If you think the story of American wine is told only through the vineyards of California, Washington, Oregon, or the cellars of upstate New York, it’s time to pour a glass and turn your attention to Pennsylvania. This state isn’t just about the Liberty Bell and Philly cheesesteaks; it’s also home to a wine history that stretches back to the 1600s.
William Penn didn’t just found a state; he planted the seeds—quite literally—for a wine culture that has matured into an industry with over 300 licensed wineries today. In 1682, Penn sailed from England with Bordeaux grapevines in tow, planting them a year later on what is now Lemon Hill in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Although this early vineyard was not successful as the European vinifera grapes couldn’t adapt to local pests and diseases—it had a lasting impact. These vines cross-pollinated with native species, giving rise to America’s first hybrid grapes, known informally as “wildings.”
From native American grapes to sophisticated hybrids, and of course, Vitis vinifera, Pennsylvania’s vineyards offer an unexpectedly epic range of flavors and wine tasting experiences waiting to be discovered. Perhaps what’s most exciting is that despite its history, the region still has plenty more experimenting and growing to do.
- Why Pennsylvania Matters in the U.S. Wine Scene
- Your Passport to Pennsylvania Wine
- Key Wine Regions in Pennsylvania (AVAs)
- Lake Erie Wine Country
- Lehigh Valley AVA
- Southeastern Pennsylvania
- Central Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania's Wine Grape Varieties
Why Pennsylvania Matters in the U.S. Wine Scene
Let’s get down to the numbers: Pennsylvania ranks fifth in grape production and seventh in wine output in the United States. But it’s not just about quantity; it’s about the quality and diversity that the state brings to the American wine tableau. Pennsylvania has unique and varied soil types and microclimates, making it a playground for viticulturists. Let’s not forget the accolades; Pennsylvania wines are no strangers to awards, both on the national and international stages.
Your Passport to Pennsylvania Wine
Whether you’re a casual sipper or a dedicated oenophile, this guide is your all-access pass to the Pennsylvania wine region. We’ll navigate you through the state’s key wine regions and introduce you to standout wineries.
Planning a visit right now? We’ve got you covered with practical tips to make your wine journey smooth and memorable.
Key Wine Regions in Pennsylvania (AVAs)
Lake Erie Wine Country
The Lake Erie AVA is not just a wine region; it’s a destination. Stretching 53 miles along the southern shore of Lake Erie, this area offers a unique maritime climate that’s particularly conducive to grape growing. The region has a viticultural history that dates back to the 19th century and has long been a stronghold for white wines. But as we like to often highlight on Winetraveler, it’s not just about the wine; it’s about the experience.
Dotted throughout the shoreline, wineries around Lake Erie offer gorgeous vineyard views where you can relax and enjoy authentic, handcrafted wines, brews, and even spirits. The moderating effect of Lake Erie makes for a longer growing season, allowing grapes to develop complex flavors and aromas.
Mazza Vineyards and Penn Shore Winery are just two of the many wineries that contribute to the region’s reputation for quality and diversity. Mazza is the largest producer in the state and is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, but they also make traditional method sparkling wines and have recently won awards for their Cabernet Franc and Vidal Blanc-based Ice Wine.
Penn Shore has garnered attention for its Seyval Blanc, a hybrid grape variety that thrives in the Lake Erie climate.
How and When to Visit
The Lake Erie region is most vibrant from May to October, as the vineyards progressively become more lush during the summer and the tasting rooms are bustling. In the fall, the northeastern fall foliage really begins to stand out and the views become even more majestic.
Accessibility is straightforward via I-90, and for those flying in, Erie International Airport is the closest landing point. Buffalo Airport is another viable option for those coming from the east, and is a roughly two hour drive. You can compare current flight prices into either airport using Kayak.
Recommended Accommodation in Lake Erie
For those looking to extend their stay, LakeView On The Lake is Winetraveler’s suggested hotel. Situated on the bluffs of Lake Erie, LakeView is a family-operated property that offers a range of accommodations, from mini-cottages and motel rooms to romantic suites and family cottages.
Each room is equipped with amenities like a mini-fridge, coffee maker, microwave, cable TV, and wireless internet. It’s located within minutes of esteemed Lake Erie wine producers, providing the perfect blend of location, hospitality, amenities and truly stunning views of the lake. Sit back in one of their Adirondack chairs or the hammock by the cliffs overlooking the lake, pour a glass of local wine and enjoy the area’s spectacular lakeview sunsets.
Lehigh Valley AVA
Situated in southeastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley is blessed with fertile soil and a moderate climate, making it versatile ground for both traditional and experimental winemaking. The area has seen significant growth over the past few decades, both in the number of wineries and the quality of wines produced. It’s a region that respects its history but is not afraid to innovate, making it a must-visit for any Winetraveler.
Two wineries that encapsulate the spirit of Lehigh Valley are Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery and Galen Glen Winery. Clover Hill is particularly known for their sparkling wines, which showcase the winery’s meticulous approach to viticulture and winemaking.
Galen Glen, on the other hand, has received numerous awards for their Riesling, as well as their Grüner Veltliner, which has found a special and complex aromatic and flavor profile thanks to Galen Glen’s growing methods and winemaking techniques.
A bit of flavor for what you can expect when food pairing various delicious wines from Clover Hill Vineyards and Galen Glen. Galen Glen’s Fossil-Vineyard Riesling is just that… vines that have been rooting deep into ancient fossil sediment producing profound mineral-forward wines. Their logo is a testament to the corporate chemistry roots of one of Galen Glen’s winemakers, Sarah Troxell. In 1995, Sarah made a bold life pivot, leaving behind the high-pressure environment of her corporate chemistry career to follow her passion for winemaking. “I actually cashed in my 401(k) to start the winery,” she reveals. “I decided to invest in myself and I’ve never regretted it since.”
Getting to Lehigh Valley and When to Visit
Lehigh Valley is easily accessible via major highways like I-78 and Route 22. Late spring through early fall is the optimal time for a visit, offering pleasant weather and the opportunity to experience the vineyards in full bloom.
Images courtesy Glasbern Inn.
For those planning to extend their stay in the Lehigh Valley, the Glasbern Inn in Fogelsville is our suggested accommodation. This historic inn offers a rustic yet luxurious experience, complete with modern amenities like a spa and an on-site farm-to-table restaurant. Each room is well-appointed with amenities such as a mini-fridge, coffee maker, and wireless internet. The inn’s idyllic setting among rolling hills and pastures makes it a perfect base for exploring nearby wineries, allowing Winetravelers to unwind in a tranquil environment after a day of wine tasting.
Southeastern Pennsylvania is a region rich in both history and viticulture, with a wine-producing legacy that extends back to the 18th century. While the area reveres its long-standing traditions, it also embraces innovation, offering a blend of classic and contemporary wine styles that reflect its diverse terroir.
Chaddsford Winery: This winery has carved out a niche for itself with its Artisan Series of dry wines. The winery is also known for experimenting with a variety of grape types, including French hybrids and American native grapes.
Va La Vineyards: Specializing in Italian-style field blends, Va La Vineyards is a boutique winery that focuses on small-batch wines. Their offerings often include a mix of Vitis vinifera and other grape varieties, showcasing the region’s versatility.
Navigating the Reaches of Southeastern Pennsylvania Wine Country
Getting to this wine region is straightforward, with easy access via I-95 and Route 1. The best time to explore the wineries and vineyards is from May through September, when the weather is most favorable for outdoor tastings and vineyard tours. However, we really do love PA during the fall season. While grapes may no longer be lingering on the vines, road tripping throughout the region and tasting along the way is difficult to go wrong with.
Central Pennsylvania is a region where the Appalachian Mountains serve as a dramatic backdrop to vineyards that stretch across diverse terrain. The area is especially known for its variation in elevation, soil characteristics, and microclimates, making it an ideal growing area for a range of grape varieties. While not as old as some of Pennsylvania’s other wine regions, Central Pennsylvania has quickly gained a reputation for producing wines of exceptional aroma and fruit flavors.
- Brookmere Winery & Vineyard Inn: Known for its aromatic whites and robust reds, this winery also offers a charming bed and breakfast experience.
- Seven Mountains Wine Cellars: This winery is famous for its fruit wines and has won numerous awards for its innovative blends.
Getting to Central Pennsylvania
The region is most easily accessed via I-99 and Route 322. The best months for a visit are between May and October.
Pennsylvania’s Wine Grape Varieties
Pennsylvania is still evolving, and there’s no shortage of flavor, aromas, and wine experiences, thanks in large part to its diverse range of grape varieties. From European classics to hardy hybrids and native gems, the Keystone State offers a grape for every palate. Whether you’re a connoisseur or a casual sipper, understanding the grapes behind the glass can elevate your wine journey. Here are the main grape varieties to be aware of before visiting this dynamic wine destination.
Albariño is a white grape variety that is aromatic and floral, often unaged and minimally influenced by oak. This allows its natural flavors of orange blossom, honeysuckle, lemongrass, and green apple to shine. Its high acidity makes it a refreshing choice for lighter, herb-infused dishes.
This French-American hybrid grape is versatile, producing wines that can range from delicate, akin to Pinot Noir, to robust and bold, resembling Bordeaux. Baco Noir wines are characterized by their acidity and low tannins, making them a good match for barbecued meats, tomato-based sauces, and lamb.
Cabernet Franc is a red grape variety that thrives in multiple Pennsylvania regions. Aged in oak, it develops an earthy, peppery profile with aromatic complexity. Its balanced tannins and medium-high acidity make it a versatile pairing option for a wide range of foods, from soft cheeses to game meats.
In Pennsylvania, Cabernet Sauvignon leans more toward the herbal, floral profiles of European varieties than the fruit-forward styles of the West Coast. Expect notes of graphite and tobacco with hints of licorice or black cherry. Its high tannins and complex flavors complement fatty foods like steak and lamb chops well.
Catawba is a native grape primarily grown in the Northwest region of Pennsylvania. The wine it produces is medium-bodied with a sweeter profile, resembling White Zinfandel. It pairs well with barbecue, fried chicken, and earthy cheeses.
Cayuga is a versatile, cold-hardy grape that can be used to produce a range of wine styles, from dry to sweet to sparkling. Found throughout Pennsylvania, Cayuga wines can be paired with a variety of foods, from lobster rolls to apple pie.
Chambourcin is a red grape that’s similar to Pinot Noir and is found across Pennsylvania. Often aged in oak to balance its natural acidity, the wine has earthy, tobacco, and vanilla notes. It pairs well with a variety of foods, from steak to pasta with red sauce.
Despite its deep, inky color, Chancellor produces wines that can be surprisingly light. Expect flavors of soft red cherries, blackberries, and a hint of cinnamon. It pairs well with lamb and venison.
Pennsylvania’s Chardonnays often resemble their European counterparts due to similar climate and soil conditions. They can range from dry, unoaked styles with fruity and floral notes to oaked varieties with hints of vanilla and caramel. This versatile white grape is primarily grown in the SouthCentral and SouthEast regions of the state.
Primarily grown in the Northwest region, Concord grapes are often used for juice or jelly. When made into wine, they produce a sweet, dark red with a strong grape flavor, pairing well with bold flavors like sharp cheddar and spicy seafood.
Similar to Concord but with a lighter skin and flavor, Delaware grapes are primarily found in the Northwest region. They produce pleasantly sweet white wines or rosés that pair well with salty dishes like prosciutto-wrapped melon.
This aromatic white grape variety offers strong aromas of wildflowers, roses, and tropical fruits. While not extensively grown in the U.S., some vineyards in Pennsylvania do cultivate Gewürztraminer. Its medium to low acidity makes it a good match for Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisines.
This aromatic white grape is similar to Sauvignon Blanc, offering flavors of green bean, dill, and tropical fruits. It’s primarily established in the SouthEast region but is expanding throughout Pennsylvania. Its high acidity pairs well with spicy Asian dishes and richly flavored foods.
Also known as Blaufränkisch, Lemberger is a dark-skinned grape that produces wines with a tannic structure. Expect flavors of dried herbs integrated with red fruit notes. It pairs well with pasta, roasts, and grilled meats.
This dark-skinned grape produces wines that can range from light red to very dark. Marechel Foch wines are characterized by strong acidity and a relatively neutral flavor, making them a good match for roasted leg of lamb.
Merlot grapes in Pennsylvania produce red wines with savory and earthy flavors, often featuring hints of mushrooms. Depending on the climate, you may also detect jammy tastes with dark fruit notes like black cherry or plum. It pairs well with charcuterie or meaty pasta dishes.
Moscato is a light-bodied, sweet white wine with tropical fruit notes and floral aromas. It’s often served as a dessert wine and pairs well with fruit and vanilla-flavored desserts or spicy cuisine.
Similar to Concord grapes, Niagara grapes are primarily grown in the Northwest region. When made into wine, they offer grapey flavors with notes of candied lemon and floral jasmine. This medium-bodied wine pairs well with briny shellfish and interesting cheeses.
Noiret is a dark-skinned hybrid grape grown in the Northwest region. It offers a black pepper aroma with hints of raspberry and pairs well with pasta or beef dishes like pot roast.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
In the Keystone State, Pinot Grigio offers a crisp, citrus-infused experience that’s far from mundane. This dry, unoaked white wine is your go-to for pasta dishes that lean on garlic and olive oil, such as a classic seafood scampi or a vegetable primavera.
Pinot Noir is a grape that demands attention and skill, but rewards with exceptional wine. In Pennsylvania, this red offers a complex bouquet of flavors, from earthy undertones to fruity high notes. Whether you’re a wine novice or a seasoned aficionado, you’ll find it pairs splendidly with a variety of dishes, including grilled salmon and pork chops.
Riesling in Pennsylvania is a tale of regional diversity. From the peachy sweetness of the NorthWest to the floral and citrus nuances of the SouthCentral, this white wine is a versatile partner for spicy cuisines.
A transplant from Georgia, Saperavi has found a welcoming home in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley. This grape produces robust, full-bodied reds that are a match made in heaven for hearty, tangy dishes like barbecue pork or a meat-lover’s pizza.
Seyval Blanc is a grape that laughs in the face of cold weather. The resulting wine is a neutral, citrus-forward white that evokes the classic French Chablis. It’s a refreshing choice for light salads and shellfish.
Steuben grapes yield a wine that’s both spicy and sweet, often described as grape juice for adults. This hybrid variety is incredibly versatile, pairing well with a range of briny and spicy dishes.
Known as Shiraz in other parts of the world, Syrah is a chameleon grape that adapts its flavor profile to the climate. In Pennsylvania, expect a wine that can range from jammy and fruity in warmer seasons to rich and earthy when the weather is cooler. It’s a softer red that pairs exceptionally well with lamb dishes.
Teroldego offers a rich, fruity experience with a dash of pine and almond for complexity. Its high acidity makes it an excellent choice for rich, hearty meals like pierogies smothered in caramelized onions or a creamy pasta carbonara.
Traminette is an aromatic grape that thrives in various regions of Pennsylvania. Whether crafted into a dry or sweet wine, its floral notes make it a delightful companion for a range of foods, from shellfish to blue cheese to ham.
Vidal Blanc is a versatile grape that can be crafted into a range of styles, from crisp and bright to floral and complex. Depending on the region and style, it can pair with anything from light seafood dishes to rich, creamy desserts.
Vignoles is a grape with a tropical disposition. Whether aged in oak to produce a full-bodied wine or crafted into a sweet dessert wine, its fruity flavors make it a versatile choice for pairing with spicy foods, particularly Mexican and Asian cuisines.
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Sources include first-hand visitation to these regions, along with insight from Pennsylvania Wines, Mazza Wines, Pennsylvania Wines: A History by Hudson Cattell and Linda Jones McKee, and A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition by Thomas Pinney.