Maryland winery to open tasting room in West Grove this summer06/20/2023 01:18PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Caroline Roosevelt, Contributing Writer
Until recently, the term “East Coast winery” was never considered in the glossary of what accounts for a “true destination.” That title has been clutched in the palm of California and the Pacific Northwest for decades, but with changing climates and a new millennial outlook on wines that stray from the traditional concepts of wine appreciation, the East Coast is galvanizing the region into a new era in winemaking.
The Pallares family has recognized and seized on this changing landscape since they founded their Chestertown, Md.- based winery Casa Carmen in 2016. Met with success, founders Enrique and Felipe Pallares are expanding their venture to Chester County and preparing their newly-acquired farm in West Grove to become a tasting room, complete with small tapas that can be enjoyed with Casa Carmen’s wines and Spanish style vermouths. I recently spoke with Enrique Pallares to learn a little more about their operation and their expansion to Chester County.
Tell me a little about Casa Carmen.
Felipe, my wife, Laura and I started the winery in 2016 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My brother and I are from Ecuador, but we have also lived in Argentina, Spain, California and New York.
The constant was always the contact with nature, and the kitchen table. Our culture is deeply rooted in eating and drinking around the table, and in hospitality. When we moved to the East Coast, we started learning about the budding wine scene here. It’s kind of all over the place in terms of quality, as most new wine regions tend to be. California was like that in the fifties and sixties before it became a big deal in the seventies and eighties. So we became interested in the climate, the terroir and the varietals, and that’s when we realized that the East Coast was a really interesting place to grow grapes.
We have a particular interest in low-intervention wine, made naturally and with a sustainable approach. We use mostly biodynamic practices. We also have a focus on Spanish-style vermouths. In Spain and Argentina, people drink it on its own on the rocks or with soda. We wanted to bring the idea of socially eating and drinking well, as is practiced in Spain, Italy and France.
I can appreciate your experiences over there. The quality of life, the pace of life, is different in that part of the world.
Exactly! There’s a sharp difference between the weekday and the weekend here in the U.S. Going out in Spain is not the huge commitment it is here. You may just go for a small tapas and a glass of wine. It’s better to do that in an everyday way rather than waiting for the weekend to binge.
I am curious about the growing wine scene here in Pennsylvania. What kind of specialties can you grow here? What are the strengths in this region?
Out of the East Coast states, New York and Virginia have done the best job at marketing and showing that good wine can be made out here, and Pennsylvania and Maryland are right behind. It’s a matter of a region coming into itself.
There’s the problematic hegemony of Cabernet Sauvignon. You CAN grow it here, but it’s never going to be exceptional. So, on the East Coast, we have had excellent results with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which are wonderful wines. They’re never cloying, and they always have a nice structure to them.
Why did you want to expand Casa Carmen into West Grove?
We have been around this area for many years in nearby Maryland, and have been coming up here for a long time. There are real advantages to the wines up here, to the ones on the Eastern Shore. We have better growing conditions here.
While we still have our tasting room in downtown Chestertown, we sold our farm and moved our whole agricultural operation to West Grove, because we found a hillside in a windy valley that has very rocky soils and is well drained and was perfect for what we wanted to do with the vineyard. Our whole family is together here and we all work in the winery.
The Casa Carmen tasting room will be on the farm?
Yes. Part of what we want to do here is to bring people into the agricultural side of the business. From the beginning, Casa Carmen has really focused on the vermouth and tapas culture. If you go to our place in Chestertown, it really feels like a bar in Spain.
What we want to do at our West Grove tasting room is to also have tapas and cocktails and wine, and infuse the tasting room with the agricultural component of Chester County. We will grow food for the tapas here in the garden. My brother, Felipe will be the brains and chef behind the food, and will also run the tasting room.
When are you planning to open your tasting room?
At this point, we are looking for a July-August opening, but we will definitely be open by late summer.
It’s been really eye opening to hear about these wines in less limiting terms. I’m excited to check it out and I’ll also give vermouth a try. I’ve never been interested in vermouth but the way you described them, they sound delicious.
We are proud vermouth evangelists and we have converted many skeptics!
Hopefully, I’ll be one of them!
Casa Carmen is located at 378 Hoods Lane in West Grove. To learn more about Casa Carmen, visit www.casacarmenwines.com.