“I was just wrestling with a tractor — and the tractor always wins,” says an exasperated Anthony Vietri, ever the humble farmer, picking up the phone on a break from tending the grapes at his dreamy Va La Vineyards in Avondale. You have to be in touch with your vines if you want to make great wine from an old mushroom farm in Pennsylvania, where the rich soil and peculiarities of climate would make many hotshot winemakers from California pull out their hair. Vietri considered that West Coast path, too, staying out on there to make zin. But he and his wife, Karen, returned two decades ago to his family’s farm in mushroom country for a different approach. Very different.
Unlike most local winemakers who feature single varietals of familiar French grapes, Vietri has crafted several “field blends” from his 6.7 acres with a focus on Italians rarely grown successfully in these parts. And his methods are unconventional, too, processing white grapes with skin contact more typical of red wines (for his exquisite “orange” wine, Prima Donna) and, by contrast, handling red grapes for his Silk in a delicate manner more typical of a white, allowing the juice of nebbiolo, corvina, barbera, sagrantino, petit verdot grapes (among many others) to flow by free-run gravity, rather than get pressed. Silk’s blend has changed considerably over the years from largely French to more Italian varietals, which get cold-fermented and gingerly punched down just few times with his bare hands, to extract maximum aromas of delicate raspberry, cherry, and strawberry fruit notes, plus a hint of earth without their typical tannic harshness. As a result, Silk has evolved into a gorgeous oddity — a wine with voluptuous fruit and what feels like good structure, but one that also drinks seamlessly with virtually invisible edges. Is it a light-bodied red or a deep rosé? Vietri calls it a rosato in the Italian tradition, but its chameleonlike versatility is part of its magic. It can be delightful chilled, alongside grilled salmon or a plate of prosciutto in summer, or a perfect complement at room temp to a roast chicken in winter. No matter how you classify it, Silk is a unique creation, one that makes me think Vietri has truly mastered the challenges of his terroir, even if his tractor keeps the farmer humble.
— Craig LaBan
Va La Silk, $32 a bottle at Va La Vineyards, 8820 Gap Newport Pike (Rt. 41), Avondale, 19311, 610-268-2702; valavineyards.com. Available by the glass in Philadelphia, $14, at Martha, 2113 E. York St.; marthakensington.com.