by Dave Williams
A bit of history: PA Wine Excellence is one of our most enjoyable and educational events. It should be attended by those who have both a negative and positive impressions of PA wines as opinions will be changed or confirmed, respectively. Today PA’s wine industry is about 50 years old, however, it all started with William Penn in 1863. While his Bordeaux cuttings did not survive they did manage to produce a cross hybrid called Alexander which became popular mid-18th century. Pierre Legaux emigrated from France to America in 1787 and started PA’s first commercial vineyard and nursery based on the Alexander grape. By mid-19th century PA was the 3rd largest producer of wine.
The locus of PA wine making moved from the southeast to the northwest with the 1864 establishment of the South Shore Winery (recently purchased and reactivated by Mazza Vineyards). The Concord grape moved Lake Erie’s focus to table grapes aided by prohibition. After prohibition the legislature created the PLCB which hindered the growth and development of PA wineries. It wasn’t until the passage of the Limited Winery Act in 1968 which allowed farm wineries to make and sell up to 50,000 gallons of wine. (Thanks to effort of Doug Moorhead who then started Presque Isle Winery with William Konnerth.) Pennsylvania’s wine industry grew from 11 wineries in 1976 to 270 or so today. Act 39 was passed in 2016 which further enabled wineries to self-distribute to licensed outlets like grocery stores and wine shops. It also authorized up to $1 million for marketing and research supporting PA wine.