The year was 1973, and Bill Radomsky started to plant vines at Allegro. Of course, at that point, it wasn't called Allegro (that happened after John and Tim Crouch showed up.) But that spring, Bill planted about an acre and a half each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He had spent a couple years looking around south-central PA to find the best place to grow grapes, consulting soil maps and talking to folks.
This is why we're in Brogue. It's the worst place in the world to sell wine, but the best place to grow grapes. There are only a handful of other vineyards in Pennsylvania that were planted for grape-growing purposes only. Most people--wisely--start a winery and vineyard near people so that they can sell wine. This is a prudent business decision. But that's not necessarily what we're about here at Allegro. We're about growing the best possible grapes.
Most people would have thought him crazy at the time. I'm sure the folks in California thought he was nuts. (I still run into people from the left coast who think we can't get grapes ripe here in Pennsylvania.) In 1973, though, even the locals must have questioned him. It was until a year later that the Hargraves planted the first vinifera vines on Long Island. Dr. Frank in the Finger Lakes had planted some European vines a decade earlier, but word had reached very far yet. Everyone thought these tender varieties couldn't weather the weather here.
The following year, Bill planted another couple acres of Chardonnay, and then--perhaps to hedge his bets--he put in about 8 acres of Seyval Blanc (which, at the time, made some of the nicest hybrid wines around.) Keep in mind, this was all happening in Brogue......yes, Brogue…..in the early 1970s......
In 1978, the vineyard was sold to John and Tim Crouch, two musician brothers. Because Bill had been going through a divorce, the vineyard had fallen into some disrepair. It took the brothers all of the following year (1979) to get the vineyard back into shape. John said that they struggled to find the vines in the vineyard due to how overgrown it had become. Their first commercial vintage was 1980.
In the early 1980s, the brothers planted some Merlot and some Chambourcin, as well as a rootstock vineyard and an experimental plot. Unfortunately (except maybe in the case of Chambourcin), all of these froze out in the winter of 1994. At one time, this place had close to 15 acres planted to vines.
When Kris and I purchased the property from John in 2001, I set about re-structuring the vineyard. In late March of 2003, I made the tough decision to pull out many acres, leaving us with just 5. A lot of the Chardonnay was infected with leaf-roll virus, and the Seyval Blanc (planted on its own roots) was finally too weak to be economically viable.
We started to replant the vineyard in 2002, and have steadily added more vines. Early on we did not add much additional trellis acreage, but instead focused on doubling the density of the vineyard, thereby increasing the quality of the fruit. (It had originally been planted with 12-foot rows and 8-foot spaces between vines. We couldn't move the rows, so we added vines between the existing ones.) After many trellis repairs and years of digging holes to re-plant vines, we're almost up to full strength and looking to the future to plant more vines at this little piece of grape heaven in the Brogue.
In case you haven't noticed, this all started forty plus years ago. Not much in terms of European vineyard history, but for us on the East coast--and myself in particular--this is a long time.
The next steps in the vineyard development took in 2015 with the planting of new blocks on the site. The previous year we hired Nelson Stewart to develop and manage our new plantings and take our wines to the next level. Nelson already had over twenty years of grape-growing experience on the east coast ranging from managing his own vineyard to those at Black Ankle in Mt Airy, MD, Karamoor Estate in Fort Washington, PA, and Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, MD.
The 2015 planting involved early soil analysis with Lucie Morton. With her recommendations for rootstocks and clones, we set about planting Merlot (clone 181), Cabernet Franc (clone 214), and Petit Verdot (clone 1058) as well as adding more Chardonnay (clone 96). Rootstock was predominately 101-14 due to its lower vigor tendencies.
We were also concerned with trying to source the cleanest vine material possible. With the advent of the newly discovered Red Blotch virus, this made things tricky. For most of the planting, we sourced budwood from our friends Ed and Sarah at Black Ankle. They graciously allowed us to send out samples from their vineyard to a lab for analysis, and when it came back clean for red blotch and leaf roll, we took cuttings on a cold week in February of 2014 and sent them to Herrick Grapevines in California for grafting.
Fast-forward one year and all the vines are in the ground (roughly 11K), all planted meticulously by Benchmark Custom Vineyard Planting and their GPS-
guided equipment. These new blocks (and any subsequent blocks) are four times as dense as the original plantings. Row width is 7 feet with only one meter between vines, resulting in a density of about 1900 vines per acre. We are striving to reduce the yield down to about 2.5 pounds per vine so that each vine has a smaller amount of fruit to ripen. This will maximize the ripeness potential of the vineyard as well as increase the quality of the resulting wines.
The future plans are starting to be sketched out. In 2016 we plan to add an additional four acres of vines in a previously unplanted field. This block has a slight north-easterly slope to it which will allow us to plant white varieties without as much concern for burning out flavors and acidity. At this time, we hope to add in Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Semillon, and Viognier. This will bring our total plantings to about 16 acres. The first wines from these new vineyards should be available in 2019.