A Sip of the Grape in the Land of Wobbly Bob.

The odds that I would end up this past Saturday night drinking a sparkling white wine made in the methode champenoise with a most affable Tom Rupp at Union Barrel Works in Reamstown? Reasonably long, I’d think.

But the odds that the wine we would be drinking drinking came from a vineyard in Douglasville, about an eight minute drive from my humble abode? Off the books.

Yet, that’s what happened.

Start at the beginning, which was around 3 in the afternoon, when I arrived home after a family event which had filled the day from 9am on, planning to perhaps take a nap and then spend the evening kicking back. But there was a telephone message waiting from Mr. Big Dan Bengel, inquiring if I was up for a jaunt to UBW for a few beers and early dinner.

I was, especially since part of my ever-shifting battle plan for this week was to get up to Reamstown and look things over prior to the one-year anniversary celebration this weekend. To do so on somebody else’s gas mileage and without having to worry about drinking ever so cautiously? Such a deal.

Big Dan, designated driver Cruella, Steve Rubeo (who is apparently working his way back to the top of the “little guy traveling with Dan” list) and I arrived around 4:30 and parked ourselves at the corner of the bar. There were nine beers listing on tap, most with catchy names like Wobbly Bob Doppelbock, Double Barrel Vienna and Dubbel U, and I was told there was also a Pilsner not yet listed. “And what do you call the Pilsner?” “Pilsner.” I chose it anyway and it was quite good although perhaps a bit sweeter than my palate, now well trained by the hoppier Victory and Sly Fox interpretations of the style, expected. While it was pouring, I took the opportunity to formally meet and shake hands with Rupp, who came walking by and whom I’ve known all these years only by telephone.

As I was finishing my first beer and ordering the Double Barrel (a ramped up version of a Vienna Lager which was my favorite beer of the night and which I sadly forgot to bring home in a growler as I planned after first sip), I overheard two members of the waitstaff discussing a bottle of wine and the words “in Douglasville” caught my attention.

Say What?

Sure enough, they were talking about a bottle of Chambourcin from Manatawny Creek Winery, which, I have since discovered, is on Levengood Road, roughly ten miles from where I sit. While I’ve sort of lost touch with the wine world over the past decade, I knew there were a lot of Pennsylvania vineyards getting considerable attention in recent years. There’s Chadds Ford, of course, which has been there forever, and the J. Maki Winery at French Creek Ridge Vineyards, in Elverson, about the same distance from me as Manatawny. The Philadelphia Inquirer did a long story manatawnyabout Penns Woods, a winemaker located in the most unlikely place of all, Eddystone, down by the airport, just last Thursday.

In any case, I decided that I needed to try the Chambourcin and purchased a glass to go with my beers. I was pleasantly surprised, finding it a very appealing, fruity red. During the evening, publican Rupp had been most gregarious, a far cry from his reputation as a bit stand-offish, stopping to chat with us as he refilled glasses, and when I made some joking remark about a “Pennsylvania champagne,” he allowed as how Manatawny did in fact produce such, or at least a sparkling wine made in champagne fashion, and then brought out a bottle of their Blanc de Blancs to prove it when I suggested he must be kidding. I said I’d come back some night when I was flush and give it a try, and he replied, “you folks have been sitting here buying a lot of beers, so I’ll just open it and we’ll all try it.” And so we did. It was much too sweet for my tastes, like a lot of relatively inexpensive California sparkling wines I’ve had in my time, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of as a vintner.

Anyway, it was an totally unexpected experience. As for the other beers, I had me a second Double Barrel and then a Wobbly Bob, mixed in with small tastes of Tom’s Pale Ale (on the handpump) and the Dubbel U (a Belgian, um, Dubbel, based–I think he said– on the Dubbel he brewed at Stoudt’s during his time there), and finished off the evening with a very nice Round Boy Stout.

All in all, it was a most excellent Saturday night, and, wow, very inexpensive. Given all the beers and food (mostly apps, with the Bruschetta and Olive Tapenade sticking most in my memory) we had, we got out of there at $35 a piece, including a tip of nearly 40%. And Cruella (whoever gave her that terrible name, wonderful lady that she is”), our designated driver, got us home all safe and sound.

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