolution of tan-        an active destination
        “naked” (unoaked) chardonnay,                                                                is that the solids will cling to the                              nins. Knapp said he would definite-        tourism program.
        cayuga, riesling and the dry cham-                                                           bubbles and the phenols will oxy-                                 ly crush the reds more in a vintage            Christy Allen,
        bourcins (annual case production                                                             genate and drop out, while the juice                              like 2007. But this total whole-           Knapp’s wife, is a
        for each ranges from 350 to 450                                                              below the gelatin is protected (the                               berry, carbonic approach to reds in        professional fash-
        cases).                                                                                      juice is removed from the bottom                                  a light vintage “can be a valuable         ion designer and has
                                                                                                     while the gelatin cap floats on the                               tool” for emphasizing delicate fresh       designed Pinnacle
        GENTLE WINEMAKING                                                                            top). This also prevents the need                                 fruit and minimizing harsh phenols.        Ridge’s wine labels
        PHILOSOPHY                                                                                   for chilling and settling the juice.                              He ferments reds in 1.5-ton or 2-ton       since 2003. In 2008,
                                                                                                        With reds, Knapp is moving                                     plastic bins. For the pinot, he likes      she took over the
           Knapp sees himself as hav-                                                                toward more gentle processing,                                    to get high temperatures early, for        winery’s marketing
        ing a “traditional” philosophy as a                                                          with more whole berries in the fer-                               maximum extraction, gradually              and administrative
        winemaker. The main element in                                                               menter. “My first pinots were tan-                                letting the temperature drop. He           duties. “As good as
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Nearly all of Pinnacle Ridge’s wine sales happen in the
        his approach is gentle handling of                                                           nic,” he said. “I didn’t like them.                               ferments the wine for 7-10 days,           the wine is, if the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               tasting room, but the winery is working to increase
        grapes and wine to preserve fresh                                                            The pump on the de-stemmer beat                                   gassing the bins when the cap falls,       customer doesn’t
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               placements at local restaurants. Photo: Kim Stimeling
        fruit character.                                                                             them up a lot.” He adjusted the de-                               pumps the wine while transferring          have a better-than-
           In the field, he trains pickers to                                                        stemmer to drop more whole ber-                                   solids by bucket, allows for settling      average experience,
        drop damaged fruit, and uses a deli-                                                         ries into bins, and by processing                                 for one to three days, then sends          they’ll find a friendlier winery,”            the tasting room each year, wine
        cate E-1 Vaslin Bucher de-stemmer                                                            more slowly, he increased whole-                                  the wine to barrel.                        Allen explained. “Our feedback is             sales – more than 90% of which
        for whites (from KLR Machines),                                                              berry content in the fermenter by                                    Production at Pinnacle Ridge has        great on the customer experience              take place in the tasting room –
        which leaves a lot of whole berries.                                                         50%-60%. Knapp does not current-                                  grown from less than 1,000 gallons         here, and word-of-mouth is good.”             increased by 15% in 2009 over
        “One reason I got it was for pinot                                                           ly own a crusher, seeking to “keep                                in 1993 to 12,000 gallons in 2008.             The Pinnacle Ridge tasting room           2008. Pinnacle Ridge is a member
        noir,” Knapp said. An automated                                                              the wines more elegant,” he said.                                 Knapp has plans to expand produc-          is charmingly rustic, located in              of two local wine trails (the Lehigh
        pre-sorter (Le Trieur by P&L Spe-                                                            For the 2009 harvest, he took his                                 tion and facilities at the winery later    the basement of an 1851 barn. It              Valley Wine Trail and Berks County
        cialties) removes dirt and MOG pre-                                                          gentle-handling approach one more                                 this year, adding storage for 3,000-       shares the space with the barrel              Wine Trail) and the winery hosts
        crush, and after crush, whites go to                                                         step. The de-stemmer left whole                                   4,000 more gallons, with capacity          room, separated by a counter. Origi-          about five of its own events each
                                                         Winemaker Brad Knapp is a self-
        a gentle pump with a large hose,                                                             berries, which went to the sort-                                  growth of 30%.                             nal hand-hewn timbers support                 year.
                                                         described traditionalist who believes in
        then to a Wilmes bladder press,                                                              ing table, and the reds were then                                                                            the ceiling, giving a sense of long-             The winery’s location also plays
                                                         gentle processing. Photo: Greg Raymond
        which does multiple cycles at lower                                                          dropped straight into bins with no                                THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE                    standing heritage and tradition.              an important role in attracting visi-
        pressures to avoid phenolic extrac-                                                          pumping (with the exception of one                                                                               Allen introduced two notable              tors. It’s just a few minutes off
        tion.                                            hyper-oxygenating white wine juice          batch of merlot).                                                                                            innovations in the tasting room: a            Interstate 78, yet in a rural set-
           In 2009, Knapp experimented                   with gelatin. Gelatin is added to              This was a response to a light                                                                            refundable tasting fee with a wine            ting within the Pennsylvania Dutch
        with the Old World technique of                  fresh juice and then injected with          vintage, without the full ripening                                                                           purchase (not a common policy at              countryside that generates its own
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  most area wineries) and a six-taste           substantial tourism. Knapp said that
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  policy. In the interest of responsible        spontaneous drop-in traffic brings
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  consumption, pours are limited to             in a “very diverse crowd” – and he
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  one-half ounce each. “It’s also pal-          has a wine to please every palate.
          EXCLUSIVE CONTRACT GROWING                                                                                                                                                                              ate fatigue after six wines,” Allen              Ninety-five percent of Pinnacle
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  said. “This gets customers to focus           Ridge Winery’s wine is sold at the
                Round Ridge Farms is a 15-acre vineyard owned                  cord and niagara, from the Erie region, where they
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  more on the wines.”                           winery or at off-site events, with
            and managed by the Luckenbill family. It sells its                 are common and inexpensive.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Pinnacle Ridge’s case club has            the remaining 5% going to restau-
            grapes exclusively to Pinnacle Ridge.                                 In negotiating prices, “We make a proposal for
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  grown to 1,000 members in just                rants. Knapp said he expects the
                In the early years, excess vigor and small crop                fruit price, and they usually take it,” said Knapp,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  two years. It has no member-                  restaurant percentage to grow as
            size were issues with VSP training, until Knapp                    adding that he tries to pay more than market rate.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ship fees, no time limits, and the            part of its brand positioning as a
            hired viticulturist Richard Smart to evaluate the                  The 2009 vintage was a hard one for the Lehigh Val-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  fourth case purchased is discount-            leader in terroir-driven, fine dry
            vineyards in 2002. Smart recommended dividing the                  ley; Luckenbill lost a lot of fruit to both frost and rot.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ed 30% instead of the usual 10%.              local wine. “Local restaurants have
            canopies (Scott Henry) to solve both issues, which                 “I know they spent a lot for pickers to sort at har-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Members are on a separate e-mail              been increasingly buying our wines
            has worked well. Now, cane pruning and divided                     vest, due to rot, so I added a 10% bonus this year,”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  list, and are invited to at least one         in the last two years,” he said.
            canopies are standard, with some of the hybrids on                 said Knapp. “It’s about risk-sharing. This year I ate
                                                                                                                                                                       Pinnacle Ridge marketing director Chris-   dedicated winery event each year.                Knapp noted that he has seen
            a high-wire cordon.                                                the loss due to frost, and Wayne took the loss on
                                                                                                                                                                       ty Allen strives to give tasting room      “The emphasis is on encourag-                 visitors move toward drier wines
                Both parties describe the relationship as a suc-               rot.”
                                                                                                                                                                       visitors a “better-than-average” experi-   ing long-term repeat business,”               after attending the winery’s food-
            cessful partnership. “Our two organizations work                      Pinot noir and chambourcin are the two most
                                                                                                                                                                       ence. Photo: Greg Raymond                  explained Knapp. Currently, club              and-wine-pairing classes. And, he
            well together,” said vineyard manager Wayne Luck-                  yield-sensitive cultivars Knapp and Luckenbill grow,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  sales account for 20% of the win-             said, fans of drier wines tend to
            enbill, the son of founder Curtis Luckenbill.                      so since the 2006 vintage, those varieties are con-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ery’s total sales.                            spend more money and become
                “While it’s financially beneficial for Round Ridge,            tracted on a per-acre basis instead of per-ton. Under
                                                                                                                                                                          Aside from the quality of the               While the general economy                 long-term customers. And Knapp is
            it’s still a gentleman’s agreement,” explained                     this contract, both pinot noir and chambourcin are
                                                                                                                                                                       wines, two main elements account           struggles, Knapp and Allen have               clearly in it for the long haul. 
            Knapp. “We’ll buy whatever we need from them                       cluster-thinned to one cluster per shoot. “The focus
                                                                                                                                                                       for the success of Pinnacle Ridge          found that their visitation and rev-
            that they can provide,” though Knapp acknowl-                      is on getting the fruit ripe,” explained Luckenbill.
                                                                                                                                                                       Winery: a focus on the customer            enues are actually increasing.                Comments? Please e-mail us at
            edged that he procures some varieties, such as con-                “We’re more than willing to take the risk to get a bit
                                                                                                                                                                       experience in the tasting room, and        Although they do not track the num-           feedback@vwm-online.com.
                                                                               more ripeness.” – R.L.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ber of visitors that pass through

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