Elwin’s musings #2 of 2018 Growing Season

The young wines of 2018 now in the tanks tell their own story on how, as a grower and wine maker, we at HVVW managed this season of too much rain, too little sunshine, minimal heat units, high humidity, plus opportunistic insects, and fungal pathogens.  Our customers will have access to the white wines late 2019 and will be our best references for the 2018 whites.   The 2018 red wines will spend from 1-3 years aging before release.  All the early indications are that the wait will be worth it.

  The vineyard to me is the soul of our winery business and it is the time keeper of all that we do in the field, the winery and tasting room (vineyard with leaves; and without).  It also has a language with its unique dialect that communicates an honest testimony of what occurred this past growing season and what to expect for yields and quality over the next season – if not several growing cycles.   Vine and soil are linked through a complex system of roots, rootlets, symbiotic and other microbes too small to discern with the unaided eye.  We nurture our vines by limiting the amount of fruit they carry after fruit set through verasion and final ripening.   We apply finished compost (picture making compost) to the soil as needed to sustain a healthy balance of nutrients and water for the vines.   Our intention is to apply our collective wisdom in a way that it creates a heathy condition for soil, the plants, our staff, and customers.   All these elements are part of the final product…… the wine… and it is the individual who sees the wine, catches the bouquet and savors the flavors of the terroir – the soul – they are at the moment where it all comes together.   That person will know if the young wines of 2018 mirror the best of the ‘valley’.

Elwin’s musings: gratitude & comments on the 2018 growing season  

I often reflect in my mind how grateful I am for all those who have contributed to our growing a successful winery business so now is a good time to say thank you and to express how grateful I am for the successes we have enjoyed since establishing our vineyard in 1999, licensing our winery in 2010, and opening the ‘on-farm’ tasting room in 2013.   By buying wine from us and telling our story to others you have made it possible for us to grow our business, hire people, and give back to the community in numerous ways – helping others.  

Grape harvest this year was compressed into a five week period of time so between picking grapes, crushing and destemming, wine making, the tasting room, the Fort Ligonier Craft Festival, and the North Atherton Farmers Market,  it has been busy and we could not have managed without a concerted team effort from all the staff at HVVW.   They have made the harvest season a real joy this year.

I cannot tell you how many times we have been asked about the possible impact the rain has had on the quality of our grapes this year.   I hope I can capture the season in a few sentences.   I have been a grape grower for more than eighteen years so I am familiar with our cultivars, the weather patterns, our site, and my growing style.   I knew very early in the season that the growing season would be a wet one so we groomed the vines so they would shed some of the excess rain water.  The vineyard is oriented so that we benefit from the Westerly winds – they dry water off the leaves and fruit when it stops raining.  We treated the vines for fungal diseases and insects using soft chemicals on a timely basis.   We do not expect our vines to ripen all the fruit they are capable of producing so we drop at least 30-40% of all fruit early in the season so that the vines can ripen less but produce high quality fruit within the framework of our growing season.   As a consequence of our efforts all our white grapes were harvested with excellent sugar, pH, total acidity, cultivar character, and only a few bad grapes per cluster.   Cayuga and Riesling were near perfect this year.  The red grapes were allowed to ‘hang’ on the vine for an extended period of time to reach the highest sugar concentration possible given the season which was between 18.5-19.7 brix (=sugar).    We were able to allow the reds to hang longer because they were disease free!   Chancellor, Chambourcin, Noiret, and Corot Noir grapes were excellent.  Those wines are through primary fermentation and now going through secondary fermentation (ML).   Logan Bashline and I were very excited by the fragrance, body, and deep color of all our young wines.    My answer now is that the rainy season tested our ability to grow wine but we judge the young wine to be excellent.  However, we will submit these to wine judging competitions to see how they actually compare to other wines made from   this 2018 growing season.   

Award Winning Wines

Happy Valley Vineyard &  Winery won several medals at "The Finger Lakes International" wine competition.   The FLIWC is among the Elite of the International competitions so we are especially pleased to have done so well.

Double Gold Medal- Blaufrankish(dry red wine)

Gold Medal- Meritage(dry red wine)

Silver Medal-  Chardonnay(dry white wine)

Silver Medal Tempranillo (dry red wine - vines originating in Spain)

Silver Medal - Hard Pressed Cider(this is an exquisite semi-dry hard cider made from apple juice pressed at Ways fruit farm)

Bronze Medal - Petit Syrah (a young dry red wine that will mature in time to the Gold Medal ranks of fine wine)


We also won numerous medal from the Pennsylvania Winery Association announced at our annual PWA meeting in March:

Gold Medal - Traminette(semi-sweet white wine)

Gold Medal - Hard Pressed Cider ( (this is an exquisite semi-dry hard cider made from apple juice pressed at Ways fruit farm)

Silver Medal - Chambourcin (dry red wine)

Bronze Medal - Chancellor(dry red wine)

Bronze Medal - Noiret (dry red wine)

Sustainability at Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery

When I tell people that our business model is based on being sustainable, I think about what that means to me and can only guess that it means many different things to my audience.   To be ‘sustainable’ in the context of how I use the term, one must protect the soil, venerate the vines, and respect the people who work the business as well as the people who buy our products and understand at some level how they are all connected.

Our sustainable farming practices begin with keeping our soil on our farm.   We achieve this is a number of ways.  Foremost, we maintain a permanent cover crop in the form of grass between the grape rows to reduce erosion and to help manage weeds.  The grasses bind the soil in place and contribute to a highly diverse soil microbial community making it possible for the vine roots to absorb water and essential nutrients.  

 All the materials involved in wine making and sales except glass, metal, and plastic end up in our composting program.  Finished compost is spread onto the vineyard in the spring.  Compost can replace the use of synthetic fertilizers, it builds soil and sustains a highly diverse microbial community which contributes to more healthy grape vines that tend to be more tolerant of pests.  We derive a significant savings because we buy very little commercial fertilizer and use fewer pesticides.

The prevailing winds at our farm come from a Westerly direction so we laid out the vineyard rows in a North South orientation so the vines would be regularly ‘washed’ by the wind.   The wind does a credible job drying off moisture in the form of morning dew and from rain fall.  Vines that are dry require less disease management so pesticide use is significantly reduced at a cost savings to the business.   The sun moves from East to West so vine rows aligned North South results in the grapes clusters on either side of the vine receiving about the same amount of sun light each day.  This practice contributes to a more uniform ripening at harvest and higher quality wine grapes.    We remove leaves around the clusters by hand and reduce cluster numbers which allows the wind to flow through the canopy which reduces bacterial and fungal infections making it possible to further reduce pesticide use.  We minimize the use of insecticides and closely monitor the population growth of predator insects in the vineyard.   Reducing  insecticide application in our vineyard has resulted in an increase in the population of insect predators which is good for the environment and our operating budget.   Happy Valley Vineyard is a cool climate vineyard growing mostly inter-specific hybrids, cultivars that are genetically suited to our local growing conditions.  The decision to focus on growing hybrids and making fine wine from them has contributed to our sustainability. 

Most of the “eco-glass” glass bottles we use to package our wine are made in Pennsylvania so the cost to the environment are minimized as compared to bottles shipped to the East Coast from California, Europe or China.  The bottles we use contain fewer raw materials, and weigh less, so they require less energy to transport empty or full as compared to standard glass bottles.  

Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery has made a significant commitment to renewable energy by installing two photovoltaic arrays on the property.  The goal was to completely off-set our carbon foot print and to that extent, we have dramatically reduced it.  One 9.8 KV system was installed on the roof of the winery by Envinity.  That system provides about 85% of the power needs during those months when they are clear of snow.  A second photovoltaic ground mounted array installed by ‘Sun Directed’ supplies the home, outbuildings and the wine storage complex with nearly 100% of the electrical requirements.    There are solar powered charging stations in a shed at the home and one is available at the winery for the electric vineyard golf cart and select vineyard tools.   The farm is fully committed to solar based power for our operation and we will continue to invest in this technology.   The winery and tasting room utilize solar power for pumps, lighting, heating and cooling.   Both structures are engineered for efficiency and were built facing South to take advantage of the power of the sun.   Many, but not all the materials used to construct the tasting room were made in Pennsylvania.  

Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery depends primarily on our locally grown vines for its wine.  The 2016 grapes harvested were near perfect so we are expecting fine wine from this vintage.    

At least 80% of all dollars spent on wine at the farm wine tasting room stays local in support of our staff and the community.    The remainder goes to the Commonwealth and Federal Government for fees and taxes.



Awards received to date...

At the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show

  • Bronze - Estate Cuvee

  • Bronze- Rose Cuvee

  • Bronze- Three Sisters

  • Bronze- Chambourcin

  • Bronze-Noiret

  • Bronze- Happy Valley Red

At the 2018 Pennsylvania Farm Show

  • Gold- Fox Point Sweet Blush

  • Silver- Appalachia Red

  • Bronze- Riesling

  • Bronze - Prairie Rose

  • Bronze- Happy Valley Red

  • Bronze- Hard Pressed Cider

At the 2018 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

  • Gold- Meritage

  • Silver- Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Silver Tuscano

  • Silver- Petite Sirah

  • Silver- Hard Pressed Cider

    At the 2016 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

  • Gold- Meritage

  • Silver - Cabernet Franc

  • Silver - Merlot

  • Bronze- Cabernet Sauvignon

    At the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show

  • Double Gold and Best of Show- Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

  • Silver- Riesling

  • Silver - Sweet Cayuga

  • Bronze- Red Raspberry

    At the 2015 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

  • Gold- Meritage

  • Silver- Chambourcin

2015 Pennsylvania Farm Show

  • Bronze - Pinot Grigio

  • Bronze - Noiret

  • Bronze - Appalachia Red

  • Double Gold and Best of Show Sweet wines - Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

  • Bronze- Chambourcin

  • Silver - Chancellor

    At the 2015 Pennsylvania Wine Competition

  • Bronze-Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

    At the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

  • Gold - Appalachia Red

  • Silver - Chancellor

  • Silver - Ruby Throat Rosé

  • Bronze - Red Raspberry

At the 2014 Pennsylvania Wine Competition 

  • Double Gold - Chancellor

  • Gold - Appalachia Red


2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show: 

  • Gold - Appalachia Red

  • Silver - Blue Luna  

  • Bronze - Autumn Wood

  • Bronze - Chancellor

2013 Pennsylvania Farm Show:

  • Gold - Vidal Blanc

  • Gold - Royal White

  • Silver - Noiret

  • Silver - Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

  • Bronze - Fox Point

  • Bronze - Three Sisters

  • Bronze - Dry Cayuga

2013 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition:

  • Silver - Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

  • Silver - Noiret

  • Bronze - Dry Cayuga

  • Bronze - Vidal Blanc