Who’d think that a neurologist with a background in pharmaceuticals would want to start a winery here? After chatting with Dr. Brad Galer and his wife Lele, it becomes clear. They’ve sampled hundreds of vintages and become well versed in the operational details of producing this beverage that’s been popular around the globe for thousands of years.
Brad divides his time between different worlds – serving as Chief Medical Officer of Zogenix, based in San Diego, and also as CEO of Galer Estate Winery in Kennett Square. He experienced success with firms like Endo Pharmaceuticals, but in 2005 Lele said “Get a hobby.” That was the start of a new adventure as they entered the world of winemaking, setting up shop in the rolling hills of the Brandywine Valley.
Most people try to keep it simple: a good wine is one they like. However, producing good wines entails an investment of time, money and effort. Brad and Lele have made that investment. Brad took courses with viticulture expert Mark Chen, formerly at Penn State, later entering a two-year enology program at Washington State University (WSU), where his knowledge base was firmly established. WSU was a great place to learn – Washington has become the #2 winemaking region in the country. Consultant Lucie Morton was hired to work with Jan Grimes to develop the Galer vineyards. With the purchase of 20 acres in Pocopson, Brad and Lele laid the groundwork for their current operations.
The Galers had wanted to start a new winery, but found that taking over an existing one made more economic sense. Purchasing the former Folly Hill Winery, they tore down the old barn and built their complex, utilizing wood from trees at the Pocopson location to construct a beautifully rustic deck and adjacent seating area. The original structure has ties to the fight over slavery during the Civil War. The first planting was in 2007- 2008, their maiden voyage the 2008 vintage Chardonnay. Galer Estate enhanced the repertoire in subsequent years by including numerous other varietals, including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Vidal Blanc, Albarino (a Spanish- Portuguese grape) and Cab Franc along with a blended Rose’.
Galer Estate has been recruiting new talent to their team. In June 2014, they hired Virginia Smith Mitchell, formerly the Assistant Winemaker at Mazza Vineyards, Pennsylvania’s largest winery by volume. A “boutique” producer, Galer currently has volume of around 2,900 cases per year. Combining “old world” techniques along with the latest technology, they utilize a two-level gravity flow process along with steel fermentation units and French oak for aging to generate premium wines. In addition to their own vineyards, Galer purchases grapes from other producers in the region.
Prefer white wines, chilled to help take off the summer heat? Try the Galer Estate Sauvignon Blanc, the Albarino, the Huntress White or their Clockmaker Chardonnay. After a sampling, this author found the Clockmaker superb – perfectly balanced, a light-medium bodied wine that’s ideal for a relaxing break at sunset. More inclined toward reds? Taste their Cabernet Franc, a “single vineyard” designate which won the Double Gold Award – Best in Appellation in 2013. Lele’s favorite is the 2013 Galer Estate Rose’. Although a relatively young vineyard, they’ve established a strong reputation. A recent blind tasting by Head Sommelier Adam Junkins at the Sovana Bistro judged their wines “best in class.”
Galer Estate has an outdoor terrace where guests can take in a delightful vista of the Chester County countryside. Their tasting room is just as pleasant, with an attractively designed bar area perfect for unwinding after a hectic week. The winery showcases live music and special events on the weekends. They even have something for history buffs. Legend has it that British General William Howe stopped in at the farmhouse adjacent to the property and Hessian soldiers camped in what is now their vineyard at the Battle of the Brandywine.
There’s been an ongoing debate comparing “bigger,” bolder wines versus the recent trend toward more subtle varieties. Brad and Lele explained that they’ve enjoyed the entire range of wines, but their focus is on the production of more delicate offerings which don’t attempt to overpower you. Although I’d gravitated over the years towards buttery Chardonnays and robust Zinfandels, they convinced me that their approach is a good one. I came away with a greater appreciation for the more subtle varietals – in effect, getting an education while enjoying a fine glass of wine.
Whether you prefer reds, whites or something in between, it’s likely you’ll be pleased with the Galer Estate wines inside their tasting room or unwinding out on their terrace. So next time you’re in the area, stop in and raise a toast to summer. You can taste some locally made bread and cheeses… and may just learn a few things about wine as you take a break from the frenzied pace of everyday living.