Just ask the physician proprietors of Paradocx Vineyard

Paradocx Vineyard (www.paradocx.com) in Landenberg, Pa., is unique. The fertile southern Chester County grape farm is run by four practicing physicians (the pair of docs). They use sustainable practices, and they offer a wine CSA program, the first in Pennsylvania.

With over 100 acres of land, 30 of which are under vine, Paradocx’s home vineyard in Landenberg, Pa., offers an array of grapes for head winemaker David Hoffman to choose from, including 27 acres of vinifera vines and 3 acres of Chambourcin and Vidal vines.

On 100 acres of rolling hills, there are 30 acres of vines, which is impressive for the region. David and Carol Hoffman and Mark and Joanne Harris, the doctors and growers, live at either end of the 100-acre farm; one family lives in the original farmhouse. After purchasing the property together in 1993, they somehow found a way to make their agricultural venture thrive while they were all still practicing in varied medical disciplines.

The first 14 acres of vines were planted in 1998, and then another 16 acres a year later. “It takes a good three years to make grapes that can become wine,” says Caryn Dolan, Paradocx’s manager for public relations and special events. “Now, they keep growing, and every year our percentages have gone up.”

Dating back to the 1950s, the property was previously a cattle and dairy farm, like much of the region once was. Most recently, up until the doctors purchased the property, it was a horse farm with some row crop vegetation, another small part of the growing operation that’s been renewed alongside the grapes.

The new barn and winery is approximately 8,500 square feet; it includes the production and retail areas and also provides storage space. The green-painted barn boards from the original barn have been incorporated into wainscoting in the new tasting room.

The mammoth winemaking plant may actually be promoting grape growing among neighboring farmers.

Dolan previously worked at nearby Chaddsford Winery. She arrived at Paradocx after word broke of the operation at her doctor’s office. Dolan’s doctor is one of the vineyard’s owners. The doctors are in their late 40s, and Dolan notes, “They love what they’re doing in the doctor’s office too.”

Dolan’s husband, Paul, handles the winery’s branding and graphics. The colorful artwork featured on some of the bottles was done by Carol’s mother, Alice James.

“It’s a nice look,” Dolan says. “Our branding is consistent with the ‘PDX’ label, and we feel our graphics push us out into the 21st century.”

Grape varieties include Auxerrois, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, petit verdot, pinot blanc, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.

Nelson Stewart recently joined the operation as a general manager, working with Dolan and another manager, John Caldwell. Stewart has taken on the role of keeping the ideas and efforts moving forward, allowing Paradocx to grow even in a sluggish economy.

In concert with the land

There is a crossover in many of the operation’s responsibilities, but David, who went to winemaking school, is primarily responsible for the winemaking and overseeing the business. Mark oversees the vineyard, doing much of the spraying and upkeep. Vines like it dry, so proper pruning lets air in and keeps mold out.

They’ve learned about grape growing and winemaking from trade meetings and through consultants and advisers from the U.S., Argentina and Italy. They also work with the Amish and local farmers to help clip and prune vines.

They have some part-time employees and take on interns who are willing to learn about viticulture. Other part-timers are called in to help on winemaking days.

Paradocx produces 20 varieties of wine, and about 5,000 cases a year, depending on the yield. “We can’t make every one every year,” Dolan admits.

The majority of the grapes for Paradocx wine are grown on-site, but the vineyard also combines efforts with two other local farming families. Teaming with the Grubers, who grow a few acres and transport their grapes to Paradocx’s facility, PDX produces Old Stone Vineyard chardonnay. There’s also a growing partnership with them for PDX’s Haywagon Vineyard chardonnay.

The other two growing operations add about 6 more acres of vines for a total of 36 acres. Paradocx has found that it’s an easy way to promote some extension of its own operation, but the partnering and additional cultivation is also good to further promote and preserve the agricultural heritage of Pennsylvania.

Mark said that the area is well-suited for growing grapes. “The climate is very similar to some of the more famous regions in France. We have enough water for good grape growth, and we have deep soils, which are also good, in general, for grape production. The climate, although it can be challenging with things like frosts and drought at times, in general is very forgiving and a good place to grow grapes,” he explained.

This is the original corncrib, which is still on the 100-acre property.

As for what sparked the interest of these friends and medical professionals, David said that by the time you graduate from medical school, you study fermentation in chemistry three or four times. “You start to get interested in fermentation, and the best product that’s fermented is wine,” he said.

The CSA is like a regular farm CSA share. Customers provide seed money at the start of a growing season, then pick up their wine four times a year at “pickup parties,” either six bottles at a time or two cases twice a year. There are about 35 to 40 CSA members. The pickup parties are always held at the vineyard. Another farm share program runs June through August and provides six bottles of wine or three of its unique paint pails for $100. Those shares can be picked up at the vineyard or at any of the vineyard’s retail locations – another novel innovation.

“Others know we do it, but they don’t do it. We may be the only ones,” Dolan said.

Marketing marvels

“You name it, we do it: weddings, baby showers, anniversaries,” Dolan said. “As long as we can keep making wine, we’re fine.”

That doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Accessibility isn’t an issue with four retail locations, including PINOT Boutique, a wine accessories store in the Center City District of Philadelphia. The fourth was recently added in Garnet Valley, Pa., at Booth’s Corner, a year-round farmers’ market. The vineyard is also pushing into Delaware and Maryland, and elsewhere with online sales.

It was Paradocx’s wine paint pails that first attracted attention. Similar in concept to a box of wine, this is a paint can of one of Paradocx’s six blended vintages, equivalent to 4.5 bottles, or 3.5 liters. Pail varieties include the original three – Whitewash, Barn Red and Pail Pink – and now three others, including a seasonal Spiced Red that can be warmed up in a crock.

Not in a pail, but unique and popular, is Paradocx’s T Wine, a white wine infused with black tea.

Why a can for the certain six? For one, it’s ergonomically sensible for transporting it and safe – there’s no bottle to break. Originally in an actual tin can and now in durable plastic, the innovation also feeds into a sustainable, environmentally friendly recycling program. So now there’s added “green” value along with a bulk-buy value. Inside the pails, the wine is sealed in a plastic bladder. There’s a $2 per pail recycling credit for each returned pail, which can be used toward another wine purchase.

A harvester machine runs over the top of the vines, shaking them back and forth. The grapes fall into a hopper and then into a bin. This bin is then brought over to the winery to be weighed. Then the grapes are placed into a destemmer and pressed.

Paradocx has also taken advantage of social networking sites and smartphone technology to pick up new visitors who are driving around trying to decide what to do and where to go in an area with a reputation for sightseeing. “The challenge is to get people to come out,” Dolan says.

One of the main attractions is Paradocx’s summer concert series. Twice a month, between Memorial Day and October, the winery hosts a concert. There are also happy hours held at the winery and at its PDX Wine Shop & Café in neighboring Kennett Square, Pa.

In the fall, Paradocx draws in visitors for events like its A-Maze-ing Harvest Adventure. For this, Paradocx pairs with Schmidt’s Tree Farm, which plants 5 acres of feed corn on Paradocx property. One year the maze pattern was in the shape of a deer; another year it was in the shape of grapes in a wineglass.

The families are always searching for ways to promote more community outreach and often host fundraisers for local charities, everything from Little League to lacrosse teams to lymphoma awareness groups.

Paradocx is also part of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail (www.bvwinetrail.com), which consists of eight wineries. The trail covers a 50-mile radius. The newest member is Borderland Winery, located about a mile from Paradocx Vineyard.

The area is well-suited for growing grapes, with sufficient water, deep soils and a generally forgiving climate.

Others in the region are growing grapes, but perhaps not promoting themselves as much. Other vineyards are in the start-up phase. Paradocx’s facility could be furthering the grape trade in southern Chester County, where fertile land has long been a staple.

The author has been published in national and regional magazines as well as daily and weekly alternative city newspapers. A gentleman farmer in Quakertown, Pa., he writes about people, social trends, historic preservation and 18th-century America, agrarian culture, land use and sports and recreation topics.