1723 Vineyards owners Sarah and Ben Cody are both fifth-generation farmers from the Midwest with a passion for great wine and working with their hands.
They purchased 36 acres of the historic McMaster farm in Landenberg, Chester County, in 2014 and a year later planted their first vines. They are sourcing 8 acres today, including a few acres on the historic McMaster farm in Landenberg, Chester County. Several more acres are growing on the historic Ford Farm, both located near the historical village of Kemblesville, right off Route 896, according to their website.
As for the winery name, the vineyard was part of the original New London Township, before current day Franklin Township was split off. New London Township was chartered in 1723. Thus, the seed for the name. The website notes that Benjamin Franklin once owned a portion of the farm along with adjoining property during the time he served as ambassador to France.
Among the premium wine grapes planted there are Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino, planted in a vineyard made up of clay and silt loam soils, interspersed with gravelly quartz and schist.
The winery is open noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations for indoor seating is suggested.
Below is the latest in the “6 Questions” series of interviews with winemakers and owners of East Coast wineries, which looks behind at what has been a turbulent year and, with optimism, looks ahead. Thanks to Ben Cody for taking these on.
Q, Same thing I’ve asked everyone: What has the last year been like there and how are you feeling about the next 6 to 9 months here on April 6? So many wineries have told me they’re trying not to plan ahead too far because so much is in flux.
A, We were fortunate to have weathered the pandemic better than most, I think. Our core customer base, and in particular our wine club, has been very loyal and supportive. We are grateful for them. Their support allows us to continue to do what we love. I’m very optimistic about the next 6 to 9 months. There’s a lot of pent-up demand for experiences outside the home. As the weather warms up, we are already seeing the return of customers to enjoy our outdoor spaces and views of the vineyard. The regional economy is relatively strong here in Chester County. A large percentage of our customers are in healthcare and education, which means they have had early access to the vaccine. All that adds up to a lot of potential for a strong 2021. As a result, we are investing for the future. Among our plans are a new covered outdoor deck exclusively for our wine club members as well as capital spending on new vineyard and winery equipment.
Q, How is the vineyard? How many acres? Assume it wasn’t too bad of a winter for the vines? And, finally, are you planting or replanting at all this spring?
A, The vineyard is in great shape given the last two winters have been very mild by Southeastern PA standards. We’re farming 8 acres now, which is as big as I want to get honestly. Winegrowing is a labor of love. Lord knows you don’t do it for the money! Our customers enjoy the intimate experience where you can visit with the owners, winemaker, etc. We don’t want to get too big or we’ll lose that. In terms of new plantings, yes we are planting a new variety called Arandell. I believe you’ve written about this in the past with Carl Helrich at Allegro.
Last fall we built a house on the vineyard, and I mean smack dab in the middle of the vineyard! But that wasn’t enough for Sarah, my wife. She wants vines growing in an arbor-like structure along the back deck. And what Sarah wants, Sarah gets. So for this arbor-like structure, we chose Arandell because it’s a new “no-spray” vine from Cornell. While the primary purpose is decorative, I am really curious to see if we can make quality wine from this cultivar. We already have a number of low spray grapes planted – Landot, Chardonel, etc. Will be interesting to see how Arandell does.
Q, What do you know now that maybe you didn’t when you opened the winery? And that was when, 2017? 2018?
A, We opened the winery back in the summer of 2017. The most significant thing that I’ve come to realize is how important it is to keep life in balance. Just like vines, humans need to be in balance to be happy. The vineyard and winery can be all-consuming if you let it. It’s important to have priorities and boundaries so relationships and well-being don’t suffer. I know sometimes our customers are disappointed that we don’t stay open late, or host evening events. But Sarah and I know that if we don’t set aside time for us, we risk there not being an “us” and winery here for folks to enjoy.
Q, Love Petit Verdot and Nebbiolo. You are growing both there, yes? I don’t know that most wine drinkers are as familiar with those as say, Merlot and Cab Sauv, but how do you use those grapes and what has the response been to the wines?
A, Yes, we are growing PV and Nebbiolo. We’ll get our first crop off the Neb this year, so will be interesting to see how it does. Obviously, there are a few growers, most notably Va La Vineyards, that do really well with it. More interesting at the moment is Petit Verdot! We’re just released our 2nd vintage of PV. The customer response has been amazing. People can’t get enough of it. I knew we were on to something when we released our 2017 and it sold out in a month. Since then, we have increased our plantings and PV is now the largest part of our production. Unfortunately, customers won’t see the increase in supply until next year, when we release our 2019 vintage. But I’m optimistic from that point onward we can meet demand. It’s a dark and mysterious grape. There are so many misconceptions about it. The first one being its reputation for late-ripening. That’s really not true. It just starts veraison later but is ready for harvest at the same time as the other Bordeaux varietals. In fact, it’s typically riper than Franc, always riper than Cab Sauv. I can see why it’s out of favor in Bordeaux because it needs a lot of water. I have seen it stall out when things get dry, which is increasingly an issue in Bordeaux. In 2019 we had a major drought and I had to bring in water trucks to keep the fruit ripening! It’s originally from the foothills of the Pyrenees where it’s more temperate and wetter than other parts of France. That’s more akin to our climate. Ironically it gets lumped in with the other Bordeaux grapes, but I can tell you from growing all 3 commercially available clones that PV is a radically different cultivar than the Carmenet ampelographic group that includes Merlot, Franc, Cab Sauv, Carmenere and Malbec. Anyway, as you can tell I just love the grape. It’s so unique.
Q, Looking at any new products, be they wine or something else, to diversify a bit? Or maybe this isn’t the year to do that, I don’t know.
A, Yes, funny that you ask. This year I held back some of our Chambourcin wine to be distilled into brandy. I contracted to have it distilled with my friend Mario Mazza up in Erie, Pennsylvania. What came back was incredible. It’s aging now in Pennsylvania oak, which we get from the Nadalie cooperage just north of Pittsburgh. Can’t wait to see how it evolves. Most people don’t know that Chambourcin was bred in France in the 1930s specifically for Cognac production. I really think we are on to something.
Q, Tell me about your sparkling program are you making the 3 every year? I’ve just seen that part of the industry grow so much over the past few years. I assume you have, too?
A, Sparkling demand continues to grow. Almost all our Franc now goes toward sparkling production now. We are also experimenting with blending different vintages together just like they do in Champagne to promote complexity and consistency. Some barrel aging of the base wines too. And of course, we are one of the few wineries that use the real methode champenoise production technique. In our new house, the basement was designed as a cave for sparkling production. That’s where we do our bottle aging, disgorging, etc. all in a naturally climate-controlled environment.
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