To this day, it still blows my mind that we can drive – and take backroads no less – to cross state lines. After an impromptu decision to visit New Hope, we haphazardly discovered Sand Castle Winery. When we arrived, I thought we had landed somewhere in the hills of Tuscany.
The castle, by most standards, is not very large but took nearly three decades to build. The owners bought the land in in 1974 but didn’t begin constructing the castle until the early 1980s and finally finished it in 2007. Luckily, the winemaking began much earlier. By 1987, the winery had yielded its first vintage, which brought in 2,000 cases of Chardonnay and Riesling. The year after, the first bottle was sold.
They tasted surprisingly sweet!
The vines are actually special seedlings cloned from European stock (specifically the Mosel Valley of Germany and the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions in France) with 56k of the plants planted by hand. Today, varieties include your common Chardonnay, Johannisberg Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
The winery offers a few different tours with the cheapest at $5 and the most “expensive” at $35 (a steal if you ask me). We hadn’t booked anything in advance, but we arrived a few minutes after noon and joined the $10 tour, which includes a guided tour of its vineyards and wine cellar (roughly 15 minutes) and a tasting of its “world class vintages.”
The machine above, named “Lucy,” harvests many of the wines they produce. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are the exception, with Pinot Noir being too delicate (think water balloons- harvesting by machines would cause the grapes to explode so it’s done by hand) while the Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested by hand for quality reasons.
Harvesting times for your Reislings and Gurwurtz are in August/September, Chardonnay in September and Cabs in October.
After, the tour took us away from the sun and into the 7,000 sq ft wine seller, which is set 30 feet deep into the hillside. The winery uses both stainless steal and French Oak barrels to age the wines. According to the tour guide, “the stainless steel maintains the intensity of the fruit, while French Oak adds complexity.” At first glance, it may not seem like there’s that much wine stored in the cellar but then we learned that each big barrel stores up to 600 bottles and each small barrel 300 bottles. We also learned that corks are made from harvested bark of cork oak trees so no trees are actually cut for cork production.
The tasting session consists of a long bar with a few extra tables to catch the overfill of participants. There had to be at least 15-20 people within our session. Basically, there’s a guy that stands in front of the group, introduces the wine, teaches you how to drink it/what to do, and then walks around and pours everyone enough for at least 3-5 hearty sips.
For a $10 tour, this was a bloody steal. I still question whether we accidentally stepped into another tour without realizing it, but I’m pretty sure that our $10 included the winery tour + tastings of 12 Sand Castle wines + 1 wine glass. Furthermore, they even hand out chocolate, cashews and rosemary to illustrate how certain foods complement or take out the tartness in some wines.
We were taken aback by how delicious some of these PA wines could be. I personally liked their whites more than their reds.
Of the ones that we tried, the Claret NV was our favorite. It was served chilled, with sliced oranges (skin and all) and tasted like a refreshing Sangria. The Alpine Spice NV was a close second and tasted like liquid apple pie, as it’s served at coffee temperature. The only thing that was missing was a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There were probably only 2-3 that I wouldn’t buy. Most of them sell for around $15-20 a bottle. It was a good mix of tastings and they made sure to include a few that were suitable for any BYOB occasion.
We had some time after the tour, so we walked around the vineyards, which was simply gorgeous.
There’s even an art gallery upstairs in the castle, which opens up to a gorgeous patio overlooking the land. Loved some of the interior design up there.
This was a great trip- one that I’d recommend for anyone. The tour itself is not very long- a bit over 30 minutes but visiting the vineyards is like being swept away to a far off village in Europe. Minus the license plates and SUVs in the parking lot, you could never tell that we were only 1 hr away from the busy highways of New Jersey.
755 River Road
Erwinna, PA 18920