As decades-old vineyards across the Brandywine Valley come to maturity, local winemakers are producing more and more beautiful, award-winning wines. There’s no simpler—or more fun and affordable—way to experience the sheer variety of these wines than to attend Kennett Collaborative’s Kennett Summerfest on June 11th. The festival will feature 17 wineries, cideries, meaderies, and distilleries, including seven member-producers of the newly revamped Brandywine Valley Wine Trail (BVWT).
The BVWT is an association of wine and cider producers dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Brandywine Valley as a unique and outstanding wine-producing region. “Kennett Summerfest will be the first event that brings these producers together so people can explore the trail without driving,” says Corey Krejcik, President of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail and General Manager and Vice President at Chaddsford Winery.
Six of the nine BVWT members—Chaddsford Winery, Harvest Ridge Winery (Toughkenamon), Paradocx Vineyard (Landenberg), The Acadian Wine Company (West Grove), Casa Carmen (West Grove location opening soon), and Grace Winery (Glen Mills) will be at Kennett Summerfest. They will each bring a variety of vintages and styles and are looking forward to sharing their wines, to promoting one another, and to helping people understand what makes the Brandywine Valley such a rich and exciting wine-making region. In addition, each BVWT winery will also bring their current rosé for tasting. “We wanted to bring one style we all produce to give Summerfest attendees an opportunity to compare and contrast our distinctive approaches,” Krejcik says.
Fine wines in their time
Krejcik (“rhymes with paycheck,” he says with a grin) acknowledges the uphill battle of perception for local wines. He encourages those who might have tried wines from the area in the past to taste the wines that are being produced now. “Regardless of what or when your last experience was, it’s the perfect time to revisit what these winemakers are doing,” he says. “Not a week goes by that I don’t hear, ‘I didn’t think I was going to like anything.’ But things have changed—at Chaddsford Winery and in the region.” People are very pleasantly surprised, and sometimes amazed, by what they’re tasting.
While wines from other places around the world have been flooding the market for decades, Brandywine Valley vintners have been patiently nurturing their vines to maturity and iterating their processes. These visionaries understood the rich potential of the region’s moderate climate and hilly topography, microclimates with good elevation, soil composition, and drainage. Pennsylvania now ranks fourth nationally in grape cultivation and is increasingly recognized as a serious place for refined and elegant wines.
The BVWT connects nine destinations to discover in the area’s fertile farmland that more and more people are recognizing as wine country. BVWT members are united in their efforts to introduce people to great wines and to share as much as people would like to know about their wines and processes—catering to those looking for something in particular as well as to those curious to learn and taste new and different wines. People can explore the various properties online on the BVWT website and chart their course to take in a winery or two—or three—in a day or weekend, or they can complete the entire trail over time.
The best first step to exploring these wines, and to narrowing down the list of wineries you’d like to visit, says Krejcik, is to attend Kennett Summerfest. In a sophisticated festival atmosphere to the tune of live music on a summer afternoon, attendees can sample a range of wines from different wineries, chat with winemakers, and buy bottles of their favorites to take home.
Brandywine Valley wine country: “Exceeding your expectations”
Although the BVWT has existed in various iterations for about 20 years, Krejcik says, it’s been recalibrated and set up for sustained success over the past few years with a revamped website, social media channels, and a list of core goals around best practices, mutual support, and promoting and elevating the region. The goals are overarching for the region’s growth and reputation, as opposed to being geared specifically to increasing consumer foot traffic or sales. The ethos is that of a collective rising tide, with the long-term goal being an AVA (American Viticultural Area) appellation for the Brandywine Valley.
“There are around 20 producers of wine and cider in and around the Brandywine Valley,” says Krejcik. “There are second- and even third-generation producers, and there’s a lot of youthful exuberance within the group as well. Part of the focus is to help people understand what makes each property and winery unique and special.” This diversity helps to shape the nature and charm of the trail itself. Unlike some wine producing regions, where every winery in a vicinity can accommodate busloads of tourists, the BVWT includes tiny producers who can welcome visitors by reservation only as well as wineries like CFW that have larger tasting rooms and even event spaces.
The learning around varietals, root stocks, and which grapes and styles work best in the region has been exponential, Krejcik says. “We’ve worked out so much over the years. With this foundation and history, we’re able to ask more nuanced questions about wines and customer experiences. We have many more opportunities to elevate the region in 2023 than we did in 2003.”
The bottom line for the consumer, Krejcik says, is to understand that a great variety of styles of world-class wines are being produced in the Brandywine Valley, and that each individual property provides different experiences. “Brandywine Valley wines come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on what you’re in the mood for, or what you’re celebrating, there is a winery here that will exceed your expectations.”
Chaddsford Winery: “Wine for everyone”
Since 1982, the Chaddsford Winery team has worked hard to build a broad portfolio of wines in different styles that each bring out the best of the grape varietals they’re cultivating. They’ve worked equally as hard at education and accessibility. “Our job is to help guide the customer to identify what they like and what gives them the most joy,” Krejcik says. The focus is on making approachable, food-friendly wines and sharing them in a fun, casual environment.
The whole experience is important in part because wine creates such personal and soulful connections. “We remember certain flavor profiles because of where we were, and who we were with, when we first tasted them,” Krejcik says—whether that’s a crisp, cool white or a big, warm red. “For many people who come to CFW, it’s their first time at a winery, or an East Coast winery, or a Pennsylvania winery. We take that responsibility to heart.”
Krejcik’s passion stems in part from his own first tasting experience, in 2001, with his then-girlfriend Gretchen. “We were exposed to something that became a big part of our lives,” he says. “There’s a wine for everyone, and our hope is that people will fall in love with the beautiful science and agriculture of Pennsylvania wines.” Gretchen and Krejcik are now married, and she is the Controller at CFW. Award-winning winemaker Gabriel Rubilar, in his fourth year at CFW, is “hitting his stride with his style and approach,” says Krejcik.
Rachel Rhan, who is Retail Manager at CFW, also wears the hat of wine educator. She’s passionate about making people feel welcome and comfortable and giving them the level of education they need and want—whether that’s a quick consult at a festival to pour them just the right wine or a more in-depth conversation at a barrel room tasting. Part of that deeper level of education, Rhan says, is “Helping people understand what we produce as a winery in southeastern Pennsylvania and our place in the larger picture of winemaking.”
Limited tickets for Kennett Summerfest still available
Kennett Summerfest, on Sunday, June 11th, will celebrate exceptional local wineries and distilleries, bringing together wine, spirits, cheeses from local producers, food, and live music in a sophisticated festival atmosphere. Summerfest attendees will also have the opportunity to enjoy the 2023 Kennett Blooms: Floral Flash installations.
“For years, I’ve been visiting each of these local wineries on sunny weekend afternoons,” says Daniel Embree, Kennett Collaborative’s Executive Director. “Having them all together against the backdrop of Kennett’s beautiful streetscapes, shops, and restaurants feels like having all of summer in a day. You won’t want to miss this. Get your Summerfest tickets before they sell out!”
In addition to BVWT members, Summerfest will also feature 1723 and Wayvine as well as Honey Lane Winery/Meadery, Philadelphia Mead Company, Flickerwood Wine Cellars, Cidery Dressler Estate, Copperglen Still Works, Revivalist Spirits, and Spring House Spirits. Live music will be provided by Bryan Tuk + The Big Brass Ones.
Photos by Dylan Francis