Cullari Vineyards and Winery is owned and operated by Salvatore and Kathi Cullari. Salvatore was born in Italy and came to this country in the 1950's as a young child. He comes from a long line of winemakers in the old country and respects traditional wine making methods and practices. Our goal is to make wine drinking an everyday event and truly an emotional experience!
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A Word About the Grapes We Use in our Wines
In a very simple manner, grapes can be divided into three general categories (it's much more complicated, but I'm Italian, not a biologist). These three categories are Native-American (these were here, at least in the wild versions before the Columbus lead European invasion), French-American hybrids (or just hybrids) and vinifera. In reality, these categories can further sub-divided, but I want to make it simple. We actually use all three types of grapes in our wines, and I would like to say a few words about these.
Chardonnay is in the vinifera category. We grow this in our vineyard in Hershey, and it does very well. Depending on the data source you are using, it is the largest varietal grape planted in California, but it is not the most popular grape in the world. This distinction belongs to a vinifera grape called Airen, which most of you have probably never heard on as it is planted mostly in Spain. Our Chardonnay wine is not oaked like many of the California versions, and I like it better this way.
Vidal Blanc is an example of a hybrid grape. It was developed by a Frenchman by the name of (surprise) Jean Louis Vidal! Vidal was trying to produce a grape that might be used for the production of Cognac in France. The grape parents of Vidal are Trebbiano and Seibel 4986 (both white grapes). Trebbiano is the second mostly widely planted grape in the world. In Italy, Trebbiano is the most commonly grown white grape, and sometimes used along Sangiovese to make Chianti. However, it is more commonly used to make Cognac in France. Seibel 4986 is one of the many (many) hybrid grapes developed by another Frenchman by the name of Albert Seibel. Interestingly, many of the European nations have outlawed the use of hybrids in their wines. Their loss is our gain! Vidal is often used to make Ice Wines in the Northeast USA, and Canada. I love this grape! We grow it here in Hershey and I wish I had more of it. It is a great alternative to Chardonnay.
Niagara is sometimes thought to be a native American grape, but actually it is another hybrid. It is not to be confused with Viagra, but I hear it's actually better than Viagra for certain unmentionable things! It was developed in Niagara County, New York, and it's a cross between Concord (yes a red grape) and the white Cassady grapes. Cassady grapes were developed by nature and first sprang up (literally by accidental seeding) in Philadelphia, PA. Niagara grapes are currently the most commonly grown grapes in the US., but most of these are used for juice rather than wine production. We do not grow any Niagara in our vineyards.
Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the grape that is also called Pinot Gris in French. It literally means "pine shaped gray grape" because the grape clusters look like pine cones (Pinot) and the grape itself is a grayish color. These grapes probably originated in Italy, but no one really knows for sure. Most people believe that it is an offspring of the black grape called Pinot Noir (noir means black in French). We tend to make a dry Pinot, but it can also be semi-sweet or sweet. We do not grow Pinot Grigio in our vineyards.
Traminette is a hybrid grape that was developed at Cornell New York in the mid 1960?s. It is a cross between Gewürztraminer (vinifera) and Joannes Seyve (one of many hybrids developed by the Frenchman Joannes Seyve). Many people outside of the northeast portion of the US have never heard of or tried Traminette, but it is actually a really good wine. It tends to taste either very spicy (like its parent Gewurts), or floral. It pairs very well with a wide variety of foods. Our Traminette tends to be semi-sweet, but it can made dry as well. We don't grow Traminette in our vineyards, but it usually does very well in most parts of Pennsylvania.
Concord grapes are considered to be a native American variety, although the types that are currently grown have been cultivated from the wild varieties of Fox Grapes that were found here before the arrival of Europeans. Similar to Niagara, most Concord grapes in Pennsylvania are used for making grape juice and jam. Concord wines tend to be sweet or at least semi-sweet, although a dry wine can also be made. Our Concord wine tends to be more on the semi-sweet side, and most people say it tastes just like the grape or grape juice with a kick. It is interesting to note that North American Indians did not make any grape wine (or any other alcoholic drinks). The reasons for this are not clear. They certainly had access to grapes, and wild fermentation must have taken place. Perhaps the wild varieties of grapes that dominated our landscape at the time did not produce a very palatable drink. I like to think that American Indians keep their wines secret from the "White Man" and gave us tobacco instead. We do not grow Concord grapes in our vineyards, but of course they are very common here.
Frontenac is another hybrid grape that is common to this area, and it was developed in Minnesota. In case you have never been to Minnesota, it is the home of a lot of beautiful lakes in summer and very cold weather in winter! As you can probably guess, Frontenac does very well in cold weather, and it is very resistant to most of our mildew friends and neighbors. The wine tends to be very dark, and it usually has a very high acid level. We don't have a lot of this grape planted so I use it exclusively for blending, but it can make a nice varietal as well. It tends to be very vigorous and I find the vines are hard to train, but it is a very safe grape to grow in our region.
Catawba grapes are also considered to be a hybrid variety, but their exact origins or parents are not known. In some ways, this grape's fungus susceptibility and maturing pattern makes it more similar to vinifera than hybrid grapes. However, it tends to be very cold-hardy and it does very well in most parts of the Northeast US. During the 1800's, this grape was actually the most widely planted grape in our country. However, the American civil war, plus the popularity of other varieties such as Concord and Niagara soon ended this dominance. Although Catawba is a red grape, it usually produces either white or pink wines. In addition to having a white Catawba varietal wine, we blend this grape in a number of our other wines. I like this grape a lot and think it should be a dominant player in the Pennsylvania wine industry. We do not grow Catawba grapes in our vineyards.
Riesling is a vinifera type grape that is usually associated with Germany, which makes some of the best Riesling wine in the world. However, it also does extremely well in the Northeast US, especially in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, which I think produce some of the best versions of this wine in the US. Pennsylvania also produces a high quality Riesling, and it is one of our best selling white wines. Similar to our Chardonnay, we do not oak Riesling. Along with Traminette, Riesling tends to be one of the most versatile wines for pairing with food. We do not grow Riesling in our Vineyards.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a vinifera type red grape that along with Merlot is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It is probably most famous for being one of the three most often used grapes in a Boudreaux blend (the other two being Merlot and Cabernet Franc). In fact, Cab S. as it is often called is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc (as many people know, "blanc" means white). Cab S. makes a great red wine that is typically oaked for many years before being released because its often has very strong "tannins". That is one reason why it is commonly blended with Merlot grapes, which tend to have softer tannins. Cab S. grapes tend to do better in dryer, warmer climates where they can fully mature. That is one reason why they are so popular in California, which has a near perfect climate for them in some areas. Here in southern Pennsylvania, the grapes do relatively well, but because they bud one or two weeks later than Merlot, they are among the last red grapes to ripen. Thus, in some seasons, it is difficult to get them fully mature. Cab S. wines also are much more sensitive to cold weather than Merlot or any of the hybrid reds. We grow Cab S. in our vineyards in Hershey.
Cabernet Franc is another vinifera type grape that is very similar to Cab S., which was described above. This grape is very often blended with other red grapes (e.g. Boudreaux style), but I think it makes a very nice varietal as well (remember that varietal wine means that it contains at least 75% of one grape). Although, California typically does not make a lot of varietal Cab F., it is fairly common in Pennsylvania, especially in the southern part of the state. Cab F. usually produces a wine that is lighter and not as full bodied as Cab S. It often has a black peppery taste. Cab F. usually buds a week or so before Cab S., and in our vineyard, it matures one to two weeks before Cab S. Thus, it is not as difficult as Cab S. to fully ripen and I usually pick it soon after the Merlot. I use it as both a primary grape and a blender. I think there is a very bright future for Cab. F. in the Pennsylvania wine industry.
Merlot grapes are also in the vinifera variety and of course are the scourge of the movie Sideways. In the Bourdeaux region of France, you can pretty much tell what kinds of grapes are grown simply by the type of dominant soil in the area. If you drive up and down the main highway of that region the primary grapes that are grown change with the soil makeup. Merlot tends to grow best in clay rich soil which I think is one reason it does so well in southern Pennsylvania. On the other hand, Cab S tends to like a more rocky, gravel soil. Similar to the other vinifera red varieties, Merlot is susceptible to various fungus such as Downy and Powdery mildew so I spray at least once a week. I have experienced Merlot to be a bit less sensitive to the cold than Cab S., but it buds earlier so it tends to be a victim of mid-spring frosts at times. I use Merlot both as a primary wine as well as a blender. Despite the movie Sideways, I love this grape. I think it does very well in southern Pennsylvania, and makes an excellent wine. My experience is that Pennsylvania Merlot is a bit darker and has more acid than California grapes so my maceration periods tend to be a little shorter than usual. Merlot is the second largest grape variety in our vineyards and I would highly recommend it for new vineyards in this part of the state.
Sangiovese grapes come from Italy and of course are in the vinifera group. Most people know these grapes as being one of the key ingredients of Chianti. Some people think that Sangiovese may have originated in Calabria, Italy, which is where I was born, and which was one of the major wine making regions of Italy during the Roman times. Currently it is planted widely throughout Italy, and in fact is the single largest grape variety in that country. By the way, Sangio means "blood" in Italian and Sangiovese means the "blood of Jove" or Jupiter, one of the most powerful Roman Gods. My experience with Sangiovese in Pennsylvania is that it could be a bit of a problem. It tends to be ripen late (in fact it's usually the last or one of the last grapes I pick). Because of it's relatively thin skin, I also find splitting and rot to be a problem at times, especially in our commonly wet falls. Similar to other parts of the world, I use this as a blender and do not have a varietal. Recently, I have started blending this with Cab S and Cab F., and this might be a good fit. This would not be my first choice if I were starting a new vineyard here, but it blends well with a variety of other red wines.
Zinfandel is another verifera type grape that probably originated in Italy and is either related to or comes from the Primitivo variety. Many Italian immigrants who settled in California brought their native grape varieties with them, which is the reason why this grape is so popular there. Many Americans equate Zinfandel with the recent white wine type, but it quite the opposite with Italians, who generally think Red. I often get asked why I grow (or try to grow) Zinfandel in Pennsylvania. The answer is very simple. I grew up with this grape. I loved Zin before Zin was in! It is one of my favorite wines (red, not the white variety), and I have been making it for years. My experience with Zin here in Hershey is that it grows relatively well. I was actually really surprised to see how early it matures and I usually pick it around the same time (or earlier) than Merlot. Would I recommend it for someone starting a new vineyard? Probably not, because it is very sensitive to cold temperatures, but if you like to experiment, why not! I use our Zin for blending with our Old Country Red, and in our number one selling Coco Nostra!
Barbera is another vinifera grape that originated in Italy, and is still the third most common red grape planted there after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Similar to Zinfandel, this is another grape that Italian immigrants brought to California and other parts of the world. I use Barbera primarily for blending and because of it's high acid content, it tends to bring out the "fruitiness" taste of grapes, especially in new wines. It grows well in our vineyard, again probably because of the high clay mix we have. I find that you probably will need to drop some clusters because it can be a bit too vigorous. It matures relatively early, but unlike some other varieties, you can let it "hang" for a long time without too many problems. Will it ever be the cornerstone of PA wines? Probably not, but I do think it has a future here.
Chambourcin is a hybrid red grape that is very commonly grown in the NE US, especially in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. This is another of the many varieties of hybrid grapes that was developed by the Frenchman Joannes Seyve. This grape produces a nice red wine that can be either sweet or dry. Recently, we have been making a sweeter version of this wine, which seems to be very popular. I tend to oak Chambourcin slightly and I often mix a little Merlot wine with it . It grows very well here and it is very resistant to the usual pests and weather patterns we have, but it does tend to ripen very late, similar to our vinifera grapes. I use Chambourcin for our varietal, and it's in the Sweet Kiss port-style wine as well.
****************************************************************************************************************************************Everything Everything I Know About Wine I Learned In First Grade
Note: I do not encourage nor do I condone underage drinking. This is simply a true account of a period of my life that was set in an era that was different and in many ways much more liberal regarding the use of alcohol than our current times.
Shortly after arriving in this country with my parents from southern Italy, we settled first in Newark and then in Elizabeth, NJ, both of which are just outside of New York City. Since we were very poor when we arrived here, for many years my family lived with my grandparents. Those of you who are approximately my age or older probably have fond memories of the late 1950?s. It was the days of Eisenhower and Elvis and Howdy Dowdy. It was the days of a 20 cent pack of cigarettes and a 20 cent gallon of gasoline. It was the days before the internet and cell phones and social media took over our lives. It was the days of free TV and Channel 11 and Mel Allen's Yankees. It was the days before political correctness, universal lying and an insipid feeling of cynicism permeated our society. For immigrants such as my family, these were the days when better times were just around the corner.
At the same time, Dickens famous line in The Tale of Two Cities, decribed this period well. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. To me it was literally the age of innocence, which in my mind didn't end until the Kennedy Assassination in 1963. But, it was also the days when rampant racism and cronyism were the de facto law of the land. I didn't know at the time, but these were going to have a profound effect on me as I grew older.
My grandfather left his wife and my Nonna less than a year after marrying her in the 1920's to come illegally first to Canada and then to the U.S. This was not an unusual event at that time. Many if not most desperate men in the very poor southern regions of Italy left their homes and families in hopes of finding a better life elsewhere in the world. Sometimes they reunited with their families. Sometimes they never saw them again. Yet, in many cases, this was literally their only chance for survival. Most Italian immigrants, 70% of them male, went either to South America (especially Argentina), Australia, Canada or the US. In fact, many of the currently famous wine regions of the world were started by Italian immigrants and the grape vines they brought with them. At the time, the US had a quota system that was meant to reduce the number of Southern Europeans that could come to the US legally. Some think that this was a form of discrimination as this system was not in effect for other parts of Europe. Nevertheless, it really did little to stem the tide of Italians coming over either legally or illegally.
Nonna was pregnant with my Dad when my Grandfather left her in our small town of Caroniti, Italy in 1922. It would be twenty seven years before they saw each other again, and thirty three years before my Dad met his father for the first time here in the US after we arrived. It may be hard to believe in these days of cell phones and internet, but there were no telephones or any other forms of communication in Caroniti at the time, nor would there be until the 1960's. In fact, when I was born, there was no electric or running water in Caroniti, or any form of transportation other than mules, donkeys and an occasional horse. Yes, living conditions were primitive to say the least! Of course, there was the mail, but my grandmother couldn't read or write so much of the time that they were separated was spent with little or no communication between them.
My Nonna wasn't the only illiterate woman in Caroniti. At the time, the general consensus in Italy was that the role of women was to get married and have kids so school was considered to be a waste of time. In fact, I can't think of a single female relative who was born before the 1950's who ever went to school even for a day. This includes my Mom, both of my grandmothers, all of aunts, and most of my older female cousins. It didn't get too much better for males. My Grandfather was somehow able to finish the first grade. My Uncle completed the third grade and later on went on to become the mayor of Caroniti. My Dad finished the fifth grade and that was a big deal at the time. I still can't figure out how I was able to get a PhD given my ancestral past. If I had stayed in Italy, I might have become a sheepherder like a lot of my relatives!
My grandfather and I became instant buddies as soon as we met each other after my family and I arrived in the US. Living without family for so long and being a naturally gregarious man, my grandfather spent most of his free time visiting and playing cards with his male friends or going to bars. Even after my grandmother joined him (which is another story), his life didn't change much. He hated to stay home, so he usually went out when he wasn't working. His favorite card games were the same ones Italians had played for centuries like Scopa, which means broom or sweep in Italian, or briscola, which was the one I liked best. He would often bring me with him to visit his friends and play cards. At the time, there was a card playing tradition called Padrone, or boss in Italian. Basically what it meant was that whoever won a series of games was the boss of the wine and could give it out to whomever he wanted. It sounds silly now, but these folks took their card playing seriously. Games were often heated and so it was a big deal when you became the Padrone. I loved it when my grandfather won because he would share the wine with his friends and of course me. So I guess the first important lesson I learned about wine is that it tastes best when it's shared with your family and friends.
Unlike many Italians of that time period, my grandfather never made any homemade wine. The reason is simple. He always lived in the city, and usually in a small apartment so he didn't have any room for wine making equipment or storage. Like most Italians, he drank wine with every meal, and it seems that there were always friends in our house visiting and of course eating. In Italy, many young children, especially males also drink wine with their meals, and in our family, this tradition was carried over to the US. Needless to say, we went through a lot of wine!
My grandfather never learned to drive so every six weeks or so, he would have three cases of one gallon containers of wine delivered to our house. I still remember that wine. It was a dry California Burgundy and years before Two Buck Chuck, he paid one dollar per gallon for it. This was long before wine became popular with most Americans, so for the most part California wine, especially jug wine was really cheap. In fact, a lot of Burgundy wine from California at the time, including this one was actually red Zinfandel, and it was pretty good. So another important lesson I learned early on is that you should never judge wine by its price alone.
Although my Grandfather never made wine, many of his best friends did, including someone we called Compare Pepe. He had been making wine for decades and in fact I still have a lot of his home wine making equipment that he left to my father, and then my father left to me. Many people don't know this but children's taste buds are much more sensitive than those of adults. This is why food tastes incredibly good or incredibly bad when you are young. By the time we are above sixty years old, about half of our taste buds no longer function. I have drank a lot of good home made wine in my lifetime, but Compare Pepe's wine was terrible. In fact, I would refuse to drink it whenever we visited his house. Of course, he would make fun of me and say in Italian, "what do you know about wine at your age."
Years later I finally figured out why his wine was so bad. It was infected with brettanomyces or just plain "brett" for short. Brett is a certain type of wild yeast that is sometimes found on grape skins. Most Italians back then, and even now use wild yeast to ferment their wine. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Wild yeast can give flavors and characteristics to wine that you can't get with cultured yeast. In fact, I often use wild yeast in our commercial wine. But, once your barrels become infected with brett, it's nearly impossible to remove it so often re-occurs each year that you make wine. That was the case with Compare Pepe's wine. It was so bad that not even a six year old would drink it! But it did teach me another important lesson and that is when you drink wine, learn to trust your own senses and taste buds. If you like it (or don't like it), it doesn't matter what so called experts think or what magical number they give it no matter how old they are, or how much experience they have.
Like many Italian woman of her generation, my grandmother was very religious. In Caroniti, which generally lacked any type of medical care at that time, my grandmother played the role similar to witch doctors of other cultures. She was often called upon to pray for people who were sick or to treat the "evil-eye." On the other hand, my grandfather was the closest thing there was to being an atheist while still being a member of a church. I think he had a lot to do with my own current perception of myself as being a Zen-Catholic. Still he didn't interfere when my grandmother suggested that my older brother and I should go to Catholic School. Anyone who ever went to Catholic school, especially in those days could probably write a book about their experiences, and it's the same with me.
At the time, most schools sent the children home for lunch. Even though I was barely six years old, and we lived in a fairly large city, I walked home alone everyday. One day I almost got killed crossing a street. I still don't know how that guy was able to stop his car literally inches before hitting me. I learned to be very careful after that. Some people might think that my parents were lax in not supervising me more carefully. But in Caroniti, there were no cars and young children of every age spent most of their days outside playing. The closest my family ever came to an accident in Caroniti was when my mother and I were thrown off a donkey on our way home from the fields!
Nonna cooked lunch for us every day. Unlike here in the US, lunch and dinner are equally important meals in Italy. That's why even today in Italy virtually everything shuts down for a few hours in the afternoon. Being a typical Italian meal, I always had wine with my lunch. At some time soon after I started school, my grandfather began getting calls from an old Irish Nun at school (he was the only adult in our family who spoke any English). "Your grandson is coming to school every day smelling like wine!" "Smelling like wine?" my grandfather asked bewildered. "Yes!" said the nun. "Well, what's wrong with that?" my grandfather said. "You can't let a first grader drink wine at lunch! That's not allowed." I can still hear her voice screaming in my head.
My grandfather explained to my grandmother in Italian that the nun at school had called and said I wasn't allowed to drink wine with lunch anymore. "Why not?" she asked. "I don't know" my grandfather, said. "It must be another one of those crazy American rules." Still, if the nun said I wasn't allowed to have wine with lunch, then that was the way it was going to be. The next day my grandmother give me a beer instead of wine. "NO, NO, NO!" said the Nun. "You don't seem to understand. No alcohol for lunch!" The important lesson I learned here was that in Europe, wine has a culture that some people will never understand.
In a different life, my grandfather probably could have become a professional singer. He loved to sing, and because he was my idol at the time, I decided that I was going to become a singer also. In fact, for a long time, our close Italian friends always called me "canta turre." 'Canta' means to sing in Italian, and Turre was my nickname. We literally spent hours in bars together week after week singing old Italian songs. It was not unusual for the bar patrons to buy my grandfather drinks in order to hear him sing, and I must confess right here that sometimes they bought drinks for both of us. Yet for as much as my grandfather drank, and he drank a lot, I never once in my life ever saw him drunk. He always knew when to quit, and in so doing taught me a really important lesson about wine and alcohol in general and that is it is best consumed in moderation.
Since I liked to sing so much at the time, it's not surprising that I decided to try out for the youth choir that we had at our school. I still vividly remember the afternoon that I and a number of other students tried out. I must admit that I had a pretty good and strong voice as a child so it came as a shock when a number of us, including myself were told that we couldn't sing in the choir. It was only later that I figured out that the only kids who made it were Irish-Americans. That was not the only time that bias and racism entered my life. In this country, my father always had a difficult time getting any type of meaningful job because of his different background. Years later in 1964, my best friend at the time whose name was Lonnie and I were asked to leave a Maryland restaurant on a school trip because they didn't serve "negroes." Lonnie was an African-American. My complexion has always been pretty dark so I guess they didn't want to take any chances. It was also in 1964 that my grandfather left his wife again, this time to go back to Italy for the remainder of his life. The important lesson here was that good people like good wine seldom last forever, so you have to appreciate them while you can.
Still later when I first started college and wanted to major in English in order to become a writer, I was told by the Department Chairman that I couldn't because I wasn't born in the United States. How he knew that just by looking at me, I'll never know. I'm sure that there were other subtle or not so subtle similar situations that I never even noticed or knew about. So the most important lesson of all I learned is that people and grapes have a lot in common. Some are small or immature. Some are rotten and should be avoided at all costs. Some are thin-skinned or sour. Some are very difficult to work with. Some look great on the outside, but never produce anything you like. On the other hand, if you are very patient, the sweetest ones make it all worthwhile.