Ever heard of Tin City? Not to be confused with “Sin City,” a nickname for Las Vegas, Tin City is a contemporary indie wine trail and artisan food and drink hangout built in an industrial park in Paso Robles. The name refers to the metal industrial warehouses that line this walkable area, now filled with winery tasting rooms and eating spots. Don’t miss the artisan sheep’s milk ice cream at Negranti Creamery!
There are roughly 20 small-lot production wineries with tasting rooms in Tin City which makes it a nice day visit. And that’s where we met up with Jeff Strekas of ONX wines to taste and talk.
Founded in 2005 by Orange County (CA) entrepreneur and real estate developer Steve Olson, ONX (pronounced “onyx”) refers to the onyx calcite deposits discovered in the mineral rich soil. The vineyards are located on a 127-acre property in the Templeton Gap District AVA. ONX cultivates 18 different grape varieties, mainly Bordeaux and Rhone white and reds but also Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo (we liked the Tempranillo “Indie Rosé”).
Jeff Strekas’s bio says he is a “general misanthrope and curmudgeonly spectator of the “Theater of Life.” We found him pleasant and deeply knowledgeable about the Paso Robles area. He was born and raised in Connecticut and caught the wine bug after traveling to Napa frequently when he worked as a biochemical engineer. After graduating U.C. Davis, he worked in winemaking in Napa and Australia and eventually in Paso Robles. He’s worked at ONX for more than a decade, originally in winemaking and now as Director of Operations and Wine Growing.
ONX’s winemaker is currently Drew Nenow, who worked at his father’s Robert Nenow Winery and aunt and uncle’s Behrens and Hitchcock Wines. Nenow could also be a body double to actor, Tom Cruise, with his wide grin and shock of dark hair.
Our visit to ONX included a two night stay at Briarwood Cottage. Owned by the winery, it’s a cozy, well-appointed place to rest your head, walk among the vineyards and write about the day. Info: Briarwood Cottage Vacation Rental — ONX Wines.
Tin City is a must stop for your visit to Paso Robles. We wish we had more time to visit more of the tasting rooms and plan to do so when we schedule our return trip.
Here is a link to our podcast with Jeff Strekas on The Connected Table LIVE! Continue reading to learn what we tasted.
If you follow a vegan diet, be aware that some vintners may use animal byproducts such as egg white fish bladder (isinglass) and animal milk protein (casein) to clarify the wines, a process known as fining. To be 100 percent vegan, no animal products may be used anywhere, and the wines must be filtered using vegan methods.
But do how you know a wine is truly vegan?
Since there is no official certification for vegan wines at this time, knowing the vintner’s wine making methods and the supplier of the wines are both important. One example is Vegan Wines founded by Frances Gonzalez, a longtime vegan. Frances personally visits and inspects vineyards, from soil to bottling, to select wines for her portfolio and vegan wine club. All are 100 percent vegan.www.veganwines.com
Are Vegan Wines Organic?
Vegan wines can be made with organic or non-organic grapes and they may or may not contain added sulfites. Organic wines may contain other organic additives or animal byproducts.
Wine labeled “certified organic” in the United States must abide by criteria established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); no non-organic products may be used in any area of the winemaking process. The use of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or other chemicals in the vineyards is forbidden, so is adding sulfites.
Organic certification regulations vary by country. Many European vintners we’ve met follow organic farming practices. Some producers apply for organic certification believing the designation helps sell their wines in the international market. Others producers feel the time and expense to undergo certification is not worth it.
We recommend reading- up on the wines you are interested in tasting by vising their website and attending tastings for vegans. A few sources include Vegnews and Barnivore
Vegan Wines offers a wine club that allow participants to try different selections. Frances conducts free virtual tastings and is active on the speaking circuit to educate consumers about vegan wines. We had the chance to sit down with her to discuss her mission and a few wines on The Connected Table SIPS.
Listen to Frances Gonzalez discuss choosing vegan wines
Located in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania The Lehigh Valley is one of this state’s five AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). There are more than two dozen wineries in the Lehigh Valley; most are family owned. An early autumn visit in 2019 arranged by the Pennsylvania Wine Association and Discover Lehigh Valley associations introduced us to the appellation and a few of its producers.
Pennsylvania is the nation’s fifth largest wine producing state.
But you need to visit to taste most of the wines. By law, Pennsylvania wines are mainly sold by state-run wine and spirits retailers, or in restaurants. Wineries can also sell direct to consumer, and many welcome visitors to their tasting rooms. It’s a great reason to plan a wine destination road trip to Pennsylvania, especially now if you are into driving trips on the East Coast.
Besides, the area is beautiful; picture rolling farmland dotted by red barns. We learned the Pennsylvania Dutch, descendants from Germany who settled in the region, had an affinity for the color red which is a symbol of love. The red paint was also used to seal in heat to endure the harsh winters.
Many of the grapes cultivated here are heartier to withstand the temperamental weather which includes very cold winters and hot, humid summers. Lehigh Valley’s southeast location has a longer growing seasons; soils are limestone and shale which allow for excellent drainage. Both vitis vinifera and French American hybrids are cultivated.
Among the European varieties we tasted and liked include the whites, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay, Reds include, but are not limited to, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Lemberger (also known as Blaufränkisch ) and Syrah.
The Chambourcin hybrid is the most widely planted red in the Lehigh Valley. We tasted wines from this variety ranging from dry and supple to off dry, both still and sparkling. Baco Noir and Noiret, both with a Cabernet character, are also prevalent here. Hybrid whites include Sevyl Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Vignoles.
All the wines we tasted during our brief visit were a pleasant surprise. We look forward to returning to Pennsylvania to spend more time in other viticultural areas.
Lehigh Valley wineries to visit:
Galen Glen Winery. Galen Troxell, formerly a chemical engineer, and wife, Sarah, a chemist, left their corporate careers to take of his family’s 200- year- old farm, located on a hill overlooking a valley (a.k.a. the “glen”). They established the winery in 1986. Sarah serves as chief winemakers, now joined by daughter, Erin.
Most are vitis vinifera plus a little Chambourcin and Cayuga, another white hybrid. Galen Glen was the first Pennsylvania winery to plant Grüner Veltliner and also the second in the U.S.A. to do so. Sarah was inspired to plant this variety after reading an article in Food & Wine Magazine about how well it pairs with vegetables. Grüner is definitely a standout here, but we also enjoyed Galen Glen’s Gewürztraminer and Fossil Riesling, notably the library wines we tasted. www.galenglen.com
Clover Hill Winery
This winery was formerly a Christmas tree farm when John Skrip, a physician, and his wife, Pat, acquired it in the 1970s. Initially thy planned to grow grapes and make wine as a hobby but friends and locals wanted more of their wine. In 1986, it became a licensed winery and now producers around 400,000 cases. John Skrip, Jr, serves as winemaker now and works with his sister, Kari, who oversees marketing.
During our visit, we tasted several Clover Hill wines paired with a selection of pierogi made by a local family, a nod to the German influence in the Lehigh Valley. If you visit, try the sparkling Vidal Blanc wine and the Chambourcin Port, both unique to this winery and the area. We also enjoyed Clover Hill’s Pinot Noir but sadly they are ripping out the vines that were damaged from storms. If you see one of their Pinot Noirs at a store, buy it! www.cloverhillwinery.com
Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery
Established in 1974, Vynecrest is the oldest winery in the Lehigh Valley and one of the founding members of the AVA. Its facilities are housed in an 18th century barn. Also family-run, Vynecrest is owned by John Landis and wife, Jan. Our visit took place during harvest, and it was all hands-on deck for John’s sons.
Of the wines tasted, we enjoyed the white Traminette 2016, a Gewürztraminer hybrid and the Lemberger 2017. Landis’ son told us “Lehigh Valley is mainly a white wine region that does red really well.” www.vynecrest.com
We did not visit Stony Run Winery or Tolino Vineyards but we tried their wines at our welcome dinner and would suggest trying more (we want to!). We tasted Stony Run’s delightful sparkling brut cuvée made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, made in the Charmat method. Tolino Vineyards’ barrel aged Cabernet Franc (2017) was elegant and underscored why we are fans of east coast Cabernet Franc wines. www.stonyrunwinery.comwww.tolinovineyards.com
Further afield: Maple Springs Vineyard
This stunning piece of property may be pushing the Lehigh Valley borders and it took a while to find but, but it was well worth it! Maple Springs Vineyards is owned by Marianne Lieberman, whose work in her family’s airport advertising business in Manhattan. In 1995, she acquired the farm and named it “Maple Springs” in memory of Marianne’s grandmother, Helen Maple Doern.
The “Springs” are a nod to the underground springs on the property. Lieberman planted Chardonnay vines in 2008 and two years recruited winemaker, Jeb Stebben, who worked in California at Opus One and Carneros Creek. The Maple Springs Chardonnay is a stunner as was the Pinot Noir. www.maplespringsvineyard.com
If you visit Lehigh Valley
The city of Allentown offers plenty to see and places to dine. For something a little more “away” and romantic, consider the Glasbern, an historic on 150 acres of farmland with walking trails. Our king bed room came with a spacious seating area and large hot tub that overlooked the heated pool. The restaurant serves as fabulous breakfast and a small, seasonal dinner menu. Special event facilities and a spa are also on-site. www.Glasbern.com
Listen to our podcasts on The Connected Table LIVE with these Lehigh Valley producers:
Sarah Troxell, Galen Glen Winery (2nd segment on this show episode)
Winemaker Sarah Troxell and husband, Galen, own Galen Glen Winery (est 1995) in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Galen Glen was the first winery to plant Grüner Veltliner on the East Coast and second overall in the U.S.
Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is home to nine family-run wineries. Siblings Kari & John Skrip are second generation family members managing Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery, one of the region’s oldest wineries.
Susana Balbo, Founder of Susana Balbo Wines, has a career history of firsts: The first Argentinian female winemaker, first Argentinean woman to become a global wine consultant and first Latin American woman to chair the W20 Summit. She has served as a member of Argentina’s parliament representing the Mendoza region, and she served three terms as President of Wines of Argentina during which time Argentinian wines gained global recognition and achieved record export growth.
Balbo believes to lead is to set an example for future generations. Interestingly, her original dream to study abroad and become a nuclear physicist in the 1970s was discouraged by her parents. She told us at the time, things were different politically in Argentina, and her parents wanted her to stay closer to home in Mendoza. Instead, Balbo studied viticulture and became the first woman in Argentina to earn an oenology degree. Initially, she worked in her family’s viticultural business and then spread her wings and expanded her credentials by working with Michael Torino Winery, Martins and Catena Zapa and then consulting for numerous global wine brands in South America, Australia and Europe.
After 20 years producing and consulting for other wineries, she founded Susana Balbo Wines in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza. Balbo said her vision was always to make high-quality wines with beautiful fruit and elegant balanced finish, approachable when young but with promising ageabilty. Today, Balbo runs her eponymous winery with her daughter Ana, a graduate of University San Andrés in Buenos Aires, and son José, a graduate of Unversity California at Davis. www.susanabalbowines.com
Balbo spends much of her time on the road. We were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with her to share her vision on leadership and mentorship for women on The Connected Table SIPS. Balbo discussed why she chose to embrace both the role of entrepreneur and public servant, holding a position in Argentina’s parliament and leading the W20 Summit, whose mission is to create a more sustainable business and civil environment for women in South America and beyond.
A portion of this sponsored podcast was donated to Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Carol Brock Scholarship, in recognition of the Founder of this prestigious organization of leading women in food, fine beverage and hospitality. www.ldny.orgwww.ldei.org
Click this image to listen on iHeart. Also available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher and “The Connected Table Page” at Sante Magazine.