This is the second installment of a two part profile of Gino Razzi, owner and winemaker of Penns Woods Winery.
Gino Razzi wants a revolution. His Penns Woods Winery and a small handful of others, he claims, are leading the charge to change the state’s viticulture business and the perception of Pennsylvania wines. “The potential is here,” he insists during a tour of his facility in Eddystone, Delaware County, then adds,” The industry needs to develop.”
The challenges are steep. The Commonwealth’s wine trade is only a pup, dwarfed by powerhouse concerns in California, the Pacific Northwest and even the Finger Lakes region of New York. According to Razzi, Pennsylvania wine producers struggle with a non-existent skilled work force, lack of educational resources and little exchange of information between wineries. In the Philadelphia area, there aren’t enough vineyards to support a full time enologist.
“You go to California, the guy filling your gas tank probably knows more about winemaking than the average (person) over here,” says Razzi. “(Out west), you want an analysis on your stuff, you go within 20 minutes’ distance you can walk it in. We have to send (via) UPS and send it way out there and four days later you have a result. Four days later, my soup is ruined.”
With a little more work and marketing, the spotlight will shine on worthy winemakers who are already working here, says the Penns Woods maestro. “In the last five years, things began to wake up in Pennsylvania…I think I can bring more people into the industry, let them invest more money because they recognize it’s possible.”
Razzi wants to help fellow wineries find resources, hire proper consultants, create more of a “culture of viticulture.” There are a handful of winemakers who give him hope. He credits Jan Waltz in Manheim, outside Lancaster, as a very smart farmer who has quality grape growing “in his blood.” Waltz is the sole provider of supplemental grapes for Penns Woods wines. Then there’s Rich Blair of Blair Vineyards in Berks County. Razzi muses, “They have a big heart. They have great love.”
The business of revolution would be less audacious if Razzi were a young man. His wine importing business of nearly 40 years is successful in its own right and he acknowledges he can’t currently produce enough wine to drive healthy profits for Penns Woods. Further, it’s unrealistic to expect quality Pennsylvania wines at aggressive value price points. It’s just not economically feasible. “You have to charge what you have to charge,” Razzi says. “We have more difficulties in Pennsylvania.”
His plea is for patience. With additional altruistic consumer support, the industry can continue to build and spread, garner market share, drive prices down and, perhaps most importantly, tap deeper into the potential Razzi says is inherent in Pennsylvania.
A younger Gino / Photo provided by G. Razzi
When reminded it would be easier to retire from the revolution, he is quick to reference those who helped him early on when he was a young man from Italy, back from Vietnam and college, looking to start a career in the Philadelphia area. He nods and swirls his glass, eyes fixed and far-off. “This place has treated me well and I want to give back all I can,” he says. “I do it out of passion, out of commitment. I’ll give all I can as long as I can.”
Facing one of the prime challenges of his lifetime, Razzi has a gleaming, beaming look that says he relishes every moment. He then sums up, “When Pennsylvania goes forward, (people will say), ‘That little Italian guy over there, he was at the forefront of something.’”
Contact Jeff Alexander at [email protected] / On Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeffal66